Twain House tour guides tell us Sam Clemens, who wrote under the pen name Mark Twain, made up stories on the fly for his three daughters in the glow of his library’s hearth.
His young audience expected each story to feature items displayed on the mantel, starting with the picture of the cat in the ruffled collar. They wouldn’t allow him to tell the same story twice.
The opportunity to write in that library was irresistible.
Early in Spring 2014, the Mark Twain House and Museum offered a couple of hours for writers to work Mark Twain’s library.
- Bring fully charged electronic devices because outlets were few.
- No pens, only pencils, so we wouldn’t be wretches leaving ink stains on the historic furniture or flooring.
- Pay $50 for about two hours to write.
In the <cough>ty years I’ve lived in Connecticut, I’d toured the Twain House multiple times, once on the birthday Clemens and I share. (My Facebook birthday is a clumsy attempt at internet security.) I’d also attended the old literary festival held in the 1990s on the Nook Farm lawns, as well as various other educational and writerly events.
On the big day, an overcast early spring Sunday morning, a Twain House volunteer led me and a couple of other early arrivals over to the house. Awed into silence, we entered through the front door, where guests of the Clemens family arrived and modern tours begin.
My breath went so shallow I hoped I wouldn’t pass out on the tile foyer. I prayed my laptop bag wouldn’t knock over any of the historic furniture or knick-knacks.
The house, usually humming with the voices of tour guides and the sound of footsteps on the stairs, was quiet, except for the brief welcome from Twain House writing director Julia Pistell. She showed us the location of the rest rooms and invited us to take any chair we wished.
Work stations of folding chairs and TV tables arranged in an in the room’s open space waited for us.
Somehow I manged to clear my head to make a choice. I needed to make progress on the mystery novel. Some people call it revising, I call it “housebreaking.” Rough draft material needed taming in what I call “the aHA! moment” scene. If I didn’t make progress while at the Twain House, then I was just a glorified tourist.
I needed to assess which features of the room would help me work. Each work set-up offered a selection of views and opportunities.
Should I face the dining room entrance with its decorated tabletop?
The bright conservatory with its live plants and its burbling fountain?
The elaborate and historic oak mantel glowing from the antique lighting?
The lit electric hearth pulsing like the gentle heartbeat of the house?
Most of the useable light came from the tall Victorian windows. The overcast day toned down glare and shadows.
I chose a spot with windows over each shoulder so I could see my computer better. I chose a seat facing the mantel and the hearth.
Although we’re prohibited from taking photos inside the house, Julia took the above photo of us from the foyer. You can spot me with the brown hair and glasses.
I never saw Julia take the photo, not until she posted it on Facebook. We were as quiet and focused as that photo indicates.
I’m registered to go again.
- The Mark Twain House and Museum in Hartford, CT
All photos courtesy of the Mark Twain House and Museum. Thank you!