LITERARY DESTINATIONS: MARK TWAIN'S HOUSES AND LITERARY TOURISM
Lowe, Hilary Iris
University of Kansas
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Mark Twain has been commemorated for more than eighty-five years at his various houses. His birthplace in Florida, Missouri, his boyhood home in Hannibal, Missouri, his adult home in Hartford, Connecticut, and his summer retreat at Quarry Farm in Elmira, New York have all come to celebrate very different versions of the most iconic of American writers. This study examines the history of these four houses to illustrate how our memory of Twain has been shaped by sites of literary tourism. At each house, museum staffs have struggled to balance Samuel Clemens's biography with his literature and mythic persona. Though these literary house museums provide access to the famous homes that are associated with Clemens, they are mediated objects. The houses cannot display Clemens's domestic life without managerial interpretation. Clemens's birthplace, for example, has long been the subject of disputed authenticity. His boyhood home has, until very recently, substituted Hannibal's past for Tom Sawyer's story. His adult home is a Gilded Age museum that so perfectly recreated the "Mark Twain period," it sometimes overlooked Twain's literary contributions. Quarry Farm is a Twain scholar's paradise that actually allows visitors to write and live where Clemens did. Mark Twain's houses are places where local people have contributed to his popular canonization through preservation efforts and tourism. Clemens's place in the American canon was uncertain at the founding of three of these four sites. These house museums, in the end, may have done as much for Clemens as he did for them. However, to remain viable literary houses have to explain compellingly how they are central to understanding a writer's literary creativity. They have to articulate a connection to a literary text, to a specific writerly space, or to an atmosphere that was particular to the writer's literary production. They mediate a relationship between author, text, and tourists. This study contributes to literary studies and Mark Twain studies by explaining how visitation to and preservation of literary places influence the way we remember Mark Twain.
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