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Introduction by Jonathan Ned Katz (An Original OutHistory Publication)

Cover: Norma Trist

Cover: Norma Trist

The present "Introduction" is based on new, substantial research and anlaysis by Jonathan Ned Katz and others. Katz first introduced excerpts from Norma Trist in Gay/Lesbian Almanac (NY: Harper & Row, 1983), 277-284, n.33 696. 

 

Dr. Carhart's Norma Trist; or Pure Carbon: A Story of the Inversion of the Sexes, copyrighted Austin, Texas, September 26, 1895, is one of three fictional works known to have appeared that year inspired by Alice Mitchell’s jealousy-murder of her beloved Freda Ward in Memphis, Tennessee, in 1892.

The two other works are Mary Wilkins Freeman's short story "The Long Arm" and Mary R. P. Hatch's novel The Strange Disappearance of Eugene Comstock.

In Dr. Carhart’s novel Norma Trist is tried for the attempted murder of her beloved Marie LaMoreaux after Norma learns that Marie is engaged to a man.

During Norma’s trial, the prosecutor asks her “if, in your relations with Marie, your love experienced perfect satisfaction?” 

Norma, apprehending the exact purport of the question, and wishing to relieve him from all embarrassment, said:

       “I understand you to mean satisfaction of the erotic desire?”

       “That is what I mean.”

       “I have no hesitancy in answering frankly and freely, that my love for and relations with Marie afforded the highest and profoundest satisfaction of which the entire human being is capable in the realm of human love.”[1] 

Norma’s statement is the most affirmative, assertive defense of genital-orgasmic love relations between women published in English in the nineteenth century.

It’s true that Norma’s statement, taken out of context, can be construed in diametrically opposed ways, depending on the reader’s understanding. Like Walt Whitman in numbers of poems, and Herman Melville in some works, Carhart phrased Norma’s words so, in themselves, they may be understood as an affirmation of asexual romantic love or of orgasmic sexual love.

But, in context, Norma herself clarifies that she is responding specifically to a question about the “satisfaction of the erotic desire.” Carhart himself also confirmed that intended meaning, in evidence cited below.

Carhart’s novel is also remarkable for allowing a woman space to repeatedly voice powerful, rational defenses of her sexual, loving feelings for a woman.

To be sure, in a final turnabout, Norma turns normative. Consenting to be hypnotized, Norma is ordered by a Dr. Jasper, to love a man and “be happy and make him happy.” The story ends as she follows orders, marries the man who has pursued her, has two “healthy” children, and leads a “delightful life” of “bliss."

Photo: Carhart (young)

Carhart (young)

Photo: Carhart (middle age)

Carhart (middle age)

Photo: Carhart (old age)

Carhart (old)

Dr. Jasper/Dr. Carhart
Dr. Jasper, the hypnotist who orders this so-called happy ending has the same professional background as Dr. Carhart, clearly making him a stand-in for the author. Carhart, who was then living in La Grange, Texas, also set his novel in and around La Grange. Mrs. LaMoreaux lives in a mansion that is still a local, historic site and tour, the Kreische residence. Other local landmarks (Monument Hill [the Bluff] and the La Bahia trail [or road] are cited.[2] Carhart also has Norma attend the “Maplewood Young Ladies’ Seminary, Pittsfield, Massachusetts,” just slightly altering the name of the actual “Maplewood Seminary, Pittsfield, Massachusetts.”[3]

The Inversion of the Sexes
Writing in the style of sensationalist, popular fiction of the nineteenth and early-twentieth centuries, Carnhart explains Norma’s psychological reversal in terms of the sexological theories of his time. Despite Norma’s many earlier, strong avowals of sex-love for women, she is not a “congenital sexual invert,” born with an essential, unchangeable sexual desire for women. Norma, it turns out, was made that way by her upbringing and is thus liable to change. So, under the order of a hypnotist-doctor, Norma’s sex-love can be refocused on a man and reproduction. 

Carhart’s novel engages his era’s nature/nurture debate about sexual feelings, a debate that continues in our own time. Born-this-way or made-this-way arguments are at once about the moral status of sexual and affectional emotions (good or bad), their psychological origins (built-in or a complex response to experience), and the civil right to act on those feelings, using one’s body in accord with them.

In making a case for Norma’s high moral and intellectual qualities, and her ability, via hypnotism, to reorient her sexual and loving feelings towards a husband and children, Carhart was advancing, for Texas, in 1895, a relatively liberal opinion.

