LGBTQ History #20: Was Henry David Thoreau Family?

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LGBTQ History #20: Was Henry David Thoreau Family?

Henry David Thoreau

Henry David Thoreau

Famed writer Henry David Thoreau, known for Walden (1845) and A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers (1849) and many other writings was possibly a member of the LGBTQ community. According to the Encyclopedia of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender and Queer Culture, “Biographers remain undecided about Thoreau’s sexuality. He never married. He proposed to Ellen Sewall in 1840, but she rejected his offer. Some believe he was a repressed homosexual and others that he was asexual and remained celibate all of his life.”

In his A Week piece he speaks extensively of nature’s beauty and “friendship” between men. He writes that this type of relationship is longed for. “Men naturally, though feebly, seek this alliance, and their actions faintly foretell it. We are inclined to lay the chief stress on likeness and not on difference, and in foreign bodies we admit that there are many degrees of warmth below blood heat, but none of cold above it.” In this piece he also seems to agonize that men, in his opinion, do not love each other as they should. He writes, “What is commonly honored with the name of Friendship is no very profound or powerful instinct. Men do not, after all, love their Friends greatly. I do not often see the farmers made seers and wise to the verge of insanity by their Friendship for one another. They are not often transfigured and translated by love in each other’s presence. I do not observe them purified, refined, and elevated by the love of a man.” He continues by writing that his ideal friendship “will make a man honest; it will make him a hero; it will make him a saint. It is the state of the just dealing with the just, the magnanimous with the magnanimous, the sincere with the sincere, man with man.”

According to the Encyclopedia, during the time of Thoreau in late nineteenth century, writings about homosexuality were a prevalent phenomenon. This suggests he may have simply been writing in a way that was popular. Regardless, his sexuality is a source of great debate now as it was then.

 

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Ares Glenn
Ares Glenn
Ares Glenn is a masculine of center queer person of color living in the D.C. Metropolitan area. She enjoys traveling and studying the queer LGBTQ dynamics.