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Stoddard, Charles Warren (1843-1909)  

A pioneering California writer, Charles Warren Stoddard is best known for his 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.

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.

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.

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).

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).

John W. Crowley


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Austen, Roger. Genteel Pagan: The Double Life of Charles Warren Stoddard. John W. Crowley, ed. Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 1991.

_____. Playing the Game: The Homosexual Novel in America. Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill, 1977.

Crowley, John W. "Howells, Stoddard, and Male Homosocial Attachment." The Mask of Fiction: Essays on W. D. Howells. Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 1989.

Gale, Robert L. Charles Warren Stoddard. Western Writers Series No. 30. Boise, Idaho: Boise State University Press, 1977.

Longton, Ray C. Three Writers of the Far West: A Reference Guide. Boston: G. K. Hall, 1980.

Stroven, Carl G. "A Life of Charles Warren Stoddard." Ph.D. Diss. Duke 1939.

Walker, Franklin. San Francisco's Literary Frontier. New York: Knopf, 1939.


    Citation Information
    Author: Crowley, John W.  
    Entry Title: Stoddard, Charles Warren  
    General Editor: Claude J. Summers  
    Publication Name: glbtq: An Encyclopedia of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual,
Transgender, and Queer Culture
    Publication Date: 2002  
    Date Last Updated May 15, 2002  
    Web Address  
    Publisher glbtq, Inc.
1130 West Adams
Chicago, IL   60607
    Today's Date  
    Encyclopedia Copyright: © 2002-2006, glbtq, Inc.  
    Entry Copyright © 1995, 2002 New England Publishing Associates  


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