I suppose that I should start with a *mea culpa*--anyone who grabs for
a file called TWAIN.SEX deserves what he gets. Many words come to mind:
"absurd sensationalism" are only two of them.
Hoffman states that "our scholarship depends on our times." Our times are,
alas, times of witch-hunting, times of Political Correctness, times of
vicious "outing" practices. Hoffman's piece certainly reflects such
behaviours and beliefs.
Hoffman's mealy-mouthed language is nothing short of an avoidance of
responsibility. I don't recall ever seeing so many evasive terms in
such a short piece of prose. Has Hoffman listened to his own words,
words like "evidence...filtered, partial...second-hand" "implies"
(repeated) "probably" "uncertain" "circumstantial evidence"
"possibility" (repeated) "theory" "seems" "almost certainly" "my
guess" "mystery" "appears" "likeliest reason" "perhaps" "might"
"obscure"? He even throws in the pseudo-scientific "hypothesis,"
as if we could be so easily deluded by fuzzy language.
Hoffman dwells on Blennerhasset as a "fissure," a window into the
mores of 19th-century small-town America. Twain's emphasis in
this entry is on the lawyer's religious and social unorthodoxy:
Blennerhasset is clearly a model for the misunderstood Pudd'nhead
Hoffman is obsessed by the unbalanced male/female ratio of a
frontier society. There are still remote places in my own
country where such conditions prevail. Are we to conclude
that only homosexuals travel to such frontier environments?
Did not most of us, in our student days, share close quarters
with other males in university residences and small apartments?
Is our sexuality in question because of the financial constraints
that we had to endure? I speculate that Hoffman would say
Hoffman is remarkably ill-informed with respect to Victorian
sexual attitudes, attitudes that prevailed certainly until
the time of Freud. Female sexuality was feared and consequently
repressed. The issue was one of control, not of homosexuality.
One might make a case for Twain as a heterosexual pedophile,
given his predilection for pre-pubescent girls. Lewis Carroll
showed, even more overtly, such a tendency. Being attracted to
little girls may be unhealthy and antisocial, but it certainly
is not evidence of homosexuality.
The strongest evidence that Hoffman has is the dubious speculation
of Fiedler. To base a speculation upon another speculation is
I find Hoffman's reference to Twain's use of twins particalarly
puzzling. Twain uses twins in an ancient and conventional way:
as a metaphor for the dual nature of man. The 20th-century
humourist John Barth understood Twain very well. I refer you
to his story "Petition," which was published in July, 1967,in
In his covering note, Hoffman refers to "all the press resulting"
from his wild and irresponsible speculations. I've attended a
few scholarly conferences in my career, and I don't recall seeing
hordes of media people eager to capture our pearls of wisdom as
they flow from our lips. Could it be that Hoffman engineered
the coverage? But this is mere speculation, and I leave idle
speculation to Andy Hoffman.