Friday, October 29, 2010

So what is Steampunk?

This Saturday at 2:00 (that's TOMORROW!), The Mark Twain House & Museum is thrilled to announce the first of several Steampunk events here at the museum. Our museum center will be filled with gears, goggles, and everything in between. Our host will be Miss Kitty, an elegant local Steampunk expert.

So what is Steampunk, you ask?

Steampunk is a subculture based on the ideas of Victorian science fiction and alternative history. That's a really clunky way to express a beautiful thing, so I will pass the explanations to Miss Kitty herself:

And just what is "Steampunk"? Steampunk is the future as imagined through the eyes of the past. It is mechanical gears and boilers, dirtiness mixed with shininess of brass and copper with the deep red of cherrywood. It is a time for tea and gadgets, airships and ether. Steampunk is a trip to the moon through the barrel of a cannon. It is progeny of Jules Verne and H. G. Wells finding their voice in fiction, fashion and music. Steampunk is all of these things, none of them and more. Steampunk is "punk". One doesn't need to go to the store to buy Steampunk. The do-it-yourself mentality reigns freely. Steampunk is what you make it, but you might want to bring some brass goggles along for the ride.

The Event will include a Victorian style afternoon tea with tea sandwiches, petite pastries, fruit, scones, tarts and other delectables and music, . Attendees are encouraged to come in costume, but it is not required.

Point being: Steampunk is a heck of a lot of fun. Come by and check it out!

Saturday, October 30 · 2:00pm - 4:00pm
The Mark Twain Museum Center
351 Farmington Avenue
Hartford, CT

Tickets for the Steampunk Tea will be $10 ($5 for Twain House members), and tickets for the Zombie panel at 4:00 are $5 (free for members!). Call (860) 280-3130 to buy tickets and/or become a member today!

- Julia Pistell
Communications Associate

Tuesday, October 26, 2010


This Thursday, Friday and Saturday night, the basement of The Mark Twain House will become a theatre – a spooky theatre, to be sure. Capital Classics, a dramatic troupe known for producing summer open-air productions of Shakespeare in Hartford and West Hartford for two decades, will be presenting A Macabre MACBETH, a special reader’s theatre performance of the Bard’s bloodiest tragedy underground in the Clemens Family’s mansion. This one-hour adaptation receives a Halloween twist by emphasizing the story’s witches, ghosts and bloody revenge.

Initially, A Macabre MACBETH may seem like an odd choice for a Twain Museum program, but one doesn’t have to work too hard to see the connections…

  1. Despite being the first quintessentially American author, Twain loved the British. One only need look at A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court and The Prince and the Pauper to see that Twain had a great deal of fun delving into English history and literary styles. His naughty burlesque 1601 is extremely low humor dressed up in stuffy Old English that would have made Chaucer proud (or blush). His trip to Oxford University in 1907 to receive an honorary degree was one of the proudest moments of his life. (Photo: Twain in his Oxford University robes)

  1. It really isn’t a stretch to imagine that America’s greatest author would have tremendous respect for Britain’s most beloved dramatist. Shakespeare pops up via mangled interpretations of Romeo and Juliet, Richard III and Hamlet in the the King and the Duke’s “Royal Nonesuch” in Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. Twain goes to great pains to question Shakespeare as the reputed author of his plays and sonnets in his essay, Is Shakespeare Dead? Despite being a humorous expose that threatens the very foundations of world literature, the essay betrays Twain’s knowledge and appreciation of the Shakespearean canon.

  1. The Mark Twain House has been the site of a number of family theatricals. Olivia Clemens adapted The Prince and the Pauper as a home entertainment often starring her daughters Susy and Clara in the title roles and her husband as Miles Hendon. Susy created an original play entitled The Love Chase, performed by the Clemens girls and friends in the Hartford home’s Drawing Room using the curtained-off entrance to the Dining Room as their backdrop. As part of their home education, the girls would put on short theatricals in the second floor schoolroom (the fans currently on display schoolroom were utilized as props in the shows). The Mark Twain House & Museum’s collection contains Susy’s copies of Shakespeare’s plays. (Photo: c.1884 Susy as the Prince and friend Margaret "Daisy" Warner as the Pauper)

  1. Much of Macbeth’s action takes place in and around ancestral castles in Scotland. On an1873 trip to Scotland, Sam and Olivia Clemens happened upon a fireplace mantle that was created for Ayton Castle in Berwickshire. The ornate, wood-carved mantle was never officially installed in the castle as the man for whom it was designed died before the piece’s completion. The Clemenses purchased it and had it shipped to their Hartford home where it was installed as a centerpiece in the library. Fittingly, Shakespeare’s notorious “Scottish Play” will be performed directly underneath the fireplace mantle. Among the piece's wood carvings are tributes to the arts - an artist's palette, a musical lyre, a writer's scroll and two faces that look suspiciously like the enduring and ancient symbols of the theatre - comedy and tragedy masks.

