From Publishers Weekly
In his astonishing frankness and sweep, Walt Whitman is the quintessential visionary American poet. His life spanned the beginnings of modern urbanization, the rupture of the Civil War and almost into the 20th century. In keeping with this larger-than-life figure, Roper (Fatal Mountaineer
) skillfully weaves several books into one. Framed as an insightful literary critique, especially of Whitman's coded writings, as well as a biographical chronicle of his remarkable and dysfunctional family, the book is also a historical examination of Civil War battlefield traumas and tragedies, principally as the poet experienced them. At the center of the book, Roper focuses on Whitman's emotional relations with the young wounded soldiers he nursed, showing in effect that these homoerotic bonds can be seen as the semipaternal manifestation of his relationships with his much younger brothers, George Washington Whitman—with whom he was closest, and who had a distinguished war record—and Thomas Jefferson Whitman. The brothers of the subtitle refer not only to George and Jeff, but to the poet's many comrades. 35 b&w illus. (Nov.)
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*Starred Review* “Now be a witness again—,” chanted Walt Whitman in resonant lines, “paint the mightiest armies of the earth.” In this groundbreaking study, Roper reveals the degree to which a poet famous for his depictions of the Civil War actually witnessed the carnage of clashing armies through the eyes of a younger brother, a daring Union officer. At Fredericksburg, Antietam, and Cold Harbor, George Whitman survived intense combat and then captured the harrowing ordeal in letters to his anxious mother and his two brothers, one an aspiring poet. In the correspondence between the seasoned soldier and his family, Roper locates the conduit for raw material artistically transformed by the acclaimed bard. Readers soon realize how profoundly George’s letters influenced Walt, who adroitly melded George’s accounts of torrid battles in his verse with his own experience as a visitor to military hospitals. But as Roper probes Walt’s poetry, he illuminates not only the writer’s abiding fraternal commitment to his decorated brother but also his transitory sexual ties to other men in and out of uniform. Behind the tangle of familial affections and sexual passions, readers discern the imaginative genius that wove very diverse strands into panoramic literature. Whitman’s many admirers will find here a wealth of insights. --Bryce Christensen