At Boston University on August 20-22, three staff members of The Mark Twain House & Museum will be giving lectures at the Twain/Tolstoy Symposium. Mallory Howard will speak on Twain's marginalia, Julia Pistell will give a lecture on wit in Twain's nonfiction, and our Chief Curator Patti Phillipon will deliver the keynote address. We're all very excited and a bit nervous to collaborate with so many fantastic scholars.
This is Julia writing today's blog post, and I have been working on my lecture every day for the last week or so. I'm fairly new to the Twain House, and much of my time is spent doing things like researching famous moustaches and organizing the logistics of writing workshops, so I'm trying to catch up on my scholarly work. I'm currently reading the Justin Kaplan biography Mr. Clemens and Mark Twain, and I've already written about several other Twain biographies is a previous post. I've worked for the Twain House for a year now, and have picked up what feels like a lot of information about Sam's legacy and work. Yet, I can't help but feel that I will never be a real Twain scholar. There's just so much to know.
It's also a horse of a different color to become a Twain expert as opposed to, say, a J.D. Salinger expert. Twain wrote so much, and an absolutely insane amount of letters, and has captivated the American imagination for about 140 years. There are so many experts that have come before us, what does it take to throw a hat in the ring?
My favorite line in the Kaplan biography is the following: "Recognizing that Orion was bound by the laws of his nature to a lifetime fickleness of purpose and a butterfly vagrancy, Sam once meant to reassure him that there was no reason why a kaleidoscope should not have as good a time as a telescope." I've decided that my current kaleidoscopic view of Twain is lovely in its own way, and an excellent jumping-off point for becoming more telescopic.
So what do you think, loyal readers? At what point does someone become an expert? A scholar? An aficionado? A Twainiac? I'm going to keep thinking about it, but I'd love to hear your thoughts, too.