restricted access Walt Whitman's America: A Cultural Biography by David S. Reynolds (review)
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Book Reviews93 Antecedents." These essays justify his title "...from Lessing to Grillparzer," but they would perhaps be more appropriate in an appendix. They are stand-alone essays. He deals first with Lessing^ Miss Sara Sampson and concludes with the admission that the servant/master relationship here only reinforces the stereotype of the loyal, lower-class servant devoted to his master. Perhaps this then serves as ground zero for his developmental argument tracing the Hegelian slave as he becomes master. Reeve then includes an essay on Wurm in Schiller's Kabale und Liebe, wherein he highlights a servant who shows no moral qualms at using others to achieve his personal goals. Reeve refers to Wurm's desire to dominate and manipulate others, but here the master and servant are both immoral political and social opportunists, although Wurm excels as a Machiavellian schemer who exploits his main weapon, the pen. Reeve asserts that Wurm's characterization establishes a model for subsequent pen-pushers. The third of the four essays in this chapter expands on the role of the power-seeking secretary in Goethe's Die natürliche Tochter, which according to Reeve anticipates the social-political climate depicted by Grillparzer. Reeve discovers here early suggestions of the self-serving, middle-class penpusher involved in power politics and exploiting every conceivable weapon, including the Church. Reeve concludes with "The Two Secretaries in Hebbel's Maria Magdalene." Here Hebbel portrays the generation gap where the older generation accepts the master/servant relationship of dominance/submission as the norm, whereas the new generation, wielding power through the pen, is rapidly ascending. Leonhard embodies the latter and shows no hesitation to use whatever power at his means, including sex, to secure his material advantage . Reeve suggests that the difference between Kiesel and Leonhard is the scale of their preconceived projects. Reeve pulls it all together in a brief conclusion wherein he again reviews characteristics of his "pen-pusher" and even suggests that aspects may continue through the second half of the nineteenth century. His arguments are logical and believable, well researched and documented, and very readable. He has included extensive notes, an impressive bibliography, and a helpful index. JOSEPH O. BAKER Brigham Young University DAVID S. REYNOLDS. Walt Whitman's America: A Cultural Biography. New York: Knopf, 1995. 671 p. lhe reconstructive criticism that David Reynolds employs so well in his Beneath the American Renaissance operates, once again, to recapture a sense of time and place in Walt Whitman's America: A Cultural Biography. As his title promises, Reynolds's latest book is as much a story of nine- 94Rocky Mountain Review teenth-century America as it is a portrait of one of its more inclusive poets, Walt Whitman. Providing a sustained and wide-ranging analysis of popular culture and its part in shaping poet and nation, Reynolds recovers an intricate play of socioliterary forces. His intent, clear and explicit, is to tell the story of how Whitman "absorbed his country and how he tried to make his country absorb him" (6). A New Historicist project yes, but Reynolds' respectful treatment of a time, person, and literature distinguishes it. His Whitman emerges as historical recipient and participant, one unusually open to and capable ofrecreating a vast array of diverse voices. Reynolds is not the first to read Whitman in historical context or to thematically focus upon Whitman's absorbing mind; yet few biographies provide this book's breadth of coverage, and even fewer, if any, recuperate the complex flow of relations fusing culture with personality. Reynolds' ability to weave together multiple strands of personal and national history, to account closely for a variety of cultural voices, and to locate text and reader within the horizons of nineteenth-century experience, convincingly argue the need for this new Whitman biography. This book indeed retrieves the past that Whitman knew and through which we might better know him. Such a design, while admirable, presents some problems. The staggering array of detail often leaves the reader awash in a stream of loosely-knit associations . Taxing short-term memory, the flow of detail seldom slows. One soon becomes accustomed to the surge of multiple strains ofinfluence, however , accepting it as indicative...


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