The Weekly Nudesletter
Vol. 1, No. 8
January 13, 1997


Article: Mark Twain on Nudity

New and interesting Web pages

Nudity in the news

Mark Twain on Nudity

If one were looking around for some words to express as well as possible the "right" attitude towards clothes and nudity, one could hardly do better than these:
Soon as it was night out we shoved; when we got her out to about the middle we let her alone, and let her float wherever the current wanted her to; then we lit the pipes, and dangled our legs in the water, and talked about all kinds of things -- we was always naked, day and night, whenever the mosquitoes would let us -- the new clothes Buck's folks made for me was too good to be comfortable, and besides I didn't go much on clothes, nohow.
That is it in a nutshell: sometimes, though not always, life is just better without the discomfort and complication of clothes that are unnecessary and do not belong. At these times, at many times, what may be a problem if one wears clothes is not, and life is simpler, without them:
The waves most washed me off the raft sometimes, but I hadn't any clothes on, and didn't mind.
At least, those are the words and feelings with which Mark Twain equipped one of his best-conceived characters, Huck Finn.

Is this merely something which is in character for Huck, a fictionalized figure out of our rural, unsophisticated past? Or do these thougts reflect Twain's own feelings? The latter may well be the case, even though some commentators have found evidence of conventional prudishness in other of Twain's writing.

One of the frequent themes in Twain's work, and one that has as much relevance today as ever, is the question of whether or not we are really better off for living in a complex society with many rules and customs - such as the wearing of clothes - to "protect" us from the darker impluses of our own human nature. Was the original "Garden of Eden", the state of nature, better or wasn't it?

According to Huck, it was. His friend, Tom Sawyer, seemed to tend the same way, in the adventure that he, Huck, and another had on their island in the Mississippi:

Tom stirred up the other pirates and they all clattered away with a shout, and in a minute or two were stripped and chasing after and tumbling over each other in the shallow limpid water of the white sandbar. They felt no longing for the little village sleeping in the distance beyond the majestic waste of water. A vagrant current or a slight rise in the river had carried off their raft, but this only gratified them, since its going was something like burning the bridge between them and civilization.
But in other writings, Twain is ambivalent about the contrast between the "noble savage" and civilization. For instance, In his early memoir, Roughing It he provides plenty of examples that paint an unflattering picture of the quality of life in the "Wild West". The subjects of clothing and nudity don't arise explicitly in this book until the last 20%, where Twain describes his visit to Hawaii in 1866. There his ambivalence is almost palpable. Though he tended to regard the islanders as simple and primitive, he was obviously a little fascinated, as well, by their comfort with nudity, which had still not been quite wiped out by the missionaries:
In the rural districts of any of the islands, the traveler hourly comes upon parties of dusky maidens bathing in the streams or in the sea without any clothing on and exhibiting no very intemperate zeal in the matter of hiding their nakedness.
And later he describes the popular sport of surf-boarding in its original form:
In one place we came upon a large company of naked natives, of both sexes and all ages, amusing themselves with tne national pastime of surf bathing.
As he aged, Twain became increasingly acerbic and cynical when reflecting on the follies of human nature as expressed, especially, in conventional society. In particular, he became decidedly less ambivalent about nakedness and nudity. His philosophical observations on the real nature of "shame" and "modesty" are as apropos today as 100 years ago. They might equally well be spoken by any contemporary partisan of nudity:
Indecency, vulgarity, obscenity - these are strictly confined to man; he invented them. Among the higher animals there is no trace of them. They hide nothing. They are not ashamed.
he wrote in Letters from the Earth, and a little later:
Adam and Eve entered the world naked and unashamed - naked and pure-minded. And no descendant of theirs has ever entered it otherwise. All have entered it naked, unashamed, and clean in mind. They entered it modest. They had to acquire immodesty in the soiled mind, there was no other way to get it. ... The convention miscalled "modesty" has no standard, and cannot have one, because it is opposed to nature and reason and is therefore an artificiality and subject to anyone's whim - anyone's diseased caprice.
Why do we lose our way and stumble into mistakes like this? How is it that we can - if we think about it and are honest - recognize that nakedness is comfortable, pleasant, and enjoyable, yet fear to admit this to anyone else, even those closest to us? Twain had the answer:
We are discreet sheep; we wait to see how the drove is going, and then go with the drove. We have two opinions: one private, which we are afraid to express; and another one - the one we use - which we force ourselves to wear to please Mrs. Grundy, until habit makes us comfortable in it, and the custom of defending it presently makes us love it, adore it, and forget how pitifully we came by it.
For more about how Twain dealt with nudity in his best known books, see my page on Clothing Optional Readings.

