Saturday, August 3, 2013

Charles Warren Stoddard

(from the San Francisco Gay History Tour App)
The Charles Warren Stoddard Tour allows you to see San Francisco through the eyes of a gay writer from 1911.  This tour features excerpts from Stoddard's book In the Footprints of the Padres and will take you on a journey that involves murder, a cemetary under City Hall, life on the Barbary Coast and poetic descriptions of early San Franciscan life and architecture.

Charles Warren Stoddard (1843-1909)
A pioneering California writer, Charles Warren Stoddard is best known for his homoerotic tales collected as South-Sea Idyls and The Island of Tranquil Delights.

Stoddard was born in Rochester, New York, on August 7, 1843, third of five children and second son to Sarah Freeman and Samuel Burr Stoddard, a paper merchant. As their fortunes declined during the next decade, the family moved about upstate New York and then left for San Francisco in 1854.

Although Stoddard subsequently returned East for two years to live with his grandparents, he regarded himself as a Californian, and his first poems were published, under the pseudonym "Pip Pepperpod," in the Golden Era.

During the 1860s, after he had quit school and dedicated himself to a literary career, Stoddard joined San Francisco's journalistic and Bohemian circles, and he established enduring relationships with Ambrose Bierce, Ina Coolbrith, Bret Harte, and Samuel Clemens (Mark Twain).

Mark Twain moved to San Francisco in 1864 to work as a journalist and later wrote privately that Stoddard was “such a nice girl.”

Beloved for his wit and amiability, Stoddard had a genius for friendship; his large literary acquaintance ultimately included both contemporary and younger writers, such as Robert Louis Stevenson, W. D. Howells, Henry Adams, Joaquin Miller, Jack London, George Sterling, Bliss Carman, Yone Noguchi, and George Cabot Lodge.

Stoddard was also connected to the developing gay networks of the nineteenth century through his friendships with Theodore F. Dwight and Dewitt Miller.

Inspired to sexual self-awareness by reading Whitman's "Calamus" poems, Stoddard gained his first experience with the natives of Hawaii and Tahiti, about whom he wrote his best stories, those collected in South-Sea Idyls (1874, 1892) and The Island of Tranquil Delights (1904).

The subtle eroticism of Stoddard's tropical tales was evidently lost on his audience--except for "Xavier Mayne" (Edward Prime-Stevenson), who noted their significance in The Intersexes (1908). Readers were also mystified by Stoddard's only novel, For the Pleasure of His Company (1903), an (unsuccessfully) experimental work of gay fiction.

Stoddard fell in love with the painter Frank Millet during the 1870s and lived with him in Venice. But he usually favored youthful companions. Of his several "kids," as he called them, the most important was Kenneth O'Connor, aged fifteen in 1895, when Stoddard unofficially adopted him and took him home to his Washington "Bungalow."

In 1903, his health failing and his relationship with Kenneth deteriorating, Stoddard returned to California. After a triumphal visit to San Francisco, where he was feted as a pioneering California writer, he settled in Monterey, where he died of a heart attack on April 23, 1909.

Stoddard's modest literary reputation had already faded before his collected Poems appeared posthumously in 1917. The gayest of the island stories have been collected in Cruising the South Seas (1987).

From the Archives: Letter from Charles Warren Stoddard to Walt Whitman, 8 February 1867

Transcribed from a digital image or microfilm reproduction of the original manuscript.  The Charles E. Feinberg Collection of the Papers of Walt Whitman, 1839-1919, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.

No comments:

Post a Comment