Dr. F. E. Daniel
Just two years earlier in Texas, in 1893, Dr. F. E. Daniel, editor and proprietor of the Texas Medical Journal, (formerly Daniel’s Texas Medical Journal) had read a paper at a medical-legal meeting in which he asked “Should Insane Criminals or Sexual Perverts be Permitted to Procreate?” Answering in the negative, Dr. Daniel said that, instead of the death penalty, “castration is proposed.”

Including women in his proposal, as well as men, the doctor added: “In light of the Alice Mitchell case, it might be well enough to . . . asexualize all criminals of whatever class.”

Dr. Daniel added that he “would substitute castration [for execution] as a penalty for all sexual crimes or misdemeanors, including confirmed masturbation.” Dr. Daniel was not alone in advocating such drastic measures to curtail sexual perversion and inversion.[4] 

Marie LaMoreaux
In Norma Trist, Carhart never feels compelled to discuss the sexual constitution of Mrs. Marie LaMoreaux, the beautiful, young widow with whom Norma admits she has had sexual relations to orgasm. We never learn what Marie might have been doing and feeling at the time. LaMoreaux’s love for Norma and for a male named Alphonso Rodriquez is simply presented, not analyzed as to its character.

Rodriquez is Mexican, Carhart stresses, a captain, at one point, of a band of Mexicans, later the Mexican Consul to the U.S., and a close aide of Mexico’s President Diaz. Describing Rodriquez, Carhart declares: 

It could not be said that his features were handsome, or that they were even highly agreeable. While there were manifest features of the high bred Castillian, his complexion was dusky and his hair of such inky blackness as to suggest the aboriginal [Native American] type.[5]

Though the words above hint, suggestively, at “race” intermixing, this bears further study. In Texas, in 1995, it seems that love and marriage between LaMoreaux, of “French extraction,” and Rodriquez, a Mexican of Spanish origin, would not have been considered “interracial” -- both may have been understood as “white.” Intimacy between such “white” people (whether French, Spanish, American, or American-born Creoles of Spanish descent) would probably have been judged proper or improper on the basis of class. The suggestion of Native American heritage further complicates analysis of the intended meaning. Future researchers may further clarify this matter.[6]

Carhart provided LaMoreaux with French ancestry and made her the widow of an American with a French name. He also tells readers that she’s Roman Catholic. Carhart, who was formerly a Methodist minister, clearly meant to suggest the expansive sexual propensities fostered by the French nation and Catholic religion. 

Obscene?
In October 1895, responding to the publication of Norma Trist, an anonymous reviewer in the Texas Sanitarian claimed: “Such literature is hurtful to public morals, is prurient and salacious, and should be condemned by all good people.”[7]

In November 1895, an anonymous reviewer in the Texas Medical Journal, edited by the before mentioned Dr. Daniel, went further:

The book can well be classed as obscene, and should be dealt with by the authorities as such; its sale prohibited, and transmission through the mails denied it.

The same reviewer (Dr. Daniel?) responded to the book with “indignation” that Carhart, a medical doctor, did not support “every effort in behalf of pure morals,” joining “the endeavor to suppress or eliminate the indecent in literature.” Calling Norma Trist “a rash breach of propriety,” and “an outrage upon decency,” the reviewer said “the book is scarcely fit for a doctor to read.”

Dr. Carhart: Norma’s “Convulsive Joys”
The reviewer had even written to Carhart to ask him to confirm that the  “satisfaction” reported by Norma in the novel meant “sexual desire to the point of orgasm.” The reviewer also asked Carhart if the “relations” between Norma and Marie meant that they had indulged in “bodily contact, embraces, caresses; and if the pleasure the girl described was sexual desire gratified.”

Carhart was quoted as answering in the affirmative -- he cited Norma recalling in a letter to Marie: “I could yield myself in your embraces to the full sway of passion's convulsive joys."[8] (The "Anonymous [review of Norma Trist], Texas Medical Journal, November 1895," discussed above, is reprinted in full on OutHistory as a part of this multi-part feature.)