New and interesting Web pages

Uncovered's Naturist Pages
The author of these personal pages doesn't identify himself other than as a resident of Scotland. He does, however, have a number of pictures of himself and his wife at the site. There are also some reports on beaches in the UK and France. His links page is good, with references to a number of UK clubs, links to more information for a number of European countries, and a respectable selection of fine art nude photography links.

Dmitriy & Alisa
This is another modest but nicely done personal site by a couple who are from St. Petersburg, Russia but currently live in New York. Of special interest are the pages on their favorite naturist location in Russia: the village of Simesia in Crimea.

Dan Vath
Refershingly, here is a personal site whose owner uses his full name (at least, we assume it is). He calls it the Brave Nude World. In this world you'll find short essays entitled "Why Be Nude?", "Nudist? or Naturist?", and "Resorts or Beaches?". In addition, there's a collection of nudist line art (scanned from Jan Gay's 1932 book On Going Naked), and a short list of naturist/nudist books you can order through Amazon.Com.

Cabana To Go Nude Web Pages
Cabana To Go sells a small, lightweight beach cabana (about 3 pounds), and other beach gear. They have put together a light-hearted site to promote the merchandise, but more to the point there is a portion (not accessible from the home page) directed to nude beachers. It currently has several features, like a good list of geographically organized Web links and a calendar of nude events.

Eva & Steffen's Digital Nude Postcard Center
Do you have a friend you haven't heard from in awhile who's open-minded about nudity? Let your friend know that you're still alive and brighten up his/her day with a digital nude postcard. Eva & Steffen are Swedish naturists whose fine site has been around for some time, and this is a relatively new feature.

Spencer Tunick
Like photographer Harvey Drouillard (see news item below), Tunick specializes in pictures of people not wearing clothes, but in familiar, everyday, public environments. The best way to understand what this is about is simply to visit the site and go to the "America Zone" exhibit. But his current project is much more ambitious and of even more interest to people who like to be naked: an Odyssey through all 50 states called the "Naked States Tour".

Nudity in the news

"Guerilla" Photographer of Nudes Arrested in Michigan
Harvey Drouillard photographs people in ordinary urban settings - nude people, that is. Some of the images show people in such an unexceptional slice of life that the viewer has to ask, "how would clothes make any difference in this scene?" One can imagine that this is how it would look if our society were mature enough to accept nudity as a normal part of life.

Unfortunately, this vision proved a little too subtle for police in Ann Arbor, Michigan early in December. Prior to this, Drouillard had conducted almost 300 hit-and-run nude photo sessions in Ann Arbor and elsewhere since 1994 without problems with the local gendarmerie.

Drouillard works somewhat like Spencer Tunick (above), in that his models arrive clothed for a session, quickly strip for the picture, then quickly dress again. But he normally works with only 2 or 3 people at a time, and his models typically assume more naturialistic poses.

Nudity in Italian Political Protest
Nudity remains a popular way to make political points. Dairy farmers in Italy staged a protest in December against milk fines imposed by the European Union. And Jessica Massaro, an adult entertainment star, helped out by appearing wearing only a cow bell, leather boots, and black-and-white spotted body paint.

Nudity in Anti-Fur PETA Protest
Two female PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) activists were merely the latest in a long series of similar anti-fur protests when they stripped from the waist up at the Rockefeller Center ice skating rink before crowds of Christmas shoppers. Nora Burns and Lisa Permut chose a leopard-spotted body paint theme and carried a banner proclaiming that "Only Animals Should Wear Fur".

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