Walt Whitman's America: A Cultural Biography [NOOK Book]


In his poetry Walt Whitman set out to encompass all of America and in so doing heal its deepening divisions. This magisterial biography demonstrates the epic scale of his achievement, as well as the dreams and anxieties that impelled it, for it places the poet securely within the political and cultural context of his age.

Combing through the full range of Whitman's writing, David Reynolds shows how Whitman gathered inspiration from every ...
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Walt Whitman's America: A Cultural Biography

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In his poetry Walt Whitman set out to encompass all of America and in so doing heal its deepening divisions. This magisterial biography demonstrates the epic scale of his achievement, as well as the dreams and anxieties that impelled it, for it places the poet securely within the political and cultural context of his age.

Combing through the full range of Whitman's writing, David Reynolds shows how Whitman gathered inspiration from every stratum of nineteenth-century American life: the convulsions of slavery and depression; the raffish dandyism of the Bowery "b'hoys"; the exuberant rhetoric of actors, orators, and divines. We see how Whitman reconciled his own sexuality with contemporary social mores and how his energetic courtship of the public presaged the vogues of advertising and celebrity. Brilliantly researched, captivatingly told, Walt Whitman's America is a triumphant work of scholarship that breathes new life into the biographical genre.

From the Trade Paperback edition.

This comprehensive, original portrait of the life and work of one of America's greatest poets--set in the social, cultural, and political context of his time--considers the full range of writings by and about Whitman, his early poems and stories, his conversations, letters, journals, newspaper writings, and daybooks. "A remarkably informative biography."--The New York Times Book Review.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Literary historian Reynolds's biography of Whitman examines the poet within the broader social and cultural context of 19th-century America. (Mar.)
Library Journal
Whitman, the Good Gray Poet, was born into a time when slavery and the new market economy had just begun to transform the nation. Reynolds (Beneath the American Renaissance: The Subversive Imagination in the Age of Emerson and Melville, LJ 4/15/88) endeavors to be "historically correct rather than politically correct" in examining this period and its players, and he succeeds. Weaving together primary and secondary historical sources, he reveals the diverse influences on the poet of politics, society, literary and cultural trends, science, and religion. Whitman's complex views on race and slavery, his "omnisexuality," and his conflict between conservatism and radicalism, for example, are better understood in this complete context. Whether as journalist, sensationalist, fiction writer, or poet, Whitman comes across as "a writer for all times," focusing on the pulse of the nation and socially significant causes that span centuries: prison reform, women's rights, democracy, and individualism. A highly readable, well-researched cultural history of the period. [BOMC selection.]-Cathy Sabol, Northern Virginia Community Coll., Manassas
Stuart Whitwell
Just what the world needs most: another prolix lit bio capitalizing on the publishing industry's search for the big catch--that combination of prestige and bucks so hard to find in, say, a novel. All right, so here we go again: big name subject, big production, big publisher; the same elephantine qualities that were behind the rise and fall of the TV miniseries. And yet the subject itself is interesting, for Whitman's ambition outstripped even his considerable ability, as Reynolds' somewhat defensive narrative makes clear. Certainly Whitman's subtle transformation from outspoken prophet of the common man to manipulator of his own self-created myth teases out the critic-psychologist in all of us. Fascinating, too, is the way that Whitman, who wanted to "be" America, serves as a window to so many levels of society in his time. Reynolds' treatment of this interesting matter is gentle and sometimes flaccid, but his knowledge of the era, especially at the level of that fascinating trivia that historians once used to overlook, is incredible. In short, a welcome if minor biography, too big by half, but fair-minded and balanced.
From the Publisher
"Remarkably informative...I marked on page after page things about Whitman and his America I never knew before."
--Alfred Kazin, The New York Times Book Review

"Exhaustive...fascinating...an evocative portrait."
--Washington Post Book World

"Reynolds stands alone in showing, almost day by day, the finest roots of Whitman's genius...His scholarship lights Whitman from within."
--Philadelphia Inquirer

From Barnes & Noble
Placing Walt Whitman in the full social, political, and cultural context of his day, this book is the first biography to do justice to the vital interaction between the great American poet and the country he so brilliantly depicted. The author reveals how Whitman's uniqueness sprang from his closeness to and absorption of contemporary culture; and how the private anguish so evident in his early poems was swept up in his growing alarm for a nation torn apart by regionalism, political corruption, and class divisions; how he turned in later years to desperate self-promotion and constant reworking of his poems; more. B&W photos.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780307761927
  • Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 5/4/2011
  • Series: Vintage
  • Sold by: Random House
  • Format: eBook
  • Pages: 704
  • Sales rank: 525,576
  • File size: 5 MB

Meet the Author

David S. Reynolds is Distinguished Professor of American Literature and American Studies at Baruch College and the Graduate School of the City University of New York. Born and raised in Rhode Island, he received his B.A. from Amherst College and his Ph.D. from the University of California, Berkeley. He has previously taught at Rutgers University, New York University, Barnard College, and Northwestern University. He is the author of the monumental Beneath the American Renaissance: The Subversive Imagination in the Age of Emerson and Melville, winner of the Christian Gauss award.  His other publications include Faith in Fiction: The Emergence of Religious Literature in America;George Lippard; and George Lippard, Prophet of Protest: Writintgs of an American Radical, 1822-1854 (edited anthology). He is the editor of George Lippard's novel The Quaker City; or, The Monks of Monk Hall and the author of numerous articles and reviews in the field of American literature and culture, including "Of Me I Sing: Whitman in His Time" (The New York Times Book Review).

From the Trade Paperback edition.

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Table of Contents

Introductory Note
Prologue 3
1 "Underneath All, Nativity": Literary Genealogy, Literary Geography 7
2 A Brooklyn Boyhood: Sights, Surroundings, Influences 30
3 Dark Passages: Teaching and Early Authorship 52
4 Mannahatta: The Literary Marketplace and Urban Reality 81
5 "The United States Need Poets": The Political and Social Crisis 111
6 American Performances: Theater, Oratory, Music 154
7 "Sex Is the Root of It All": Eroticism and Gender 194
8 Earth, Body, Soul: Science and Religion 235
9 Toward a Popular Aesthetic: The Visual Arts 279
10 "I Contain Multitudes": The First Edition of Leaves of Grass 306
11 "The Murderous Delays": In Search of an Audience 339
12 Brotherly Love, National War: Into the 1860s 383
13 "My Book and the War Are One": The Washington Years 413
14 Reconstructing a Nation, Reconstructing a Poet: Postbellum Institutions 448
15 The Burden of Atlas: The New America 495
16 The Pope of Mickle Street: The Final Years 546
Notes 591
Index 639
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