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Judith Yaross Lee <[log in to unmask]>
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Mark Twain Forum <[log in to unmask]>
Tue, 25 May 2010 20:50:23 -0400
text/plain (106 lines)
I meant to send this message to the Forum as well as to Bob--

Begin forwarded message:

> From: Judith Yaross Lee <[log in to unmask]>
> Date: May 25, 2010 7:15:40 PM EDT
> To: Robert Hirst <[log in to unmask]>
> Subject: Re: Mark Twain and sex toys
> Bob, I highly recommend that you and anyone else interested in this question look at Rachel Maines's _Technology of Orgasm:  "Hysteria," the Vibrator, and Women's Sexual Satisfaction_ (Baltimore:  Johns Hopkins University Press, 1999), which includes an incredibly detailed scholarly history of the vibrator and other medical treatments for hysteria.  The study, whose predecessor article in an obscure history of technology journal, cost the historian her job, but the book makes unequivocally clear that sexual uses of the vibrator were an open secret in Victorian America and well into the 20th century--until the women's movement of the 1960s and '70s brought female sexuality into the open and made hysteria a disease of the past. 
> Judith
> On May 25, 2010, at 5:42 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.]
> Judith Yaross Lee
> Professor and Director of Honors Tutorial Studies
> School of Communication Studies
> Lasher Hall, Ohio University
> Athens, OH 45701
> T: 740.593.4844
> F: 740.593.4810

Judith Yaross Lee
Professor and Director of Honors Tutorial Studies
School of Communication Studies
Lasher Hall, Ohio University
Athens, OH 45701
T: 740.593.4844
F: 740.593.4810