Despite the general resistance to his work on the part of his literary contemporaries, and their disapproval of his homoeroticism, Walt Whitman experienced incredible success during his lifetime. After the 1855 publication of Leaves of Grass
(the first of nine editions of the book he personally saw through the press), he fast became America's national poet. He was asked to write poems commemorating the victims of natural disasters and was offered a free burial plot in exchange for a poem lauding the cemetery's beauty. Millionaire Andrew Carnegie was one of his vigorous supporters.
Whitman's success is most likely the result of the approachability--he wrote often of the immediate: the sounds of the city, men bathing in the river, the mystery around the next corner--and sheer beauty of his poems. He was also an expert self-promoter. Long before the advent of the blurb in contemporary publishing, Whitman would include reviews of his books in the appendices. Many of these were actually written by him and a few were even critical, in order to maintain a sense of objectivity. He carefully controlled his public image, but assiduously guarded his private realm, which is why, more than a century after the poet's death, debate still rages about his sexual proclivity--there simply isn't enough proof one way or another. The Song of Himself, the first comprehensive biography of Whitman in 20 years, is rich with details of its subject's life and times and cogent analysis of his poetry--a book that is sure to increase readers' understanding of the great poet and reinvigorate their interest in his work. --Anna Baldwin
--This text refers to the
From Publishers Weekly
In this critical biography, Loving describes Walt Whitman as "half New York journalist, half New England transcendentalist," and goes on to outline skillfully the complexities and contradictions of the poet's life and times. Loving begins with the Civil War, when Whitman, his racy reputation already established by the first edition of Leaves of Grass (1855), nursed the wounded and wrote, as both poet and journalist, of the atrocities of the war of brother against brother. Loving then backtracks to Whitman's life in New York?Long Island, Brooklyn and "Mannahatta" (as the poet called Manhattan)?taking us through his early years as a journalist and editor, didactic novelist and versifier in the European tradition. Whitman himself emerges as a kind of liberal puritan?relatively progressive politically, rather more conservative culturally. The book is light on criticism until a detailed account of "the central literary event of the nineteenth century," a close and revealing reading of the seminal Leaves of Grass. While Loving discusses intimate male friendship and homoeroticism, particularly in respect to the Calamus poems, he makes little of recent gender theory on Whitman (the work of, for example, Robert K. Martin and Michael Moon) and fails to provide the narrative charge of David S. Reynolds's acclaimed 1995 cultural biography of Whitman. While students of the great American bard will value this highly detailed and thoroughly documented biography (strengthened by recently unearthed Whitman journalism), the general reader may wish to start elsewhere.
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc.
--This text refers to the