Was Mark Twain Gay?

Was Mark Twain Gay?

Poor Mark Twain. He has earned his rest but we won't let him have it. Periodically, he is accused of this and that. To some he was a racist whose books belong in a pile next to the kindling. To yet others he evinced an inordinate interest in young girls. Most recently, headlines in both the academic and popular press, including the Hartford Courant, have fairly screamed, "Was Twain gay?"

The poser of this delicate inquiry professes to be a professor, or to be absolutely accurate (although this is not required nowadays, as will become apparent), a visiting scholar at Brown University who is writing a biography of Twain.

But now, to the evidence. Mark Twain, who wrote lovingly about women and longingly in his old age about sexual intercourse with same, was once addressed in a letter from a man thusly: "My dearest love." There is no evidence that he objected to being wooed in this fashion.

Need more? All right, there were two instances when Twain broke off friendships with men in a manner suggestive of "romances scorned," as the scholarly argument was paraphrased in a press account.

Don't turn to the comics, there's more: Twain hung out during the '60s (admittedly, the 1860s) with literary types in San Francisco who called themselves Bohemians. That's right, literary types in San Francisco. The only thing that would have been more suspicious is if Twain had palled around with stevedores, those burly fellows whose ambivalent sexuality compels them to hide behind extremes of macho behavior.

Finally, Artemus Ward, that zany humorist, once wrote that Twain and another gentleman, Dan De Quille, "are to be married shortly. About time." Was Ward being funny or was this some sort of wedding announcement? And was Dan De Quille (pronounced Dandy Quill) a real person or some Wardian invention?

In fairness to Twain, let the record show that, rather than marry Mr. De Quille, he tied the knot with Miss Olivia Langdon and sired four children.

Ergo, to wit, there is strong evidence here that the novelist was not simply gay, as we have already established beyond a scintilla of a doubt, but bisexual. Stop the presses!

Let us try to imagine what Mark Twain thinks of all this as he looks on from his final residence. A newspaperman and an author himself, he understood the power of the printed word, however fatuous it might be. In a piece written in 1870 he detailed his stint as a visiting editor of an agricultural paper. His sojourn was cut short after he published the following:

"Concerning the pumpkin. This berry is a favorite with the natives of the interior of New England, who prefer it to the gooseberry for the making of fruit-cake, and who likewise give it preference over the raspberry for the feeding of cows, as being more filling and fully as satisfying. The pumpkin is the only esculent of the orange family that will thrive in the North."

To this day there may be people who consider the pumpkin a berry. And our visiting scholar down Rhode Island way may well convince some people that Mark Twain was gay, although he'd probably settle for convincing people to buy his book.