Walt Whitman: The Song of Himself

Jerome Loving, Author
Jerome Loving, Author University of California Press $40 (582p) ISBN 978-0-520-21427-9
Reviewed on: 03/01/1999
Release date: 03/01/1999
Paperback - 582 pages - 978-0-520-22687-6
Portable Document Format (PDF) - 582 pages - 978-0-520-92622-6
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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. (Mar.)
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