Containing Multitudes: Walt Whitman and the British Literary Tradition

ISBN : 9780199374410

Gary Schmidgall
400 Pages
164 x 241 mm
Pub date
Jan 2015
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This study explores Walt Whitman's contradictory response to and embrace of several great prior British poets: Shakespeare, Milton, Burns, Blake, and Wordsworth (with shorter essays on Scott, Carlyle, Tennyson, Wilde, and Swinburne). Through reference to his entire oeuvre, his published literary criticism, and his private conversations, letters and manuscripts, it seeks to understand the extent to which Whitman experienced the anxiety of influence as he sought to establish himself as America's poet-prophet or bard (and the extent to which he sought to conceal such influence). An attempt is also made to lay out the often profound aesthetic, cultural, political, and philosophical affinities Whitman shared with these predecessors. It also focuses on all of Whitman's extant comments on these iconic authors. Because Whitman was a deeply autobiographical writer, attention is also paid to how his comments on other poets reflect on his image of himself and on the ways he shaped his public image. Attention is also given to how Whitman's attitudes to his British fore-runners changed over the nearly fifty years of his active career.


Note on Notes and Citation
1. An Introduction: Leaves and the Retrospective Lands
"Terrible Query": An American Literature?
"That Wonderful Little Island": British Literature in Leaves of Grass
Prospective: "Lacks and Wants Yet"
2. Shakespeare and Whitman
Whitman and the Bacon Debate
Walt vs. The Bard
Mellifluous and Honey-tongued Poets
Whitman and the Romantics' Shakespeare: Victor Hugo
Parallel Lives?
3. Milton and Whitman
Debutant Poets: 1645, 1855
Whitman and America Read Milton
Camerados Close
Satan and Walt
Answerable Styles
Strange Bedfellows After All?
4. Burns and Whitman
Camerado Bards
Walt Reads Rob
Mystic Tie of Brotherhood
The Self-satisfied Preachers
Outre Beings
Conscious Painful Being
Old Acquaintance
Of Tombs: A Coda
5. Blake and Whitman
Making the Connection
Two Mystics Together Clinging
Other, Stronger Lessons
Poets of Contrariety and Rebellion
Iconoclasts: Poetry Unfettered
Poets of Sexual Delight
Announcing Adhesiveness
Death's Door: A Coda
6. Wordsworth and Whitman
Walt on Wordsworth
The 'Prelude' to Whitman
Prospectus: Knowing the World
'Green' Poets: Nature and Democracy
'Mighty Scheme of Truth': Prophets of a New Religion
'Great Social Principle of Life': Comradery
At War with General Tendency
Separate Persons
7. Whitman and Some Other 'Big Fellows'
Walter Scott
Thomas Carlyle
Alfred Tennyson
Oscar Wilde
Algernon Swinburne
Some Other 'Big Fellows'

About the author: 

Gary Schmidgall is Professor of English at Hunter College at the City University of New York. His books include Shakespeare and Opera (OUP, 1990), The Stranger Wilde (Dutton, 1994) Walt Whitman: A Gay Life (Dutton, 1997), and Intimate with Walt: Selections from Whitman's Conversations with Horace Traubel, 1882-1892 (University of Iowa Press, 2001).

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