Twain scholar to speak on American author

  • Taking it easy: Mark Twain with Helen Allen, the daughter of his Bermuda host family, in 1908 

(Photograph supplied)

    Taking it easy: Mark Twain with Helen Allen, the daughter of his Bermuda host family, in 1908 (Photograph supplied)

  • Avid reader: Mark Twain expert Cindy Lovell at Masterworks Museum of Bermuda Art’s Ever The Twain Shall Meet exhibit in 2014

(Photograph supplied)

    Avid reader: Mark Twain expert Cindy Lovell at Masterworks Museum of Bermuda Art’s Ever The Twain Shall Meet exhibit in 2014 (Photograph supplied)


Mark Twain got mischievous at his first Bermuda cricket game, deliberately peppering his host with silly questions.

The exasperated host, probably US vice consul William Allen, told him wickets were for the umpire to sit on when he got tired.

Twain, the pen name for Samuel Clemens, later wrote about the game in an article published in The Strand Magazine.

Cindy Lovell discovered a previously unknown rough draft of the account, hidden away in the Bermuda Archives.

“It was unsigned and the Bermuda Archives didn’t seem to know what it was,” the Twain scholar said. “I recognised the handwriting; it is very distinctive.”

The draft was included in the Ever The Twain Shall Meet exhibition at Masterworks last year. The find garnered international attention for Bermuda.

Dr Lovell, executive director of The Mark Twain House and Museum in Hartford, Connecticut, will give a talk about Twain tomorrow at the Bermuda National Library.

Her speech is part of a month of events at the library arranged to celebrate Twain’s life.

Twain visited the Island eight times between 1867 and 1910 and was famously quoted for saying: “You go to heaven if you want to, I’d rather stay right here in Bermuda.”

“He was actually in Bermuda a short time before he died,” said Dr Lovell. “He had to be rushed back to his home in Redding, Connecticut where he died from angina pectoris, what he called his ‘tobacco heart’.”

The 59-year-old has been to the Island several times since her museum and the Masterworks Museum of Bermuda Art agreed to collaborate on the Twain exhibit two years ago.

She also helped organise the loan of a Winslow Homer painting of the SS Trinidad from Masterworks to The Mark Twain House.

“Otherwise, The Mark Twain House doesn’t really have any souvenirs of Twain’s visits to Bermuda,” Dr Lovell said. “He didn’t really buy very much while in Bermuda.

“What I love about Bermuda is that Bermudians are so in touch with their connection with Mark Twain.

“The other night the cab driver stopped and pointed out a tree that Mark Twain sat under. It was a short ride from where I had dinner at Tom Moore’s Tavern.

“I’m a bit sceptical and it could have been the tree that poet Tom Moore wrote under, but it’s still nice that Bermudians feel this connection with Twain.”

Dr Lovell fell in love with Mark Twain’s work at the age of nine. One of her teachers in Pennsylvania read the class a chapter from a different book every day.

“He read the Adventures of Tom Sawyer chapter about whitewashing the fence,” Dr Lovell said. “I was enchanted by that, because I had a little sister in the first grade who never seemed to help me with the dishes. I read Tom Sawyer over and over again.”

On the first day of junior high she asked the school librarian if she’d ever heard of a guy called Mark Twain.

“She laughed,” said Dr Lovell, “and said she had heard something about him.”

She didn’t go to college, but instead chose to sell pumpkins and blue grass albums in her rural area.

“I was like Tom Sawyer, I was a bored, restless kid that didn’t have much time for school,” she said.

She was in her 30s, and divorced with children, when she decided to go to university.

She enjoyed it so much she became a tenured education professor at Stetson University in Florida.

She continued to read Mark Twain, but didn’t become more deeply involved until she taught a teachers’ workshop at the Mark Twain Boyhood Home & Museum in Hannibal, Missouri.

“Then my passions really came together,” she said. “The staff there said it was a shame I didn’t live in Missouri so I could help them.”

She went home, gave up tenure and found a job at Quincy University in Illinois, just down the road from Hannibal. Dr Lovell joined the Mark Twain Boyhood Home board and was shocked to learn they were short on cash. She set about creating special campaigns to remedy the situation.

She was with them for five years before moving to Connecticut to join the staff of The Mark Twain House and Museum

“Bermuda’s connection with the museum started just before I arrived,” she said. “Governor George Fergusson visited the museum and talks began about how we could partner with Bermuda in some way.”

Her talk tomorrow comes hot on the heels of the release of Lynn Cullen’s Twain’s End, a fictional portrayal of a darker Twain who has an affair with his secretary. Ms Cullen is the best-selling author Mrs Poe.

Dr Lovell, a friend of the author, said she was a bit irritated that some people seemed to be taking the novel as fact.

“It is fiction,” she said. “There’s no evidence to support the idea that Mark Twain was ever unfaithful to his wife, Olivia Clemens.

“The writer could have just as easily written Twain to be a character who commits murder. One need only consider the volumes of letters they wrote to one another during their marriage.”

During their courtship Mr Twain wrote to his future wife: “Even if you prove to me that you have the blemishes you think you have, it cannot appal me any, because with them, you will still be better, and nobler, and lovelier than anyone I have known.”

He called her Gravity and she called him Youth.

They were married for 34 years before Mrs Clemens’s death in 1904.

The November celebrations will include a screening of the documentary Holbrook/Twain: An American Odyssey on November 10.

On November 19, Gavin Wilson will act in Mark Twain: Reminisces and Other Lies.

On November 24, there will be a panel discussion on the use of humour as a means of critiquing society with Twain enthusiasts Tim Hodgson and Catherine Hay.

All events will be at 5.30pm. Tickets are $5 for each event or $15 for all. Contact ejhollis@gov.bm or call 299-0028.

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Published Nov 2, 2015 at 8:00 am (Updated Nov 2, 2015 at 12:42 am)

Twain scholar to speak on American author

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