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Mark Twain and Bankruptcy — “It was evening all afternoon”

Posted by whforums on June 30, 2008

I’m going to be honest — I’m no Mark Twain apologist. Over the course of my life I’ve attended conferences on Twain (Twainiacs — that’s a term of endearment), I’ve been to his houses in Hartford and Elmira, I’ve smoked a cigar in his study — he’s been an anchor as I’ve wandered and returned home. But as far as I’m concerned, Twain’s importance in Hartford’s literary history has been wildly overplayed, while Wallace Stevens’, from whom this blog takes its motto, has been underplayed.

But it’s still upsetting to see that the Mark Twain House, like its namesake, finds itself in a dire financial situation. And while the state has said it will provide a grant to keep the museum (and former library) operational, one has to imagine that that’s a short term solution to a long term problem.

So, even though times are tough, my wife and I put our wallets together and ponied up a small donation to the Mark Twain House. We decided that, regardless of how we feel about how the institution got itself into its current financial situation, it’s in that situation now and it needs us — if not now, then 6 months from now. For better or for worse, Twain is an essential figure in Hartford’s history, identity, and, most likely, its future. I know it’s hard for me to look at the Connecticut river without saying to myself “How did Twain see this, and how did he see it as the Mississippi?”

But if you can find ten bucks to throw at the Twain house, I’d also encourage you to throw some money at The Friends and Enemies of Wallace Stevens, who are raising money to install a Wallace Stevens walking tour that commemorates his walk to work each day from Westerly Terrace to The Hartford (scroll halfway down the linked page to find an email address for donations). Along the two mile walk will be each of the thirteen stanzas of Stevens’ poem “Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird.”

In fact, while Stevens might have been writing about the “nature of reality” in that poem, I suspect that the poem’s 13th and final stanza may also show that he understands the whole “Twain situation” (how Twain’s ongoing needs are reflected, years later, in the ongoing needs of his home):

“It was evening all afternoon.
It was snowing
And it was going to snow.”

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