Pine Nuts: Two husbands, seriously?

McAvoy Layne

What might Mark Twain say about a serious proposal in China to allow for two husbands? First let us take a look at the proposal, recommended by a professor of economics at Fudan University in this summer of 2020.

Based on the fact that China has too many boys and not enough girls, an easy demographic solution would be to allow women to take two husbands. But has anybody asked the Chinese women what they think about this proposal? No. The one American woman I asked to respond to such a proposal arched an eyebrow and asked, “Seriously?”

My first concern might be, “So who gets the dog in a divorce?” And my second concern might be, “On Father’s Day, how will the dedicated wife be able to decide, without causing hurt-feelings, who gets the tie?”

So what might Mark Twain have to say about a two-husband solution to a gender imbalance? Well, we can infer what he might say from observations he made while in Salt Lake on his way to Nevada in 1861 …

“We had but two days in Salt Lake City, so there was not time to mount the inquisition, and bring to the attention of the nation, the workings of polygamy. Oh, I had the will to do so; I was feverish to plunge in headlong and achieve a reform here — until I saw the Mormon women, and I realized that a man who married one of them had done an act of Christian charity. But a man who married 60 of them had done a deed of such generosity that all nations should worship him in silence.

Oh, Brigham Young had 110 children in the house. A friend stopped by the house one day and gave one of the children a tin-whistle. Brigham had to rush out and purchase 109 more. Then the adults were confined to talking on their fingers entirely, until the children grew weary of the whistles. And the bedroom; imagine all 72 of those wives snoring at the same time. The roar was deafening. And the danger of it; for if they were all to draw their breath in at once, you could actually see the walls of the building suck-in.

No, ten or eleven wives is all a man needs. Never go over it.

Before leaving Salt Lake I was challenged by a Mormon elder: ‘Well, Clemens, I reckon you can’t cite a single passage in the Good Book that forbids polygamy.’

“But that was easy: No man can serve two masters.”

So there we pretty much have it. Mark Twain might be as skeptical of a two-husband solution to gender imbalance as he was skeptical of polygamy in 1861. And we might also safely infer that if Mark Twain were to give a pass to a lady for a lecture of his at Fudan University tomorrow evening, that pass might allow for, “Free Admission to bearer and one husband.”

And this is where our short visit with Mark Twain in 2020 comes to a close …

Learn more about McAvoy Layne at

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