MY SOUL AND I: The Inner Life of Walt Whitman by David Cavitch

MY SOUL AND I: The Inner Life of Walt Whitman

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Even Eugene O'Neill would not have envied Walt Whitman's home life. The Whitmans, as depicted here, make the Tyrones of ""A Long Day's Journey Into Night"" seem like the Hardy family. Madness, alcoholism, imbecility, venereal disease, homosexuality, sibling hatreds, smothering maternal love coupled with icy paternal disdain were commonplaces in the Whitman m‚nage. How Walt Whitman transformed these Grand Guignol elements into life-affirming poetry and how he eventually came to feel trapped by that very poetic vision is the substance of this critical biography. According to Cavitch, whitman was simultaneously attracted to and repelled by his family, both part of it, yet outside it. Only by revising his self-image into that of a godlike representative of the rejected, wounded, vulnerable and despised, could Whitman face his domestic demons. In this way, he was able to acknowledge his identification with his family and to assert his individuality. In a marked departure from previous scholarship, Cavitch suggests that it was not homosexual liaisons that dissipated Whitman's creative energies in later life, but rather his discovery that his poetry was eliciting the same love-hate response he had earlier felt toward his family. By the mid-1850's, Whitman's self-created persona had become as restrictive to the poet as the mask he'd been forced to don within the family circle. In addition to these literary speculations, Cavitch investigates Whitman's attitudes toward democracy and slavery, the ambivalence of his feelings toward domesticity and the wilderness, his fascination with the photographic image (especially his own), and his tangled and entangling friendships with the likes of Ralph Waldo Emerson, William and Ellen O'Connor and Peter Doyle. For readers puzzled by the ambiguities of Whitman's personal and creative life, My Soul and I provides an intriguing scenario that unites the diverse elements of that life into a plausible (if not entirely lucid) whole.

Pub Date: Jan. 1st, 1985
Publisher: Beacon