Mark Twain Lecture Series
Wednesday, July 20 at The Park Church (7:00pm)
“Mutiny on the Ballot: Conversion Narrative in Mark Twain’s ‘The Great Revolution in Pictairn”
Bill Hunt, Barton College
Despite ample sources for potential inspiration in the vicinity of Elmira, Mark Twain looked abroad to examine the cultural and political merits of women’s franchise. He would turn to the tiny, South Pacific island of Pitcairn, which, in 1838, became the first sovereignty on Earth where women exercised the right to vote. Twain’s “The Great Revolution in Pitcairn” (1875) entertains doubts about the large-scale feasibility of universal adult suffrage—just before embarking upon a scenario in which it emerges as an existential imperative.
The short story fictionalizes the historical invasion of one Joshua W. Hill, an American grifter and filibuster, who erroneously instituted his own absolute rule over Pitcairn in the 1830s. As islanders fend off the dictatorial predations of “Emperor Butterworth Stavely” (Twain’s stand-in for Hill), voting rights manifest as a means of anti-colonial resistance. The formation of a self- determining body politic becomes essential to the deposition of a genocidal tyrant. Uncoupling the association of maleness and political representation, the narrative mirrors Twain’s own biographical conversion to the cause of women’s suffrage in the 1870s.
Bill Hunt is assistant professor of American Literature at Barton College in Wilson, North Carolina. He holds a B.A. and M.A. from the University of Virginia. A James B. Duke fellow, he received his Ph.D. from Duke University in 2016. Of late, he has published pieces in The Nathaniel Hawthorne Review and in an edited book collection, American and Muslim Worlds before 1900. His scholarship is often impelled by the notion that the American Suffrage Movement was essentially literary in character, as much as it was social and political. In 2017, he began a digital humanities experiment, www.100signersproject.com, which utilizes archival records to create recuperative biographies for the 100 signers of the Declaration of Sentiments at the Seneca Falls Convention in 1848.
Cover Image: Project Gutenberg