Local historian to discuss the 'gilded life' of Mark Twain

Author and one of two men credited for coining the term “the Gilded Age,” Mark Twain, will be the focus of the sold-out second Gilded Age scholarly series installment on Sunday, Feb. 8.

Author and one of two men credited for coining the term “the Gilded Age,” Mark Twain, will be the focus of the sold-out second Gilded Age scholarly series installment on Sunday, Feb. 8.

The lecture — “A Gilded Life: Mark Twain” — will be led by local historian and Redding native Brent Colley, who is not only the first selectman of Sharon, Conn., but also a resident scholar of Redding’s Mark Twain Library and an authority on Mr. Twain.

“I grew up in Redding and I got interested in its history probably around 1998,” said Mr. Colley, who has since been documenting and promoting the history of Branchville, Georgetown and Redding on his website — historyofredding.com.

“The whole Mark Twain thing really blew up when Ken Burns did a PBS series on Mark Twain and a lot more people became aware of Mark Twain’s time in Redding. People started to contact me about further information about that time period.”

Mr. Twain moved to Redding in June 1908 and lived in a home on Mark Twain Lane, known as “Stormfield,” until his death in 1910.

Mr. Colley said the more he researched Mr. Twain’s life in Redding, the more he found it to be a “very significant” time for the celebrated writer.

“Since then, we’ve had a large number of Mark Twain scholars come — including Robert Hirst, who heads the Mark Twain papers at Berkeley — to visit and to learn more,” said Mr. Colley. “It’s been very exciting.”

Because the Gilded Age is the focus of this year’s scholarly series, Mr. Colley said, he is going to talk about why Mr. Twain is “the perfect person to tell the story of the Gilded Age.”

“A lot of people think of Mark Twain as this tremendous, great writer and they have heard much of his success, but his life is really a rags-to-riches story that many people don’t know,” he said.

“So what I’m going to share is information about his life and his life experiences and how that provided him the knowledge, the skill and even the perseverance to weave that story.”

Mr. Colley said he has found Mr. Twain’s life story to be “even more enthralling” than his works.

“I think when people start to look into his life, they are going to find it to be the same, because it’s exciting,” he said. “What I look forward to most is sharing with people a different side of Mark Twain and letting them know how incredible this man’s life was.”

Mr. Colley said all of Mr. Twain’s experiences and all the things he did during that time period are astonishing.

“He traveled to 35 countries when there weren’t any airplanes. It’s incredible — I mean, absolutely incredible. Not only that, but he was also one of the only Americans in that time period who had actually traveled to just about every part of America,” said Mr. Colley.

“The only part he really didn’t get to was the Deep South, but he was out in Hawaii, he was there for the Gold Rush in California, he went to Nevada, he was in Washington often — it’s just amazing the number of places he touched and the number of people that he saw.”

Mr. Colley’s lecture will take place at the Wilton Historical Society, from 4 to 5:30. It is sponsored by Lila and Buck Griswold and will be moderated by Steve Hudspeth.

The next scholarly series lecture, “Race Relations and Politics in the Gilded Age” with James Goodman, will take place Sunday, Feb. 22. There is no charge but registration is required.

This is the eighth annual scholarly series collaboration between the Wilton Library and Wilton Historical Society.

Information: www.wiltonlibrary.org, 203-762-3950, ext. 213.