February 22, 2013
SHIRTLESS SIGHTING: Mark Twain
by Christopher King
Faithful readers of MobyLives may recall last year’s sultry slideshow of writers in their underpants, including figures like Allen Ginsberg, Ernest Hemingway, Ray Bradbury, William Carlos Williams, and William Faulkner. Now I’m here to bring you a startling new addition to the list: Mark Twain.
This photo, brought to light by Open Culture and dated to the 1880s, shows the author looking rather more hirsute and hunky than you might expect, but it appears to be authentic (it is cited in the Routledge Encyclopedia of Mark Twain). Although Open Culture’s Dan Colman theorizes it was used for some commercial purpose, such a public display of skin seems highly unlikely in the Victorian era, when men couldn’t appear bare-chested even at the beach. A much more probable explanation is that it’s a reference photo for this 1884 bust of Twain by Karl Gerhardt, and indeed, it comes from a time when photography started to find widespread use among painters and sculptors.
Whatever the explanation, Twain is in good company. Below, check out our original slideshow of naked novelists, poets, and journalists:
William Carlos Williams
Ernest Hemingway with Jean Patchett
W.H. Auden, Stephen Spender, Christopher Isherwood
Allen Ginsberg and Peter Orlovsky
Ken Kesey and Neal Cassady
William S. Burroughs
Jonathan Ames, on his own book cover
Christopher King is the former Art Director of Melville House.