An extract on #icmekan
Scharnhorst writes that Alger "exercised a certain discretion in discussing his probable homosexuality" and was known to have mentioned his sexuality only once after the Brewster incident. In 1870 the elder Henry James wrote that Alger "talks freely about his own late insanitywhich he in fact appears to enjoy as a subject of conversation". Although Alger was willing to speak to James, his sexuality was a closely guarded secret. According to Scharnhorst, Alger made veiled references to homosexuality in his boys' books, and these references, Scharnhorst speculates, indicate Alger was "insecure with his sexual orientation". Alger wrote, for example, that it was difficult to distinguish whether Tattered Tom was a boy or a girl and in other instances he introduces foppish, effeminate, lisping "stereotypical homosexuals" who are treated with scorn and pity by others. In Silas Snobden's Office Boy, a kidnapped boy disguised as a girl is threatened with being sent to the "insane asylum" if he should reveal his actual sex. Scharnhorst believes Alger's desire to atone for his "secret sin" may have "spurred him to identify his own charitable acts of writing didactic books for boys with the acts of the charitable patrons in his books who wish to atone for a secret sin in their past by aiding the hero". Scharnhorst points out that the patron in Try and Trust, for example, conceals a "sad secret" from which he is redeemed only after saving the hero's life.
Alan Trachtenberg, in his introduction to the Signet Classic edition of Ragged Dick (1990), points out that Alger had tremendous sympathy for boys and discovered a calling for himself in the composition of boys' books. "He learned to consult the boy in himself", Trachtenberg writes, "to transmute and recast himselfhis genteel culture, his liberal patrician sympathy for underdogs, his shaky economic status as an author, and not least, his dangerous erotic attraction to boysinto his juvenile fiction". He observes that it is impossible to know whether Alger lived the life of a secret homosexual, "[b]ut there are hints that the male companionship he describes as a refuge from the streetsthe cozy domestic arrangements between Dick and Fosdick, for examplemay also be an erotic relationship". Trachtenberg observes that nothing prurient occurs in Ragged Dick but believes the few instances in Alger's work of two boys touching or a man and a boy touching "might arouse erotic wishes in readers prepared to entertain such fantasies". Such images, Trachtenberg believes, may imply "a positive view of homoeroticism as an alternative way of life, of living by sympathy rather than aggression". Trachtenberg concludes, "in Ragged Dick we see Alger plotting domestic romance, complete with a surrogate marriage of two homeless boys, as the setting for his formulaic metamorphosis of an outcast street boy into a self-respecting citizen".