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Walt Whitman's America: A Cultural Biography
Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0679767096, Paperback)The greatest American poet is portrayed in this monumental biography as an essential American, not an isolated mystic but a man formed in large measure by his rapidly changing society. Drawing on his diligent research, and on his experience writing the monumental work Beneath the American Renaissance, noted scholar David S. Reynolds conclusively demonstrates the profound impact the popular culture of his day had on Whitman's awakening as an artist. This copious (nearly 700 page) volume tells the story of 19th-century America as well as the story of the Whitman himself.
(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:20:06 -0400)
Exploring the full range of writings by and about Whitman - not just his most famous work but also his earliest poems and stories, his conversations, letters, journals, newspaper writings, and daybooks - Reynolds gives us a full, rounded picture of the man, of his creative blending of disparate ideas and images, and his contradictory stances on race, class, and gender. Whitman's uniqueness is shown to spring primarily from his closeness to and absorption of his contemporary culture. We see how the social convulsions of Jacksonian America were mirrored in the tribulations of the poet's family, and how Whitman's private anguish, which can be felt in his early poems, was swept up in his growing alarm for a nation riven by sectional controversies, political corruption, and class division.Into the vacuum created by the social and political crises rushed Whitman's gargantuan poetic "I," gathering images from every facet of American life in a hopeful gesture of unity: the cocky defiance of the Bowery b'hoys, the rhythms and inflections of actors and orators, the bloodcurdling sensationalism of penny papers, the incandescent images of luminist painters, the zany visions of popular mystics. We see Whitman in a society rampant with illicit sexual activity, which it refused to acknowledge. We see him aligning his passion for young men with the psychological and behavioral customs of a century in which same-sex love was actually common.
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