Walt Whitman: A Gay Life

Gary Schmidgall, Author Dutton Books $32.95 (428p) ISBN 978-0-525-94373-0
Schmidgall (The Stranger Wilde: Interpreting Oscar) writes that his problem in dissecting the gay side of Whitman is that it is ""a key-hole business. One has to [be]..., well, prurient."" He succeeds in his endeavor. Schmidgall's early chapters employ a pomposity of language that is inadvertently comical, while an autobiographical chapter deals largely with his self-outing. While it is not news that Whitman lived a homosexual life, Schmidgall finds critics, even recent ones, to admonish for their Pollyanna blinders. Whitman himself comes off badly for his genteel ""devolutionary editions"" of Leaves of Grass, which obscure the risky language of earlier versions that braved certain calumny. His amanuensis for his cautious recollections, the devoted Horace Traubel, receives a chapter. He transcribed millions of the poet's words, hoping for revelations; though a physical ruin, Whitman was too astute for that. Schmidgall ends with a garrulous ""Walt & Oscar,"" exploiting Wilde's visit to the poet in 1882. Illustrated. (Sept.)
Reviewed on: 09/01/1997
Release date: 09/01/1997
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Mass Market Paperbound - 464 pages - 978-0-452-27920-9
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