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Avalos, J.C., Jr. (2005). “An Agony of Pleasurable Suffering”: Masochism and Maternal Deprivation in Mark Twain. Am. Imago, 62(1):35-58.

(2005). American Imago, 62(1):35-58

“An Agony of Pleasurable Suffering”: Masochism and Maternal Deprivation in Mark Twain

Julio C. Avalos, Jr.

“Among you boys you have a game: you stand a row of bricks on end a few inches apart; you push a brick, it knocks its neighbor over, the neighbor knocks over the next brick—and so on till all the row is prostrate. That is human life. A child's first act knocks over the initial brick, and the rest will follow inexorably.”

—Mark Twain, The Mysterious Stranger


Mark Twain never wore black leather. There is nothing to attest that he ever asked to be whipped or beaten, and there is no record of his ever having attended an S&M club. His autobiography reveals no proclivity for sexual depravities or self-mutilation. By most definitions, Mark Twain was no masochist. Yet this essay will show the pervasiveness of masochistic scenes and themes in Twain's writing and seek to demonstrate that their origin lies in the deprivations he suffered at the hands of his mother, Jane Clemens, which led to unconscious fears of passivity, effeminization, and infantilization. Superimposed on this bedrock were Twain's ambivalent relationship with his father, John Clemens, and his guilt over the deaths of his siblings in childhood.


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