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Walt Whitman: A Life (Perennial Classics) Paperback – July 8, 2003


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Product Details

  • Series: Perennial Classics
  • Paperback: 464 pages
  • Publisher: Harper Perennial Modern Classics (July 8, 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0060535113
  • ISBN-13: 978-0060535117
  • Product Dimensions: 9 x 6.1 x 0.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (8 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #673,049 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

About the Author

Justin Kaplan is also the author of Mr. Clemens and Mark Twain, winner of the Pulitzer Prize and National Book Award. He is general editor of Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations and a member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters. He is married to the novelist Anne Bernays. They have three daughters and six grandchildren, and live in Cambridge and Truro, Massachusetts.


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Customer Reviews

3.9 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

42 of 43 people found the following review helpful By Jeanne M. Boone on November 5, 2006
Format: Paperback
When I was young, I was told that Walt Whitman was a marvelous poet. I read some

parts of Leaves of Grass but I was not impressed. Now, when I am old,I have

recently met a young poet who thinks highly of Whitman as the Father of

Modern American Poetry. Therefore, I decided to try him again.

I bought a copy of Leaves of Grass with an introduction by Justin Kaplan.

First I read Kaplan's introduction; then I read Leaves of Grass four times.

After the second reading, I finally 'got it'. Then I wanted to learn more

about Whitman so I sent for Kaplan's biography of Whitman.

I found this biography answered many questions I had about Whitman's life.

Kaplan's writing is very accessible and extremely informative. He cites

contemporary sources for facts about Whitman's life. I would recommend

this book highly to anyone who wants to know more about Walt Whitman.

(I just hope my review comes through cyberspace intact. This space keeps

cutting off the ends of words.)
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18 of 21 people found the following review helpful By Lawrence Schwartzwald on April 7, 2007
Format: Paperback
There isn't much by way of analysis of the poems, but there is a trove of information about Whitman the poet and enigmatic man.
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8 of 12 people found the following review helpful By albarino on July 27, 2011
Format: Paperback
Appearing in 1980, a time when popular understanding of gay sensibilities and ways of being homosexual in straight American society were still sketchy, Kaplan adroitly and with admirable nuance addresses Whitman's sexual "otherness" and its impact on his friendships and literary art. I write this in 2011; Kaplan did his research when NY's Stonewall Riots were a recent memory, and the Village People an ironic musical act for sophisticates who got the joke. I doubt there were yet any "queer studies" programs in academia.

Whether Whitman was gay or bi-sexual, we should be careful to not read into his life the mores and assumptions of our time. To be clear, there was no niche for non-heterosexuals in America in the 1850s, when Leaves of Grass first gained public notoriety, and earned only a few critical raves.

Who in the mid-19th century literary establishment expected this?:

"The beards of the young men glisten'd with wet, it ran from their
long hair,
Little streams pass'd all over their bodies.

"An unseen hand also pass'd over their bodies,
It descended tremblingly from their temples and ribs."

Kaplan's account of Whitman struck me as that of a man who sought to be robustly physical and all-embracing of the world when puritanical restraint was the strict norm among the white protestant middle class. Whitman's poetic language of sexuality was candid and bracingly artistic; much of the rest of America cloaked sexuality in sentimentalism or dread.

Life in such a culture meant for Whitman the sublimation of his feelings and alternative expressive outlets.
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Format: Kindle Edition
In his way, Walt Whitman just as boldly challenged the social and cultural customs of the United States of his era as Oscar Wilde did of his. Perhaps he was more circumspect in handling his private affairs. Perhaps the fact that he had no wife and children to neglect and made no mistake of having an affair with an upper class young man with a very powerful and vindictive parent and primarily wrote sensual yet universal poetry rather than prose narrative or was just as masculine and rugged looking as any man made a difference in the avoidance of having his entire existence blackballed. One can read his sensual, free-flowing, rhymeless poetry and see it as fitting very comfortably within the anthologies of 20th century poetry. He is seen as being very archetypically American and, like his contemporary Mark Twain and as authors such as Hemingway and Mailer in the next century, he is a shameless self-promoter. One example of this is in how he exploited Emerson's praise in a private letter by using it as a public tool in advertising more than one edition of his life work, the constantly evolving and expanding 'Leaves of Grass.'

Kaplan does not like to follow strict chronology with his biographies. His biography of Mark Twain began when MT was an adult and somewhat settled in a journalistic career. His first two chapters of Walt Whitman's bio thrust us immediately into the last years of Whitman's life, when he was old, mostly invalided and dependent on the physical and financial support of others. Whereas it was fitting to jump into Twain's adult life because his childhood and upbringing had been so thoroughly chronicled, Walt Whitman's later life begs for more background of his less well-known early life.
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