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PETER MESSENT Mark Twain, Manhood, The Henry H- Rogers Friendship, and "Which Was the Dream?" I THERE HAS BEEN CONSIDERABLE DEBATE OI\ whether a "crisis" in masculinity occurred in late nineteenth-century America. The current consensus is that the term "crisis" is misleading but that "middle-class men" do, nonetheless, "seem to have been unusually interested in—even obsessed with—manhood" at this time (Bederman io-ii).1 The ferment around ideas of masculinity, though, extended well beyond middle-classes boundaries. In this essay I examine the correspondence and friendship between Samuel Clemens (Mark Twain) and Henry Huttleston Rogers—"Hell Hound" Rogers, vice-president of the Standard Oil Company—in this context. I show how their relationship adds to, and complicates, our understanding of manhood at the time, and suggest how Clemens's status as both a professional writer and a businessman relates to this issue. Finally, I explore the representation of manhood in one of his late fictions, Which Was the Dream?, in the light of my previous biographical and cultural analysis. Masculinity and the anxieties that surround it is a topic that has been relatively neglected in Mark Twain studies.2 This essay will begin to address that deficiency. Concerns about masculinity in this period can be put down to a large number of factors. These included severe economic depression and the threat it posed to the ideology of self-made manhood; fears of effeminacy, overcivilization and "neurasthenia" in a culture where Arizona Quarterly Volume 61, Number i, Spring 2005 Copyright © 2005 by Arizona Board of Regents ISSN 0004?610 58 Peter Messent physical inactivity and mental effort had apparently replaced a reliance on, and admiration for, the muscular male body; and anxieties about the advance and effect of the women's movement (Bederman, 1-44)· Any straightforward reading of gender role in the period has, however, been complicated by recent critical work undermining notions of clearly limited "separate spheres" of male and female activity and influence . Amy Kaplan, for example, in The Anarchy ofEmpire in the Making of U.S. Culture (2002) explores representations of domesticity and female subjectivity in the 1850s to show how they "contributed to and were enabled by narratives of nation and empire building." She shows how "the female realm of domesticity and the male arena of Manifest Destiny were not separate spheres at all but were intimately linked" (Kaplan 18-19).3 In this essay I show how a similar link exists between the "male" world of business and the supposedly "female" realm of sentiment . I do not, however, abandon the notion of separate spheres: to do so runs flat in the face of commonly accepted belief.4 So Mark C. Carnes makes a convincing case for the determining influence of "the gender bifurcation of middle-class life" in his study of fraternal organizations and ritualistic behavior in the American Victorian world. Members of "male secret orders," he shows, "repeatedly practiced rituals that effaced the religious values and emotional ties associated with women" (Carnes, Secret Ritual 123, 114-15).5 I am treading on slippery ground here. Critical work on constructions of manliness in late nineteenth-century America is still very much an ongoing project, and we should remember the multiform rather than homogenous nature of the term. So Bederman reminds us that "attempting to define manhood as a coherent set of prescriptive ideals, traits, or sex roles obscures the complexities and contradictions of any historical moment" (Bederman 6). Carnes and Griffen comment more simply that "constructions of masculinity vary in different contexts within the same culture" (Carnes and Griffen 132).6 Moreover, writing on the subject tends to be class and race-oriented, with particular emphasis on middle- and working-class white manhood. Samuel Clemens and H. H. Rogers make an exceptional and interesting pairing to consider within this context. Their friendship started (in 1893) at a time when Clemens was in deep trouble. The country was in severe economic depression and his own business interests were in crisis. Work on the Paige typesetting machine, in which he had sunk "Which Was the Dream?" 59 massive amounts of money over a twelve-year period, was at a halt. His role as...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1558-9595
Print ISSN
0004-1610
Pages
pp. 57-84
Launched on MUSE
2012-04-04
Open Access
No
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