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Walt Whitman: The Song of Himself Paperback – October 2, 2000

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Editorial Reviews Review

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 Hardcover edition.

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 Hardcover edition.

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Product Details

  • Series: Director's Circle Book
  • Paperback: 582 pages
  • Publisher: University of California Press (October 2, 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0520226879
  • ISBN-13: 978-0520226876
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 1.4 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (7 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,157,411 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

JEROME LOVING, Distinguished Professor of English at Texas A&M, is the author of a number of biographies and critical studies in American literature, including Walt Whitman: The Song of Himself (1999), The Last Titan: A Life of Theodore Dreiser (2005), and Mark Twain: The Adventures of Samuel L. Clemens (2010), all published by the University of California Press. His Confederate Bushwhacker: Mark Twain in the Shadow of the Civil War will appear this fall. He has been a Fulbright scholar in the former Soviet Union and in France, where he also taught as a visiting professor at the Sorbonne. His fellowships include a Guggenheim and a "We the People" grant from the National Endowment of the Humanities.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

34 of 37 people found the following review helpful By on February 9, 2001
Format: Hardcover
In this latest biography of quite possibly the most important American poet, Jerome Loving takes on a Herculean labor: to present the facts about a man who endeavored to create himself as an icon, and who has been taken up by a dozen causes and ideologies as one of their own (some have regarded Whitman as a religious figure on par with Christ, a homosexual liberator, or a proto-communist). The result of a great deal of combining and comparing, winnowing opinion, propaganda, and rumor, is a cautious, complex, and detailed view of the facts of Whitman's life.
On the issues currently 'hot' in debate about the poet (his homosexuality or lack thereof, his attitudes towards immigrants, women, and African-Americans), Loving doesn't succumb to the temptation to either sanctify his subject or make him simply a partisan of the current opinions, but rather weighs and presents the evidence in as close to an impartial manner as I've seen. The lack of a simplistic, overarching narrative to Loving's life of Whitman (the kind of narrative found in many other bios) is true to the facts of life and scholarship--sometimes we can't know. I've found this book scrupulously up-to-date; it corrects many factual errors found in earlier Whitman bios. It is required reading for any Whitman scholar, and a good read as well for those interested in knowing more about the Good Grey Poet than his poems tell us by themselves.
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15 of 19 people found the following review helpful By on May 26, 1999
Format: Hardcover
As a probably a-typical reader (I've not read Whitman's poems very thoroughly or very recently), I was nonetheless very interested to read about his life in incredible detail. Loving chronicles Whitman's movements to and fro - professionally, geographically, and artistically. His ability to deliver the flavor of the era via exposition of the political and social issues is quite good, however, at the "juiciest" of moments you sometimes feel disappointed. For example, there is quite a bit written about Whitman's Free Soil politics vs. abolistionist and how that ultimately destroys his friendship with his stalwart supporter O'Connor. The information is conveyed -- but I feel that I am missing some of the passion -- of their relationship to begin with -- and then of the heated argument they reportedly had. Perhaps this information was unavailable.
I could conclude that Loving did not wish to guess -- but on several occasions in the book he speculates freely and without tons of support. I guess I would have prefered more freedom to speculate by the scholar.
Still - if the reader is seeking a landscape upon which to speculate this should indeed be ample.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By James Dugan on December 19, 2014
Format: Paperback
Amazing how a fascinating life can sometimes be made into the dullest and least perceptive of narratives. This volume reads more like a chronological laundry-list of Whitman's life-events than an integrated, thoughtful, critical biography.
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2 of 6 people found the following review helpful By ssaggie04 on May 15, 2006
Format: Paperback
I took a Whitman seminar from Dr. Loving, and this was our textbook. It is very dy, and very full of detail. I love Whitman's work, and reading this biography really helped me understand more about it.
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