Missing Ralph Keeler: Bohemians, Brahmins and literary friendships in the Gilded Age

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Though almost entirely forgotten, Ralph Keeler (1840–1873) occupies a unique position in American literary history. In the decade after the Civil War, he achieved fame as an essayist and travel writer. Navigating between the literary poles of San Francisco and Boston at crucial moments, he developed significant friendships with luminaries like Mark Twain, William Dean Howells and Thomas Bailey Aldrich. But while those men were experiencing the transitions of marriage, fatherhood and domestic responsibility, Keeler remained a self-styled vagabond. He consciously crafted a distinctive reputation as a Bohemian bachelor, opposed to bourgeois respectability. This article argues that the rediscovery of Keeler’s lost trajectory through these personal and professional relationships changes our sense of the development of American literature in the postbellum period. In particular, Keeler serves as a point of comparison that complicates our understanding of the life, work and self-conception of canonical figures like Twain and Howells.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)139-161
Number of pages23
JournalComparative American Studies
Issue number2
Early online date24 Oct 2016
Publication statusPublished - 2016


  • Ralph Keeler
  • Mark Twain
  • William Dean Howells
  • Thomas Bailey Aldrich
  • Vagabond
  • bachelor
  • friendship

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