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  • Whitman and Dickinson
  • William Pannapacker and Paul Crumbley

This year continues the surge in Whitman scholarship prompted by the sesquicentennial in 2005 of the first edition of Leaves of Grass. Work proceeds in a variety of disciplinary subfields, particularly historical and cultural studies, ecocriticism, studies in the history of the book, genre studies, cross-disciplinary influence studies and comparisons, and reception studies with a trend toward projects that are situated not in a national context but rather in a transatlantic, transnational, or hemispheric one. The textual research undertaken by the Walt Whitman Archive, in addition to making scholarly resources widely available, has resulted in several substantial revisions to our understanding of the composition and production of Leaves of Grass, particularly the first edition.

i Walt Whitman

a. Books

The year's major book publication is Leaves of Grass: The Sesquicentennial Essays, ed. Susan Belasco, Ed Folsom, and Kenneth M. Price (Nebraska), which includes 20 essays from the Leaves of Grass sesquicentennial conference, held at the University of Nebraska in 2005, gathered into seven sections.

In the first part, "Foregrounding the First Edition," Folsom's "What We're Still Learning About the 1855 Leaves of Grass 150 Years Later" (pp. 1–32), the keynote address of the conference, considers how critics and editors have often neglected the 1855 edition, even during the centenary of its publication; remarkably, the first edition does not even [End Page 69] appear in the Collected Writings of Walt Whitman, except as notes in the variorum edition. More significantly, Folsom revisits our received knowledge about the production of the first edition, correcting some of the accumulated errors; for example, only one of the Rome Brothers was involved in the printing, the unusual size of the 1855 Leaves was probably the outcome of the paper and equipment Andrew Rome had on hand, and it appears that the missing period at the end of "Song of Myself" was the result of a broken type rather than poetic open-endedness. This last observation is a direct outcome of Folsom's ongoing census of the extant copies of the first edition, which reveals a book more of a work-in-progress during its first printing than previously supposed. Whitman was apparently rearranging poems as the type was set and rewriting lines during the pressrun. Folsom concludes with a reexamination of Whitman's use of titles in 1855, showing that the absence of titles for the final six poems is possibly the outcome of cost containment rather than design: they were taking up too much space; if not, then Whitman was already experimenting with "identical titles" and "clusters," which has significant implications for the development of Leaves in subsequent editions. Betsy Erkkila's "Whitman, Marx, and the American 1848" (pp. 35–61) notes the lack of scholarship comparing Whitman and Marx, near contemporaries whose "transatlantic conversation" has been obscured by disciplinary, national, and field boundaries combined with the Cold War construction of one as patriotic individualist and the other as internationalist totalitarian. After providing an overview of their biographical and political parallels, Erkkila compares the political views of Whitman and Marx in the years leading up to the 1855 Leaves and the 1848 Communist Manifesto. Both writers were engaged in a global political struggle involving "labor, slavery, capital, and class," and "each sought an appropriate form—philosophy, poetry, journalism, fiction, public speaking, political activism—through which to engage with and change the world." Both had "roots in the Enlightenment theories of human liberty and natural law," and both thought some kind of revolutionary change was inevitable, ultimately leading to a nearly common vision of humanity in a state of democratic equality. The difference is that "Marx's proof is material, economic, grounded in a historical materialist analysis," while "Whitman's proof is affective, visionary, grounded in a quasi-religious faith in the founding ideology." M. Wynn Thomas's "United States and States United: Whitman's National Vision in 1855" (pp. 62–83) focuses on Whitman's neglected interest in the speeches of [End Page 70] John C. Calhoun, whom he admired initially as a heroic embodiment of the South but later turned against for supporting slavery and prioritizing states' rights over national...


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pp. 69-96
Launched on MUSE
Open Access
Archive Status
Will Be Archived 2023
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