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snopes 30 July 2014 03:24 PM

Mark Twain on women's clothing (literally)
Comment: A quote by Mark Twain. When Mark Twain was in Hawaii, he noticed
several young women bathing in the ocean. He said, "I sat on their clothes
so they wouldn't be stolen."

Chloe 30 July 2014 03:32 PM

I think the point is that they're supposed to be swimming nude.

I point this out because I couldn't figure it out myself.

Chloe 30 July 2014 03:36 PM

Possibly. In the UK, at least, bathing and swimming are synonyms (one is rather archaic, but wouldn't have been in Twain's time), and you wouldn't expect to be nude for either.

Anyway, here's the quote, from Roughing It:

"At noon I observed a bevy of nude native young ladies bathing in the sea, and went and sat down on their clothes to keep them from being stolen. I begged them to come out, for the sea was rising and I was satisfied that they were running some risk. But they were not afraid, and presently went on with their sport. They were finished swimmers and divers, and enjoyed themselves to the last degree."

Hero_Mike 30 July 2014 06:34 PM

Sitting on their clothing gives him the plausible excuse to sit their and observe the nude bathers, even up to the point where they need to exit the water. In other words, it's a justification for his voyeurism.

E. Q. Taft 23 August 2014 04:56 AM

"Bathers" as a synonym for swimmers is generally archaic in the US. I'm old enough to remember, however, the term "bathing beauties" to refer to pretty girls in swimsuits.

ganzfeld 23 August 2014 06:53 AM

It's extremely obvious from the entire passage that it's bathing as in swimming because he describes it in detail (going on even after the passage Chloe quoted to describe native swimming in detail). Since they obviously had no qualms about swimming nude public I have no idea why it would be considered any kind of voyeurism. The whole thing with sitting on the clothes might seem a bit creepy. (I thought it had said "I sat on" as in to watch but, of course, it says "I sat down on". So it seems he was literally sitting on them...)

erwins 23 August 2014 07:12 AM

It seems quite obvious to me that it's a joke. It's typical Twain humor. It doesn't guarantee that it isn't true, but I don't think he literally sat on their clothes.

ganzfeld 23 August 2014 08:07 AM

I also find it hard to believe he would do so. I can totally accept that he was enamoured of them in a way that could seem slightly creepy for his age but the whole passage seems to be a celebration of their physical abilities. There's nothing voyeuristic about it. It's also characteristically full of humour, with several obviously ironic claims so that interpretation seems fitting.

Brad from Georgia 23 August 2014 01:08 PM

He wasn't old and white-haired at the time....

Yes, it's humorous throughout and obviously exaggerated for comic effect. He notes that after an hour of watching the girls, he turned to leave and discovered that his horse had gone to sleep. He observes that this is a crucial difference between man and the horse: "You cannot depend on a horse to gather news."

The piece leads into a discussion of the civilizing efforts of missionaries, who were distressed that so many of their women parishioners wore so few clothes. They arranged to import clothes to teach them the value of modesty, and then during the next Sunday's services,


a brown, stately dame would sweep up the aisle with a world of airs, with nothing in the world on but a "stovepipe" hat and a pair of cheap gloves; another dame would follow, tricked out in a man's shirt, and nothing else; another one would enter with a flourish, with simply the sleeves of a bright calico dress tied around her waist and the rest of the garment dragging behind like a peacock's tail off duty....They gazed at each other with happy admiration, and it was plain to see that the young girls were taking note of what each other had on, as naturally as if they had always lived in a land of Bibles and knew what churches were made for; here was the evidence of a dawning civilization.
It's pretty clear that Twain was being satirical, and not just of the Hawaiians.

Tootsie Plunkette 23 August 2014 03:07 PM

This reminds me of this passage (or more specifically, the footnote, but it makes more sense in context with the text so I included both) in the chapter on Offenbach from My Favorite Intermissions - Victor Borge's Lives of the Musical Greats and Other Facts You Never Knew You Were Missing, by Victor Borge and Robert Sherman:


"The idea of the cancan," said Mark Twain when he visited France, "is to dance as wildly, as noisily and as furiously as you can, to expose yourself as much as possible if you are a woman, and to kick as high as you can, no matter which sex you belong to. It is a whirl of shouts, laughter, furious music, a bewildering chaos of darting and interminable forms, stormy jerking and snatching of gay dresses, bobbing heads, flying arms, lightning-flashes of white-stockinged calves and dainty slippers in the air, and then a grand final rush, riot, terrific hubbub and wild stampede."*

*And you thought that Mark Twain sat home quietly in the evenings, writing about the Mississippi.

Horse Chestnut 29 August 2014 02:52 PM


Originally Posted by Tootsie Plunkette (Post 1839023)
*And you thought that Mark Twain sat home quietly in the evenings, writing about the Mississippi.

That's the one thing I never thought of Mark Twain. :cool:

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