Gary Schmidgall is far from the first to discuss Walt Whitman and British literary tradition. What he brings to the project is a fresh eye, deep learning, and an ambitious historical range. By “literary tradition” Schmidgall means “the pantheon,” and his study is organized around a list of greats, with major stops along the way for Shakespeare, Milton, Burns, Blake, Wordsworth, and “Some Other ‘Big Fellows,’” including Scott, Carlyle, Tennyson, Wilde, and Swinburne (252). Featuring an epigraph from Milan Kundera, the preface reminds us that “when one artist talks about another, he is always talking (indirectly, in a roundabout way) of himself,” while another epigraph from Whitman points toward universality: “These are really the thoughts of all men in all ages and lands, they are not original with me.” That leaves T. S. Eliot in the middle, stating that “no poet, no...
Containing Multitudes: Walt Whitman and the British Literary Tradition
Vivian Pollak is professor of English and of women, gender, and sexuality studies at Washington University in St. Louis. She is author of Dickinson: The Anxiety of Gender (1984) and The Erotic Whitman (2000). Her book Our Emily Dickinsons: American Women Poets and the Intimacies of Difference is forthcoming.
Vivian Pollak; Containing Multitudes: Walt Whitman and the British Literary Tradition. Modern Language Quarterly 1 June 2016; 77 (2): 263–267. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/00267929-3472929
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