Picturing Same-Sex Marriage in the Antebellum United States: The Union of 'Two Most Excellent Men' in Longstreet's 'A Sage Conversation'
Journal of the History of Sexuality, Vol. 19, No. 2, pp. 197-222, May 2010
26 Pages Posted: 13 May 2010 Last revised: 1 Nov 2017
Date Written: May 13, 2010
Augustus Baldwin Longstreet’s short story “A Sage Conversation” appears, at first glance, to be an astonishingly modern tale. It assembles an elaborate social tableau that has at its center “George Scott and David Snow; two most excellent men, who became so much attached to each other that they actually got married” and “raised a lovely parcel of children.” The story appeared in Longstreet’s 1835 collection Georgia Scenes, Characters, Incidents &c. in the First Half Century of the Republic, an early contribution to the tradition of American humor. This collection was reprinted more than twenty times before the end of the century, and has been an object of ongoing fascination for literary critics. However, critics have overlooked the question of how to situate “A Sage Conversation” in relation to the history of sexuality. We interpret “A Sage Conversation” as an artifact of a profoundly different moment from our own in the long, intersecting histories of marriage and sexuality in the United States. To that end, we contextualize the story, from a literary perspective, in relation to the traditions of the tall tale and the narrative of domestic life, and from a social and legal perspective, in relation to nineteenth-century American thought about same-sex sexuality, gender roles, and restrictions on marriage.
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