A glimpse of the recognisable: Emily’s postcard from Hartford, Connecticut

Emily at the Mark Twain House in Hartford, Connecticut, April 2015

Emily visits the Mark Twain House in Hartford, Connecticut, April 2015

Why I went… 

To be honest, I have never read a Mark Twain novel or anything by Harriet Beecher Stowe. I went because I enjoy nineteenth-century literary houses, and had heard that these were particularly good examples – unfortunately visitors are not permitted to take pictures inside Mark Twain’s house but I would recommend looking it up, it’s fantastic! The fact that these two literary greats lived so close to each other fascinated me, and I wanted to see how different the houses would be – both architecturally and in terms of feel – from the kinds of places I’ve visited in the UK.

 What I got out of the experience… 

Twain’s house is elaborate, with hand-stencilled walls, an indoor fountain and carved marble windows, while Stowe’s is much simpler, but they both still somehow feel like family homes. ‘Cat in a Ruff’ hanging over the mantelpiece epitomised this for me – apparently Mark Twain (or Samuel Clemens, as we were affectionately reminded), would tell his daughters stories using the mantelpiece decorations, beginning with the cat.

What I took away from the experience was a sense of what these authors mean to Americans. As I work on Dickens, I sometimes get caught up in the idea of Dickens as the most popular nineteenth-century author and forget that this isn’t universal! Of course, the nineteenth century didn’t belong to England, and it was interesting to hear people say that Dickens doesn’t ‘exist’ for them in the way that Sam Clemens does. I felt like an interloper glimpsing a recognisable, but foreign, literary world.

Emily at the Harriet Beecher Stowe Centre in Hartford, Connecticut, April 2015

Emily visits the Harriet Beecher Stowe Centre in Hartford, Connecticut, April 2015

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