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Whitman among the Bohemians

Editor(s): 
Joanna Levin
Editor(s): 
Edward Whitley


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Available: 
October 2014
2014
276 pages, 9 illustrations
Paper: 
$47.50
978-1-60938-272-8
eBook, perpetual ownership: 
$47.50
978-1-60938-293-3

 "The essays in this collection will serve as a treasure trove of information for readers interested in the gap years between the second (1856) and third (1860) editions of Leaves of Grass. . . . On the cusp of the Civil War, the essays also provide an invaluable glimpse into antebellum urban North American culture, and help to explain why the center of literary and artistic production in America began to shift from Boston to New York during the nineteenth century.”—Pacific Coast Philology

“Walt Whitman had an enormous creative surge just before the Civil War, composing many of his greatest poems. During the same period, he was also frequenting Pfaff’s, a beer cellar in lower Manhattan that was home to a raffish crowd of artists, actors, writers, and drinkers. We’ve long needed a study that places Whitman within this bohemian context; thanks to Joanna Levin and Edward Whitley’s collection, we at last have one. Whitman among the Bohemians is filled with theoretically sophisticated essays that offer important new interpretations not only of Whitman’s poetry, but also of the culture of American bohemianism.”—Michael Robertson, author, Worshipping Walt: The Whitman Disciples

“Incisive in argument and rich in historical detail illuminating the material, social, and cultural conditions of the poet's authorship, Whitman among the Bohemians tells us of advertisements, puffery, parodies, controversies both ginned-up and real, factions and flub-drub and feuilletons, modern technology and German beer, presses and publics and the Fred Gray Association. A terrific, stimulating collection of essays.”—Daniel Cottom, author, International Bohemia

For several years just before and just after his 1860 edition of Leaves of Grass appeared, Walt Whitman regularly frequented Pfaff’s beer cellar in downtown Manhattan. The basement bar was the very center of mid-nineteenth-century American bohemian activity and was heavily patronized by writers, artists, musicians, actors, intellectuals, and radicals such as free-love advocate Henry Clapp, Jr., and Broadway succès de scandale Adah Isaacs Menken. Numerous creative and political ventures emerged from this environment, and at least two bohemian literary weeklies, The New-York Saturday Press and Vanity Fair, shared origins around the tables at Pfaff’s.

In this milieu, Whitman found sympathetic supporters of his poetic vision, professional connections, rivals, romantic partners, and close friends, and left a lasting impression on poet and critic Edmund Clarence Stedman, an erstwhile bohemian who later in the century emerged as a tastemaker of American poetry. Yet for many years, the bohemians associated with Pfaff’s have served merely as minor background characters in Whitman scholarship. Whitman among the Bohemians corrects that by exploring in depth the connections Whitman made at Pfaff’s and the impact they had on him, his poetry, and his career. In telling the story of these intersecting social and professional links that converged at Pfaff’s in the late 1850s and early 1860s, the essays in this volume powerfully demonstrate just how much we can learn about Whitman and his work by viewing him within the context of American bohemia.

 

 

Contributors: 

Stephanie Blalock, Ruth Bohan, Leif Eckstrom, Logan Esdale, Amanda Gailey, Karen Karbiener, Joanna Levin, Mary Loeffelholz, Eliza Richards, Ingrid Satelmajer, Robert J. Scholnick, Edward Whitley