We asked Dominick Beaudine, LMU graduate student and the curator of the Fall 2019 Archives & Special Collections exhibition, to share with us his thoughts on “Roughing It: How Mark Twain Made the West.”
There is nothing more fun than an adventure. The gripping sensation of traveling and exploring the unknown has been at the forefront of all of American history. My adventure as the English graduate student assistant in Archives and Special Collections began with my first meeting with Cynthia Becht in July 2017. During our discussion, we talked about the position and all that it would entail as well as ideas for an exhibit which she expressed “did not have to be answered that day.” But when we began talking about American literature, it did not take us long to both to think about a single author whose works embody everything that is American literature: Mark Twain.
American literature has always been my favorite genre and Twain has always been the author I think of when I imagine an essential American literature author. Even Ernest Hemingway said, “all modern American literature comes from one book by Mark Twain called Huckleberry Finn,” and he remains one of the most taught authors in American schools. While he is most famous for his adventurous boys, I wanted to do something different. I wanted to look at what turned Samuel Clemens into Mark Twain.
However, I found something I enjoyed looking into much more. I spent a lot of time reading scholars on Twain as well as our own archive’s materials and it didn’t take me long to find his journey west. This six and a half year journey took Twain from his home in Hannibal, Missouri all the way to California and it was in Nevada where he first used the name “Mark Twain.” But even though the journey gave him the name and helped him develop his own writing persona, he did something far more impactful to everyone else in the U.S. and later, the world. Mark Twain gave everyone in 19th century America a window into the West, with his masterpiece: Roughing It.
Twain gave the American people an American West like they had never experienced before. He removed the previous image of a romanticized world and replaced it with a satirical and down to Earth picture. Even into now, the American West has placed itself into so many aspects of its people’s lives even without them actively knowing it. This makes Roughing It the perfect example to showcase this fact. Roughing It is the text that permeates itself into multiple aspects of our imagination and understanding of the American West but goes highly unnoticed. “The West” itself is almost an ideology at this point and its attributes shape the American character. The text wonderfully demonstrates how Mark Twain graphed the way Americans saw the American West and how they continue to see it.
With flawless satire and wit, Twain tells of his own adventures through the great American West and becomes the person to give everyone else an image of what the West is and what it means to exist there. With the success of Roughing It, other authors created similar stories and the narrative Twain originally created takes full form in the hearts of 19th Century America. I want viewers to walk through this exhibit with the same open eyes I had when Cynthia and I both imagined a Mark Twain exhibit in our first meeting. Viewers will see the West’s incredible nature and feel the same adventure as Twain traveled. You will smile, learn something new, and most importantly: laugh. There is nothing more fun than an adventure and you will surely embark on one in this exhibit.
Dominick Beaudine is currently pursuing a Masters in English at Loyola Marymount University, focusing on rhetoric and composition. After four years on the Men’s Water Polo team as an LMU undergrad, Dominick still enjoys swimming in his free time as well as reading American literature, teaching, and practicing game design.