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John Bird <[log in to unmask]>
Reply To:
Mark Twain Forum <[log in to unmask]>
Tue, 24 Jul 2001 09:09:06 -0400
text/plain (67 lines)
An apology to Richard Salassi for the "dude" word--although it's a perfectly
good Mark Twain word, it may have come off as flip or offensive (two Mark
Twain poses, but I do apologize for any offense.)

I was originally reacting to Richard's surprise that no one had recommended
Andy Hoffman's biography--actually, I had wondered at the same thing. So my
"hmmm...I wonder" was partly straight (pun intended).

But it was also, as I hope is clear, somewhat ironic, or probably more
accurately, sarcastic. Although it surprised me that it took so long for
that book to be mentioned, I knew perfectly well why.

As to "one page"--the controversy over alleged homosexual activities by
Samuel Clemens while in the West covers MORE than one page--and that's all I
meant. Like Wes Britton, I was there when the original argument (if one can
call it that--it was mighty thin for an argument) was presented. The
"argument" was given more pages in _American Literature_.  And it covers a
number a pages in the finished biography. And the allegations of possible
"friends" got even longer, with no further evidence. (By the end, weren't
Howells and Twichell on the "list"?  Goodness! Why not Ulysses S. Grant? I
happen to know they were in a room together--alone!--on several occasions.
And you can't prove they weren't...)

I have never heard any Mark Twain scholar give Hoffman's idea any credence
whatsoever. Most find it laughable, some find it contemptible, many find it
irresponsible.  As Wes Britton said, few people talk about it, partly
because of baseless charges of homophobia. (It's not homophobic to judge
evidence as being scant or nonexistent or totally misconstrued.) But mainly
because many feel it's just not worth any more attention than it has already

Why am I talking about it, then? Because I have never been comfortable with
the relative public silence from the Twain community on this topic. And
mainly because, as in the case of the discussion on this forum (thank God
there's a discussion around here!), a relative newcomer to Mark Twain wants
advice on what to read. I would not want such a person to come to this book
without knowing what the controversy is, and what most people believe about
its most notorious several pages.

From the start of this controversy, the cynical among us have said that Andy
was only doing this to make his book sell. I don't know about that--but
ironically, including this thin (and I think, spurious) argument has made
many people reject the whole book altogether.  So--it's more than "one
page"--but "one page" (metaphorically) has become the whole argument,
rightly or wrongly.

----- Original Message -----
From: "Richard R. Salassi" <[log in to unmask]>
To: <[log in to unmask]>
Sent: Tuesday, July 24, 2001 12:35 AM
Subject: Re: A good start at a definitive Mark Twain biography - Mark Twain
Ato Z

> I never said "the book I refer to" should be put first on any list of
> definitive biographies, but to disclude it altogether smacks of a certain
> type of censorship no reasonable academic should embrace.  I fear you and
> Bird have gone overboard. The gentleman who requested a list of definitive
> bios on Twain might by now think the two of you slightly offbase; I
> do.
> Hoffman's book is an interesting read, regardless of your detractions.
> Please, no more sparring.
> Warmly,
> Richard Salassi