July 6 - Mark Twain Lecture

Mark Twain Lecture Series

Wednesday, July 6 at The Park Church (7:00pm)

“Twain’s Connecticut Yankee in Pseudo-Scientific Socialist Utopias”

Max Chapnick, Boston University

Mark Twain’s Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court (1889),

appeared between two politically-minded time travel utopias, Edward Bellamy’s Looking Backward (1888) and H.G. Wells’s Time Machine (1895). Most criticism reads each of these novels as using science to reimagine the economy: the novels are optimistic about science but pessimistic about capitalism. But while the three authors emerge from a broad field of “scientific socialists,” in each narrative an anti-scientific element remains. In the context of Twain’s later interest and disdain for pseudo-science as in Christian Science (1907) and his critique of imperial projects as in King Leopold’s Soliloquy (1905), I will investigate to what extent that engagement with science and empire, and the relationship between those two, began in earlier decades during the writing of Connecticut Yankee. These three technology- minded writer’s dystopic time travel narratives, and in particular Connecticut Yankee, ask: what if the increasing consolidation of science into disciplinary and elitist projects, and its uptake as an engine of state, empire, and war, undermined science’s more populist promise?

Max Chapnick is a PhD candidate in English and American literature at Boston University, where he is writing a dissertation called “Wild Science: Radical Politics and Rejected Knowledge in Nineteenth-Century Literature.” A chapter from his dissertation on Pauline Hopkins appears in latest issue of New England Quarterly, and shorter essays appear in PMLA, Configurations, and Current Affairs. At Boston University, he teaches English and first-year writing courses on the nineteenth-century, modernism, science fiction, and environmental literature.

Cover Image: Project Gutenberg