In February 1896, the Texas Medical News reported that Dr. Carhart, who was living in La Grange, had been arrested at his home and charged with “sending obscene literature through the mails.” He was eventually released and the case against him dismissed.[9]

Under Palmetto and Pine
Two years after the brouhaha over Norma Trist, in 1897, Dr. Carhart published another provocative book – a collection of stories about African Americans in Texas. Titled Under Palmetto and Pine, his book is said by scholar Violet M. Baird to depict “convicts, laborers, farmers, and entertainers” struggling against poverty and racial discrimination while trying to maintain their human dignity. Carhart “wrote sympathetically of the discrimination which warped Negro lives. There is no doubt but he was on their side,” says Baird. She notes that this novel by Carhart was published in Cincinnati, Ohio, not in Texas.[10]

It would certainly be interesting to know more about how Carhart came to write Norma Trist. Carhart cribbed some of Norma’s speeches from case studies in Kraft-Ebing’s Psychopathia Sexualis, as one scholar points out.[11]  And Carhart no doubt read the doctors’ testimony in the trial of Alice Mitchell. But Carhart also says of his novel’s Dr. Jasper (the author’s stand-in):

He had given special attention to the subject of psycho-sexual abnormalities, as found in the older civilizations of Europe, and had made a personal study of a number of cases coming under his own observation in this country.[12]

Had Carhart met or heard about a woman like Norma? Can any evidence be found about this? Who, for example, posed for the photographic portrait (or hyper-realist painting) of Norma Trist that adorns the cover of the novel? Carhart, who also invented the first (or one of the first) steam-engine automobiles, is a promising subject for future research.[13]

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Notes

[1] John Wesley Carhart, Norma Trist; or Pure Carbon: A Story of the Inversion of the Sexes (Austin, Texas: Eugene von Boeckmann, copyright: September 26, 1895, p.112. I am grateful to the late Eric Garber for informing me of this novel which he found listed in an old science fiction bibliography.

[2] Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, “Monument Hill & Kreische Brewery State Historic Sites,” accessed October 30, 2014 from http://www.tpwd.state.tx.us/state-parks/monument-hill-kreische-brewery. See also: Texas State Historical Association. “La Bahia Road.” Accessed October 30, 2014 from: http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/exl01.

[3] American Antiquarian Society. "Educational Institutions - Schools and Academies Collection Checklist" includes A "Maplewood Institute for Young Ladies, Pittsfield, MA. ,  Accessed November 2, 2014 from:https://www.americanantiquarian.org/Inventories/schools.htm

[4] Katz, Gay/Lesbian Almanac, 241-243.

[5] Carhart, Norma Trist, 114.

[6] I am grateful to Zeb Tortorici for a discussion of race and class in Texas, in 1895, that helped me begin to analyze this complex matter.

[7] Violet M. Baird, "John Wesley Carhart," Texana 9 (Spring 1971), 135-141. (Scholarly article with endnotes.)

[8] Anonymous. [Review of Norma Trist.Texas Medical Journal. November 1895,  Republished as one section of this OutHistory multi-part feature.

[9] Baird 141. See also: Austin Weekly Statesman, January 30, 1896 accessed October 30, 2014 from the Library of Congress. Chronicling America. Historic American Newspapers, http://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/search/pages/results/?dateFilterType=yearRange&date1=1836&date2=1922&language=&ortext=&andtext=&phrasetext=Norma+Trist&proxtext=&proxdistance=5&rows=20&searchType=advanced&sort=date.

[10] Baird, 141. See also the World Catalogue listing for John Wesley Carhart, Under the Palmetto and Pine. Cincinnati: Editor Publishing Co., 1897. [The stories' titles are suggestive: The worm in the cotton boll.--Black tulip.--Crutch and crown.--Lynchers foiled.--Ned's mascot.--Malo mori quam fœdari.--Benedicta's trial.--Benedicta's fortune.--Forbidden fruit.--Little Faggie.--Legend of Mount Bonnell.--The story of Ianka.--It happened thus.--Under the rose bush.--Might against right.--Sold his birthright.--Memory's pictured walls.--His ashes were still warm.--The black man's burden.--Complications ended. Accessed November 2, 2014 from http://www.worldcat.org/title/under-the-palmetto-and-pine/oclc/602950?ht=edition&referer=di.

[11] Kim Emery. Chapter 2, "Evolutionary Love" discusses Norma Trist, in The Lesbian Index: Pragmatism and Lesbian Subjectivity in the Twentieth-Century United States. (Albany: State Universitiy of New York Press), 8, 36-57, 111.

[12] Carhart, Norma Trist, 221.

[13] “In Wisconsin, in the early 1870s, he [Carhart] built "The Spark", which went 5 mph. In July, 1878 ‘The Oshkosh’, built on his design, was ruled the winner in a road-race in Wisconsin.” Information on Carhart accessed November 1, 2014 from: http://www.findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgi?page=gr&GRid=675.

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See also:

Anonymous: [Review of Norma Trist], Texas Medical Journal, November 1895

Bibliography on John Wesley Carhart and Norma Trist

John Wesley Carhart: Norma Trist (exceprts)