Mark Twain and Male Friendship: The Twichell, Howells, and Rogers Friendships

Mark Twain and Male Friendship: The Twichell, Howells, and Rogers Friendships

Mark Twain and Male Friendship: The Twichell, Howells, and Rogers Friendships

Mark Twain and Male Friendship: The Twichell, Howells, and Rogers Friendships


Biographies of America's greatest humorist abound, but none have charted the overall influence of the key male friendships that profoundly informed his life and work. Combining biography, literary history, and gender studies,Mark Twain and Male Friendshippresents a welcome new perspective as it examines three vastly different friendships and the stamp they left on Samuel Clemens's life.

With accessible prose informed by impressive research, the study provides an illuminating history of the friendships it explores, and the personal and cultural dynamic of the relationships. In the case of Twain and his pastor, Joseph Twichell, emphasis is put on the latter's role as mentor and spiritual advisor and on Twain's own waning sense of religious belonging. Messent then shifts gears to consider Twain's friendship with fellow author and collaborator William Dean Howells. Fascinating in its own right, this relationship also serves as a prism through which to view the literary marketplace of nineteenth-century America. A third, seemingly unlikely friendship between Twain and Standard Oil executive H.H. Rogers focuses on Twain's attitude toward business and shows how Rogers and his wife served as a surrogate family for the novelist after the death of his own wife.

As he charts these relationships, Messent uses existing work on male friendship, gender roles, and cultural change as a framework in which to situate altered conceptions of masculinity and of men's roles, not just in marriage but in the larger social networks of their time. In sum,Mark Twain and Male Friendship is not only a valuable new resource on the great novelist but also a lively cultural history of male friendship in nineteenth-century America.


[Y]our mouth … [Clemens wrote, speaking of the problems of auto
biographical dictation to a stenographer] … won’t say … a sluice of
intimately personal, & particularly private things…to any but a very
close personal friend, like Howells, or Twichell, or Henry Rogers.

—Henry Nash Smith and William M. Gibson, eds., Mark Twain
Howells Letters, 845.

Close friendships can be difficult to sustain. Their nature changes with time and with the distance that also often intervenes. William Dean Howells—in the late nineteenth century, the most important literary figure in America—writes on exactly this topic in an essay called “Storage.” I quote at some length:

Save in some signal exception, a thing taken out of storage cannot be
established in its former function without a sense of its comparative

I have lately been privy to the reunion of two old comrades who are
bound together more closely than most men in a community of inter
ests, occupations, and ideals. During a long separation they had kept
account of each other’s opinions as well as experiences; they had
exchanged letters, from time to time, in which they opened their
minds fully to each other, and found themselves constantly in accord.
When they met they made a great shouting, and each pretended that
he found the other just what he used to be. They talked a long, long
time, fighting the invisible enemy which they felt between them. The
enemy was habit, the habit of other minds and hearts, the daily use of
persons and things which in their separation they had not had in
common…. [T]hough they live in the same town, and often dine at
the same table, and belong to the same club, yet [the old friends] have
not grown together again.

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