A century after Samuel Clemens’s death, Mark Twain thrives—his recently released autobiography topped bestseller lists. One way fans still celebrate the first true American writer and his work is by visiting any number of Mark Twain destinations. They believe they can learn something unique by visiting the places where he lived. Mark Twain’s Homes and Literary Tourism untangles the complicated ways that Clemens’s houses, now museums, have come to tell the stories that they do about Twain and, in the process, reminds us that the sites themselves are the products of multiple agendas and, in some cases, unpleasant histories. Hilary Iris Lowe leads us through four Twain homes, beginning at the beginning—Florida, Missouri, where Clemens was born. Today the site is simply a concrete pedestal missing its bust, a plaque, and an otherwise-empty field. Though the original cabin where he was born likely no longer exists, Lowe treats us to an overview of the history of the area and the state park challenged with somehow marking this site. Next, we travel with Lowe to Hannibal, Missouri, Clemens’s childhood home, which he saw become a tourist destination in his own lifetime. Today mannequins remind visitors of the man that the boy who lived there became and the literature that grew out of his experiences in the house and little town on the Mississippi. Hartford, Connecticut, boasts one of Clemens’s only surviving adulthood homes, the house where he spent his most productive years. Lowe describes the house’s construction, its sale when the high cost of living led the family to seek residence abroad, and its transformation into the museum. Lastly, we travel to Elmira, New York, where Clemens spent many summers with his family at Quarry Farm. His study is the only room at this destination open to the public, and yet, tourists follow in the footsteps of literary pilgrim Rudyard Kipling to see this small space.Literary historic sites pin their authority on the promise of exclusive insight into authors and texts through firsthand experience. As tempting as it is to accept the authenticity of Clemens’s homes, Mark Twain’s Homes and Literary Tourism argues that house museums are not reliable critical texts but are instead carefully constructed spaces designed to satisfy visitors. This volume shows us how these houses’ portrayals of Clemens change frequently to accommodate and shape our own expectations of the author and his work.
Hilary Iris Lowe is Director of Temple University’s Center for Public History and an assistant professor in the History Department.. She lives in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
The Mark Twain andHis Circle Series, edited by Tom Quirk and John Bird
“Mark Twain’s Homes and Literary Tourism is a thought-provoking book that will be of use to any museum professional, historian or otherwise, who aims to find some truth embedded in a place and interpret it for the public. Lowe has researched deeply and well, and this book does a fine job of peeling back the surface of these sites to reveal that each is, in her words, ‘a careful, mediated piece’ of Mark Twain.”—Kathleen Corbett, The Public Historian
“An interesting study worth reading for anyone interested in Twain or literary tourism.”—Jennifer Nader, American Literary Realism
"With this book, Samuel Clemens' life and the literature he wrote under the pen name Mark Twain can actually be read anew through Lowe's provocative approach—literary tourism. As Lowe illustrates in her reading of Mark Twain's homes, fact and fiction are often intertwined at literary destinations where tourists connect with an author's personal history. Lowe's interdisciplinary approach will make her book a valuable addition to courses in public history, American studies, and literature classes."—Karen L. Cox, author of Dreaming of Dixie: How the South was Created in American Popular Culture
"What is the mission of a historical house museum, especially when it tells the story of a famous writer who lived there? Mark Twain's Homes and Literary Tourism is a richly contextualized study of the houses that celebrate Mark Twain. Hilary Lowe takes us on a personal journey as she studies the effects of transforming houses into museums and historical contexts into interpretive lenses."—Susan K. Harris, author of God's Arbiters: Americans and the Philippines, 1898–1902; The War that Sparked Mark Twain's Conflict with America