Capital Classic’s “A Macabre MACBETH” runs Thursday, October 28 at 8 p.m., Friday, October 29 at 10:30 p.m. and Saturday, October 30 at 10:30 p.m. Tickets are $15 and can be ordered by calling (860) 280-3130.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010


In 2009, Quirk Classics exhumed a dark and comic twist on Jane Austen with Seth Grahame-Smith’s Pride and Prejudice and Zombies: The Classic Regency Romance – Now with Ultra-Violent Zombie Mayhem. In the book, Grahame-Smith takes the treasured romantic tale of Elizabeth Bennet and Mr. Darcy and spikes it with unwanted undead running amok across the English countryside, ruining garden parties and society balls. The Bennet daughters are not only girls to be married off into good families, they are highly valued for their mastery of the ninja arts and their facility with dispatching the walking dead that have become so pesky to the landed gentry.

The instant success of the zombified Pride and Prejudice begat a spate of sequels and spirited massacres of other Austen classics including Pride and Prejudice and Zombies: Dawn of the Unmentionables; Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters; Mansfield Park and Mummies; Emma and the Vampires; and Jane Bites Back. Not content to assault Austen, the monster mash-ups started infecting other classics in the canon: Jane Slayre, Android Karenina, Little Women and Werewolves and Wuthering Bites, to name a few.

At The Mark Twain House & Museum, we assumed that it was only going to be a matter of time before Mark Twain’s works were going to be similarly splattered with zombie action. Our patience was rewarded with three traumatic tales that use Twain’s iconic Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn. First out of the grave was W. Bill Czolgosz’s Adventures of Huckleberry Finn & Zombie Jim: Mark Twain’s Classic with Crazy Zombie Goodness (a limited release in 2009 via Coscom Entertainment, Huck Finn & Zombie Jim will be published nationally by Simon & Schuster in February 2010). In Czolgosz’s twisted tale, a mutant strain of

tuberculosis has swept the South, causing the recently deceased to bebagged to avoid the spread of contagion. If the dead reanimate and are docile, they are used as slaves for the good of society. If they are vicious, they are dispatched. When Pap Finn, the worst of these “baggers” reanimates, Huck sets out for freedom with his friend Bagger Jim.

In August 2010 via Tor Publishing, Don Borchert decided to exhume The Adventures of Tom Sawyer by adding “…and the Undead. Using the skeleton of Twain’s tale of boyhood adventure, Aunt Polly not only tries to keep Tom on the straight and narrow, she must also protect him from the marauding “Zum” that have shambled out of the grave. Instead of painting Aunt Polly’s fence, Tom must trick his friends into sharpening the fence posts that will gore any zombies that attempt to ransack his home. Of course, Tom’s nemesis, a mutant Injun Joe, provides hair-raising and vomit-inducing action that propels the story forward. Much of Borchert’s book utilizes Twain’s original text and piles on the marauding corpses.

IDW Publishing decided to take a different tack in attacking the classics. In their new omnibus Classics Mutilated, they have unleashed genre writers on classic characters and freshly inter them in new stories. Thus, Huck, Tom and Jim have an all-new adventure in the H.P. Lovecraft/Song of the South send-up Dread Island, written by prolific horror and crime novelist Joe R. Lansdale. Lansdale is the “Champion Mojo Storyteller” behind The Hap Collins and Leonard Pine Mysteries, Bubba Ho-Tep and the Jonah Hex graphic novels. In Dread Island, the novella that serves as the centerpiece of Classics Mutilated, Twain’s iconic characters set off for a mysterious island in the Mississippi that is home to Uncle Remus’s friends Brer Rabbit, Brer Fox, among others.

