- Whitman and Dickinson
Biographical and contextual studies of Whitman flourished this year with a major new critical biography, the reissue of a now classic biographical study, the appearance of major articles reading Whitman's poetry in cultural and historical contexts, and the publication of two historically oriented editions of Whitman's writings. Foremost in Dickinson studies is the appearance of R. W. Franklin's The Poems of Emily Dickinson: Reading Edition, based on Franklin's 1998 three-volume variorum; in addition, a proliferation of essays on textual concerns largely in response to the variorum appeared, as well as several fine historical studies and studies considering Dickinson in the light of other authors.
i Walt Whitman
a. Bibliography and Editing
The chief bibliographical source for Whitman studies continues to be the thorough and dependable "Walt Whitman: A Current Bibliography," produced by Ed Folsom (WWQR 16: 229-35, 17: 80-85). The usability of this work is greatly enhanced by the searchable web version.
In a notable new edition of Whitman's wartime writings and later reflections, The Sacrificial Years: A Chronicle of Walt Whitman's Experiences in the Civil War (Godine), John Harmon McElroy presents excerpts from a variety of prose sources, most of them published previously; also included are a few items from Whitman's recently recovered notebooks in the Library of Congress. The texts are arranged in a diarylike sequence so that the reader can follow the progress of Whitman's observations throughout the war. Since Whitman kept no actual diary, the arrangement necessarily departs from the order in which the items were written, [End Page 71] but it creates a cohesive and readable narrative that chronicles the poet's unique perspective on the conflict.
Another engaging approach informs Walt Whitman: Selected Poems, 1855-1892, A New Edition, ed. Gary Schmidgall (St. Martin's). The selection focuses on the first three editions of Leaves of Grass, which, according to Schmidgall and the overwhelming majority of Whitman's critics, contain Whitman's strongest poems. Also included are prefaces and comments on the poems, both by Whitman and by early reviewers. The poems are arranged chronologically and are given in their earliest version. As Schmidgall explains in his fine introduction, this approach allows readers to enjoy the original versions of the poems before they were subjected to Whitman's later editing, which tended to sanitize certain passages and render other lines more philosophically abstract. As Schmidgall admits, some good lines are lost in the process, such as "I Sing the Body Electric" and "Out of the Cradle Endlessly Rocking," but overall a healing effect returns us to the historical moment of Whitman's greatest inspiration and the prime of his poetic life.
No other editions of Whitman's work appeared, although many reprints and facsimiles became available. The Notable American Authors Series (Temecula, Calif.: Reprint Services) reproduced a number of volumes of Whitman's poetry and prose, including such hard-to-find pieces as An American Primer. Excerpts from Whitman's prose are contained in two regional collections. Literary New Orleans, ed. Judy Long (Hill Street), includes an old-age recollection of the time Whitman spent as a journalist working in New Orleans. Bright Stars, Dark Trees, Clear Water: Nature Writing from North of the Border, ed. Wayne Grady (Godine), includes a passage from the diary that Whitman kept on his visit to Canada as the guest of Richard Maurice Bucke. Finally, Whitman is represented in The Norton Book of American Autobiography, ed. Jay Parini, by a long passage from Specimen Days.
Two books best characterized as readers' guides appeared this year. Readings on Walt Whitman, ed. Gary Wiener and published as a Greenhaven Press Literary Companion, reprints 22 fine articles and excerpts under four general headings—The Man and the Poet, Themes, Analyses of Individual Poems, and Influence. The critics included range from well-known writers who made their mark in the 1950s and 1960s, such as Gay Wilson Allen, Richard Chase, and James E. Miller Jr., to more recent scholars such as Robert Martin, Alan Helms, and Bettina [End Page 72] Knapp. Walt Whitman, ed. Harold Bloom for his series Bloom...