Friday, August 7, 2009

Today in Gay History

Happy 166th Birthday

Charles Warren Stoddard (August 7, 1843-1909)

Poet, Novelist

Credit all the following to glbtq:

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.. . .

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.

Beloved for his wit and amiability, Stoddard had a genius for friendship; his large literary acquaintance ultimately included both contemporary and younger writers. . .

Raised a Protestant, Stoddard converted to Roman Catholicism soon after the appearance of his Poems in 1867. Stoddard remained devout in his faith--among his most popular books was a spiritual autobiography, A Troubled Heart (1885)--and he cherished the companionship of priests, including Father Damien, missionary to the lepers of Molokai. He is listed in the Catholic Encyclopedia, but of course, no mention of his "gayness" there.

As a respected man of letters, Stoddard was recruited to academic positions at prominent Catholic institutions: Notre Dame, where he clashed with colleagues over his attentions to the students and resigned after three semesters; and the Catholic University of America, where he taught from 1889 to 1901.

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) . . .

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 the younger 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).

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