On Saturday, October 30th at 4 p.m., The Mark Twain Museum Center will host Mark Twain & The Army of Darkness, a conversation between Borchert, Lansdale and Czolgosz (appearing via Skype from his home in Saskatchewan) about what it took to give Twain’s classics a macabre makeover. The conversation will be moderated by Sam Hatch from WWUH’s Culture Dogs and will include a sneak preview of scenes from the film-in-progress Ninja Zombies, currently being shot in Connecticut. Borchert and Lansdale will be signing their books immediately following the lecture. Admission is $5 and free for museum members. Interested attendees (live or dead) can avoid a grave mistake by calling (860) 280-3130 to reserve their plot. There will be a Steampunk Tea Party before the lecture at 2 p.m. Admission to the tea is $10.

So what would Twain think of this literary massacre? Evidence suggests that he would have been all for assaulting Austen’s work. In a letter to William Dean Howells, Twain writes, “It seems a great pity that they let her die a natural death.” Writing to Rev. Joseph Twichell, he states, “Everytime I read Pride and Prejudice, I want to dig her up and beat her over the skull with her own shin-bone.” Twain himself speaks from beyond the grave with the 2010 release of his sprawling autobiography which roams the Earth after being buried for 100 years. As for Twain’s other novels being mutilated, one has to wonder if we can look forward to The Prince and The Putrid, A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Crypt and Good’ndead Wilson.

- Jacques Lamarre, Director of Communications

Thursday, October 14, 2010

All of us contain Music & Truth

This Saturday, The Mark Twain House will collaborate with many of our neighbors to present an evening of Music and Truth related to our favorite author, Mark Twain. "Music and Truth: A Tribute to Twain" will be held at Immanuel Congregational Church across the street from The Mark Twain House on Farmington Avenue. The following remarks will be the opening to the event.

When Mark Twain was living in Vienna in 1898, he heard an impressive piano recital by Stefan Czapka, a fellow student of his daughter Clara. Afterward, he autographed a photo for Czapka, and inscribed above it: “All of us contain Music & Truth, but most of us can't get it out.”

Tonight a number of talented and lively musicians, actors and readers will get the truth out, with a vengeance. Acclaimed pianist Paul Bisaccia, Hartford Children’s Theatre, the professional choral ensemble Voce, and The Mark Twain House & Museum are all contributing to celebrate the music Samuel Clemens both loved and loathed, along with readings from his beloved works. Highlights will include selections from the musical The Apple Tree (based on Twain’s “The Diaries of Adam & Eve”), spirituals and popular tunes from the Victorian Era, a world premiere of a piano piece by Hartford composer (and Twain contemporary) Dudley Buck, a little sampling of Richard Wagner, a composer who failed to measure up to Twain’s standards (Twain said in A Tramp Abroad that “Some of Wagner’s operas bang on for six whole hours on a stretch!”).

It’s deeply appropriate that this concert is being held at Immanuel Congregational Church, which is instutionally descended from the Rev. Horace Bushnell’s church – Bushnell the rebel theologian and park-builder, who in old age used to drive his carriage at high speed down Farmington Avenue, kicking up the dust in front of Sam Clemens’ house. Clemens knew and admired Bushnell, and used the reverend’s famous book on child-rearing to help raise his three high-maintenance daughters.

According to tradition, when Immanuel was built across the street from his Hartford house one year after that Vienna piano recital, Sam Clemens, back in town on a visit, dubbed it “the Church of the Holy Oil Cloth.” The unusual green-and-cream patterns on its façade reminded him of the standard colors and patterns of oil cloth, the material used on kitchen floors before linoleum was invented.

The Mark Twain House & Museum is proud to participate in this major event in the Woodland Concert series, paying tribute to Twain on the Centennial of his death – and the 175th anniversary of his birth. As neighbors of the church, we have been happy to partner with it in this effort as we have partnered with many other community groups – continuing our role as an important site in Hartford, the place that Mark Twain called chief among all the cities he had seen.

- Julia Pistell & Steve Courtney

“Music & Truth: A Tribute to Twain” is sponsored by Reid and Riege, P.C., The Edward C. and Ann T. Roberts Foundation, Hartford Dental Group and St. Francis Hospital and Medical Center, the Greater Hartford Arts Council, the J. Walton Bissell Foundation, Inc., and Barbara David.. The event is one in the museum’s continuing series of Mark Twain 2010 Centennial Celebration events . The Hartford Financial Group, Inc., is the Mark Twain House & Museum’s Centennial Sponsor.