In recent years, Mark Twain’s domestic life has received long-overdue critical attention, a reexamination that has enriched the way we view the writer and the man. In Hilary Iris Lowe’s Mark Twain’s Homes and Literary Tourism, the focus is on four homes that Samuel Clemens lived in, homes that have been preserved and offer a chance for literary tourists to visit them: the birthplace home in Florida, Missouri; the boyhood home in Hannibal, Missouri; the Clemens family home in Hartford, Connecticut; and Quarry Farm in Elmira, New York. Lowe examines the history of each site, including connections to Twain, but mainly detailing the often troublesome and sometimes controversial history of their preservation and renovation. She also speculates on the ways these four homes inform us about the meaning and value of literary tourism.
Her introduction, “Literary Homes in the United States,” makes a distinction between historic and literary sites, a distinction between historic and literary interpretation. She argues convincingly that literary homes affect the way we understand authors and their works, and thus deserve serious scholarly study. Her method involves “close readings of these houses and their visitors as if both were texts that might reveal how literary tourism works” (12).
Lowe begins with the Mark Twain Birthplace State Historic Site near Florida, Missouri, an angular 60s-era museum that contains inside it a cabin that may or may not have been the birthplace of Samuel Clemens, and may have been so extensively changed that it should more properly be called a replica. As Lowe points out, the site tells visitors of neither likelihood, just two of the site’s problems. The cabin is near but not on the land in Florida where Clemens was born in 1835; out of a number of supposed birthplace cabins, one with a good but [End Page 139] not totally authenticated claim was restored in the first decades of the twentieth century, then moved to the recently established Mark Twain State Park in 1930, ridden to its new site by “two boys, one dressed as Tom Sawyer and the other dressed as Huck Finn” (45). The state park could have benefitted from federal money spent on the Civilian Conservation Corps as part of the New Deal during the Great Depression, but local white residents objected to the establishment of a CCC camp that was composed of young black men. Lowe covers the controversy and its aftermath, a story not clearly told at the museum. “Today,” she writes, “the birthplace presents a simple, generic, and partial story of one pioneer family, which gave birth to Mark Twain” (53). On the banks of the artificial Mark Twain Lake, the 1961 museum building presents a curious view to its visitors, who either stumble on it while visiting the lake, or make a concerted effort to find this out-of-the-way spot, perhaps unaware that the modern-angled roof contains within it a cabin purported to have been Twain’s birthplace. Lowe recommends that the state “make a meaningful interpretive shift . . . and reveal the ‘replica’ status of the cabin, while making a concerted effort to tell the real history of Florida and its demise” (54).
As Lowe turns her attention to nearby Hannibal, she calls “the history of the Mark Twain Boyhood Home and Museum . . . perhaps the most important case study in this collection because the boyhood home is one of the literary historic sites where the interpretation of literature has thrived” (57). The Boyhood Home opened to tourists in 1912, two years after Twain’s death. Lowe discusses the way that, from the start and up to the present, the Clemens family home has been mingled with Tom Sawyer’s house, making the two almost interchangeable. The focus in Hannibal has always been the way the town and its sites inspired Twain’s fiction, especially The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, and to a lesser extent, Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. The museum sits several blocks away, with exhibits on Mark Twain and his works, including memorabilia, artifacts, and interpretive...