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Shelley Fisher Fishkin <[log in to unmask]>
Reply To:
Mark Twain Forum <[log in to unmask]>
Tue, 25 May 2010 16:13:06 -0700
text/plain (166 lines)
Thank you to Bob Hirst and Ben Griffin for elucidating the latest  
brouhaha about Twain.  Anyone interested in a broader picture for  
understanding the context that Bob Hirst and Ben Griffin so helpfully  
clarified should consult the well-regarded comprehensive book on the  
topic, The Body Electric: How Strange Machines Built the Modern  
American by Carolyn de la Peña (NYU Press, 2005). Carolyn de la Peña  
is an Associate Professor of American Studies at the University of  
California at Davis, and is Director of the Davis Humanities Institute.
Here is some info on The Body Electric from the publisher:
"Transforming archival research into sparkling prose, The Body  
Electric explains how Americans learned to use machines to seek  
health, sexual rejuvenation, and physical transformation. This  
innovative book is both an entertaining history of fads and foibles  
and a groundbreaking cultural critique of the continuing obsession  
with achieving physical perfection."- David E. Nye, author of  
Electrifying America and America as Second Creation
"This provocative exploration of the concept of energy in American  
medicine deftly ranges across medical theories, exercise machines and  
their inventors, early human potential movements, popular fads of  
electricity and radiation, and the national mood at the turn of the  
twentieth century. The author writes with wit and sympathy about  
medical theories and devices that may now seem like outright quackery  
but that formerly appealed to the educated as well as the gullible in  
their elusive search for good health. Building upon on a vast and  
vastly entertaining literature of medical pamphlets and ephemera,  
Carolyn Thomas de la Peña brings a discerning intelligence and an  
energetic analytic style to the cultural history of medicine, faith,  
science, and technology."- Jeffrey L. Meikle, University of Texas,  

"The Body Electric is the so-far missing puzzle piece in our  
nineteenth-twentieth century knowledge of the social history of the  
human body and technology—a richly illustrated study showing two  
centuries of technologizing the human body against fears of weakness,  
enervation, sexual depletion."- Cecelia Tichi, author of Shifting  
Gears: Technology, Literature, Culture in Modernist America

"Covers its subject well, provides useful context, and makes lively  
reading for anyone interested in the history of technology, the social  
context of electricity and radioactive materials, or the history of  
alternative medicine."- Technology and Culture

"Not only provides a richly detailed and suprising account of long- 
forgotten artifacts, but also fleshes out the longer history of some  
still-familiar attitudes toward health and vitality."- Journal of  
Social History

Between the years 1850 and 1950, Americans became the leading energy  
consumers on the planet, expending tremendous physical resources on  
energy exploration, mental resources on energy exploitation, and  
monetary resources on energy acquisition. A unique combination of  
pseudoscientific theories of health and the public's rudimentary  
understanding of energy created an age in which sources of industrial  
power seemed capable of curing the physical limitations and ill health  
that plagued Victorian bodies. Licensed and "quack" physicians alike  
promoted machines, electricity, and radium as invigorating cures,  
veritable "fountains of youth" that would infuse the body with energy  
and push out disease and death.

The Body Electric is the first book to place changing ideas about  
fitness and gender in dialogue with the popular culture of technology.  
Whether through wearing electric belts, drinking radium water, or  
lifting mechanized weights, many Americans came to believe that by  
embracing the nation's rapid march to industrialization,  
electrification, and "radiomania," their bodies would emerge fully  
powered. Only by uncovering this belief's passions and products,  
Thomas de la Peña argues, can we fully understand our culture's  
twentieth-century energy enthusiasm.

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On May 25, 2010, at 2:42 PM, Robert Hirst wrote:

> Members of the Forum,
> Ever since the London _Independent_ published an article about the  
> forthcoming Autobiography earlier this week, I've been asked by  
> various news media and individuals some 476 times what I could tell  
> them about Mark Twain's use of sex toys as documented in said  
> Autobiography. I didn't hae an answer for that question, so I  
> commissioned one of the Mark Twain Project editors, Ben Griffin, to  
> fill me in. I thought the Forum might profit from what he had to  
> say, which follows:
> *[To the Person Vibrating in Darkness]*
> by Benjamin Griffin, Mark Twain Project, 25 May 2010
> The /Autobiography of Mark Twain/ does not contain any references to  
> sex toys or vibrators of any kind.
> When the Mark Twain Project comes to publish volume 3, we do expect  
> to append the “Ashcroft-Lyon MS.,” which does contain a leaf  
> (debatably part of the MS.) which refers to a pair of vibrating  
> machines. It’s relevant, however, to know a little about the history  
> of these appurtenances.
> Vibrating machines were marketed extensively in the first years of  
> the 20th century. They were sold as remedies for rheumatism,  
> headaches, neuralgia and many other ailments. No naughty  
> connotations attached to their public mention: they were advertised  
> in newspapers and sold in high-profile stores.
> Clemens was an owner and user of the “Arnold Vibrator” and so was  
> his secretary Isabel V. Lyon. She found that it “stops headaches”;  
> Clemens himself wrote that it
> cures and limbers lame and stiff backs … it stirs up the circulation  
> quite competently and tones up the nerves—and that is really /the/  
> essential function of osteopathy and kindred treatments.
> He recommended it to his friends, the Rogerses, in the 1908 letter  
> quoted here, which the Mark Twain Papers published in 1969.
> That Isabel Lyon bought a vibrator for Mark Twain is certain. Laura  
> Skandera-Trombley’s assertion that it was a “present,” or even that  
> it was Lyon’s idea to purchase the item, is undocumented. The  
> relevant passage from Lyon’s 1908 Date Book (in the Mark Twain  
> Papers) reads:
> We got an electrical vibrating machine for the King [/i.e.  
> Clemens/], in N.Y., and tested it on me and on him [/i.e. Ralph  
> Ashcroft/].
> “[F]or the King” doesn’t necessarily imply a gift; it may equally  
> well imply a commission by Clemens, to be carried out since Lyon was  
> going to New York anyway.
> That Clemens would have recognized the vibrator as a potential sex  
> toy is entirely Laura Skandera-Trombley’s idea; and since Skandera- 
> Trombley specifies that it was a sex toy “for women,” its meaning as  
> a putative present /to Clemens/ would be deeply puzzling.
> In sum,
> (1) the /Autobiography/, contrary to reports, contains no references  
> to vibrators either in a sexual or asexual capacity;
> (2) Clemens both used and recommended the then-popular health aide  
> the Arnold Vibrating Machine, a very above-board medical appliance  
> which Clemens recommended to friends, but this is not news.
> (3) That Lyon made a “present” of the machine to Clemens, or  
> recommended it to him, has not been documented.
> Reproduced below is a characteristic ad, from a 1913 issue of / 
> Popular Mechanics/, which may help to put the appliance back into  
> its contemporary context.
> [I have omitted the illustration in order to transmit this message  
> to the Forum.]

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Shelley Fisher Fishkin
Professor of English and Director of American Studies, Stanford