“Queer Secrets” in Men’s Clubs

Humor, Violence, and Homoerotic Elision in Works by Mark Twain, Bret Harte, and Eugene Field
  • Chris Packard


Upon arriving by stagecoach in Carson City in 1861, Samuel Langhorne Clemens and his older brother Orion took up residence in an overcrowded boarding house, where the enterprising landlady had hung sheets of “cotton domestic” from corner to corner, subdividing single rooms into quartets to accommodate the burgeoning population of silver mining speculators. “This was the rule in Carson,” Twain reported a decade later, having dropped his family name and acquired the moniker that would become so famous, “—any other kind of partition was the rare exception. And if you stood in a dark room and your neighbors in the next had lights, the shadows on your canvas told queer secrets sometimes!” The “queer secrets” pantomimed on the sheets are not the target of Twain’s satire, but the sheets themselves are. “Very often these partitions were made of old flour sacks basted together; … the common herd had unornamented sacks, while the walls of the aristocrat were overpowering with rudimental fresco—i.e., red and blue mill brands” (644). Readers of Twain will recognize his satire of aristocrats, a theme in practically all his work.


Club Member Mining Camp Nursery Rhyme Style Love Shared Laughter 
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  1. 2.
    Recently, Lewis O. Saum published Eugene Field and His Age (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2000)Google Scholar
  2. 4.
    See Nigey Lennon, The Sagebrush Bohemian: Mark Twain in California (New York: Paragon House, 1990).Google Scholar
  3. 5.
    Andrew J. Hoffman documents Twain’s erotic relations with at least four journalists with whom he shared quarters between 1861 and 1865. See “Mark Twain and Homosexuality,” American Literature, 67.1 (March 1995): 23–49.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. 6.
    Mikhail Bakhtin argues this point cogently in his Rabelais and His World. (Trans. Helene Iswolsky. Cambridge, MA: The Massachusetts Institute of Technology Press, 1965).Google Scholar
  5. 7.
    See Justin Kaplan’s account of Twain’s courtship letters to Livy, in which he regrets giving her Don Quixote to read (Mr. Clemens and Mark Twain, a Biography, New York: Simon & Schuster, 1966, pp. 92–93).Google Scholar
  6. 9.
    See Bradford A. Booth’s “Mark Twain’s Comments on Bret Harte’s Stories,” American Literature, XXV (January 1954): 492–495.Google Scholar
  7. 10.
    See William F. Connor’s “The Euchring of Tennessee: A Reexamination of Bret Harte’s “Tennessee’s Partner,” Studies in Short Fiction 17 (Spring 1980): 13.Google Scholar
  8. 14.
    Harte, Bret. “Uncle Billy and Uncle Jim,” in Stories in Light and Shadow. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1898.Google Scholar
  9. 18.
    See Albert Parry’s book, Garrets and Pretenders: A History of Bohemianism in America (New York: Dover Press, 1960), especially p. 140.Google Scholar
  10. 20.
    Eugene Field. Only a Boy. 1895. Reprinted. (New York: Canyon Books, 1968).Google Scholar

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© Chris Packard 2005

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  • Chris Packard

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