A legal point to our discussants. Calling someone homosexual, or saying
that someone has dabbled sexually that way, is not likely to be
slanderous or libelous in this day and age. (We're all enlightened,
right? Except mayby on the Twain list?) In any event, even if it
might be libelous in some cases, it wouldn't be in this one, because
Mark Twain is (a) a public figure, and (b) dead.
I didn't see Mr. Hoffman's interview, and I haven't read his book
though I bought it. So maybe he is a nitwit. It would depend on
things other than simply suggesting, etc.
For those who are interested, there's a growing literature on same-
sex affection or same-sex sex during the 19th century and earlier.
The concept of "homosexuality" is a late 19th century construction.
Prior to that, for the most part same-sex dabbling wasn't seen as
an orientation, so that an individual wasn't viewed as "a homosexual."
People did, however, have affectionate relationships and erotic
encounters with people of the same sex. To the extent that it became
public, it was sodomy and very very bad. (Vide Oscar Wilde--married
father of two by the way.) However, there's quite a lot of
evidence (which, like a lot of historical evidence, is not just
lying there with the degree of obviousness that would satisfy those
of you who are shocked, shocked by the very suggestion . . .) that
same-sex dabbling was fairly common. And not just in all-male
environments like ships, mining camps, and the like.
This Forum conversation has all the marks (get it?) of the kind
of presentism that we find everywhere in academia today. It seems
to me that there's not a whole lot to be gained by demanding that
Mark Twain or any other person who lived before our time be
identified as, or protected from "slander" based on, what are obviously
hang ups of our time and (some of) our Twainians. We've had a lot
of discussion lately to show us that Mark Twain didn't hold the
(enlightened?) racial attitudes of late 20th century academics. Maybe
we could just skip over the struggle and admit that he didn't have
the (enlightened?) sexual attitudes of late 20th century academics
(homophile or homophobic) either.
For myself, I'm very interested in what kinds of things might have
happened after dark in those mining camps, and what the people
in the camps thought about all of it. We're never going to know
absolutely for sure--well, how much do we know that way anyway?--
but the historical work of the past few decades
has shown us that a lot can be learned. So let Mr. Hoffman have
his say, and let's evaluate it rather than C Span interviews.
Besides, "nitwit" is weak. Not worthy of Twainians.