Mark Twain's Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1884) contains the materials for a wide-ranging analysis of the different and competing understandings of American manhood in the nineteenth century and the ways in which men might interact with each other and love each other. In order to understand better the sexual and emotional dynamics of the novel, we must understand the other kinds of writings about men alone and together that Twain was responding to. In this essay I place Twain's classic novel in two nineteenth-century discursive contexts that have been obscured in the existing criticism: the fiction of romantic friendship and the public debate on the homeless man. Huckleberry Finn may be seen as the reverse of the medal of normative, middle-class masculinity in Victorian America and as a counterpoint to the more conventional, idealized accounts of romantic friendship in the works of several of Twain's contemporaries and rivals. I suggest that while Huck and Jim negotiate an uncommon type of romantic friendship across barriers of race and generation, the duke and the dauphin appear as a grotesque parody of high-minded "brotherly love." By co-opting some of the conventions of romantic friendship fiction, Twain decreased the distance between his underclass characters and middle-class readers. Yet by writing and publishing the first novel about tramps during a period of heightened national concern about homeless men, Twain increased the topicality and popular appeal of what was, in its initial American publication in 1885, a subscription book that needed an element of sensationalism in order to sell.
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