American Satyriasis in Whitman, Harris, and Hartland

  • Chris Packard


I call this chapter American satyriasis because each of the three writers considered here associate a literary version of satyriasis, also known as Don Juanism, or more recently sex addiction, with American manhood and nation building in the West. This motif of perpetual erotic arousal is best articulated in Whitman’s poetry and prose about “camaraderie” in the West. Frank Harris also connects perpetual sexual indulgences with the heights of literary ecstasy and freedoms of young men in Kansas in the 1870s. Claude Hartland’s autobiography, The Story of a Life, characterizes satyriasis as an “animal spirit” that overcomes his reason and compels him to have multiple male sex partners in and around St. Louis during the 1890s. Hartland’s sexual confession defines, if not a nation, at least a community of temporary lovers, and the doctors who would cure them, in the city known as the Gateway to the West. Whitman, Harris, and Hartland, in other words, developed a poetics of homoeroticism in the last quarter of the nineteenth century, and associated it with the American West.


Male Friend Animal Spirit Main Matter Nocturnal Emission Manly Love 
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  1. 1.
    The entire interview appears in Walter H. Eitner’s Walt Whitmans Western Jaunt (Lawrence, KS: The Regents Press of Kansas, 1981), pp. 83–85.Google Scholar
  2. 3.
    Quoted in Gay Wilson Aliens The Solitary Singer: A Critical Biography of Walt Whitman (New York: Macmillan, 1955), pp. 487–488Google Scholar
  3. 7.
    Michael Moon’s Disseminating Whitman: Revision and Corporeality in Leaves of Grass (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1991)Google Scholar
  4. 10.
    Kate Stephens denied their intimacies. See her Lies and Libels of Frank Harris (New York: Autigone Press, 1929).Google Scholar
  5. 11.
    John S. Haller and Robin M. Haller in The Physician and Sexuality in Victorian America (Urbana, IL: The University of Illinois Press, 1974)Google Scholar
  6. 12.
    See Vincent Brome’s Frank Harris: The Life and Loves of a Scoundrel (New York: T Yoseloff, 1960), p. 193Google Scholar
  7. 14.
    James Gifford’s Daynefords Library: American Homosexual Writing, 1900–1913 (Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 1995)Google Scholar

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© Chris Packard 2005

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  • Chris Packard

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