Preferred Citation: Pollak, Vivian R. The Erotic Whitman. Berkeley:  University of California Press,  c2000 2000.



1. On the history of domination as a psychological problem, see Jessica Ben-jamin, The Bonds of Love: Psychoanalysis, Feminism, and the Problem of Dom-ination (New York: Pantheon, 1988). Paraphrasing Freud, she writes that “The injunction to love our neighbor is not a reflection of abiding concern for others, but a testimony to the opposite: our propensity for aggression” (p. 4). Her analysis has furthered my understanding of the relationship between social aggres-sion and sexual love.

2. As Betsy Erkkila points out in Whitman the Political Poet (New York: Ox-ford University Press, 1989), p. v, the term politics may refer to a wide and subtle range of signifying practices, as well as to specific structures of government, though the more general concept of power links these usages. In this book, I am most interested in analyzing Whitman's strategies for maximizing personal power and, correspondingly, minimizing gender and sexual anxiety—some of it com-mon to his culture, some of it more uniquely his own.

3. Whitman composed the 1855 “Preface” after the book of poems had been written.

4. Kerry C. Larson, Whitman's Drama of Consensus (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1988), p. xiii.

5. The quotation is from Larson, Whitman's Drama of Consensus, pp. 58–59. See also George B. Hutchinson, The Ecstatic Whitman: Literary Shamanism and the Crisis of the Union (Columbus: Ohio State University Press, 1986); Erk-kila, Whitman the Political Poet; M. Jimmie Killingsworth, Whitman's Poetry of the Body: Sexuality, Politics, and the Text (Chapel Hill: University of North Car-olina Press, 1989); Michael Moon, Disseminating Whitman: Revision and Cor-poreality in “Leaves of Grass” (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1991);

Robert K. Martin, ed., The Continuing Presence of Walt Whitman: The Life Af-ter the Life (Iowa City: University of Iowa Press, 1992), pp. xi-xxiii; Tenney Na-thanson, Whitman's Presence: Body, Voice, and Writing in “Leaves of Grass” (New York: New York University Press, 1992); Bryne R. S. Fone, Masculine Landscapes: Walt Whitman and the Homoerotic Text (Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 1992); Karen Sánchez-Eppler, “To Stand Between: Walt Whitman's Poetics of Merger and Embodiment,” in Touching Liberty: Aboli-tion, Feminism, and the Politics of the Body (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1993), pp. 50–82; David S. Reynolds, Walt Whitman's America: A Cul-tural Biography (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1995).

6. In recreating Whitman's early life, I am indebted to biographers and cul-tural historians such as Gay Wilson Allen, Justin Kaplan, Paul Zweig, and Da-vid S. Reynolds. See Allen, The Solitary Singer: A Critical Biography (1955; re-print, New York: New York University Press, 1967); Kaplan, Walt Whitman: A Life (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1980); Zweig, Walt Whitman: The Mak-ing of a Poet (New York: Basic Books, 1983); and Reynolds, Walt Whitman's America: A Cultural Biography. Other biographers and cultural historians whose work has facilitated my project are cited later in the text.

7. Peter Doyle, quoted in Calamus: A Series of Letters Written during the Years 1868–1880. By Walt Whitman to a Young Friend (Peter Doyle), ed. Rich-ard Maurice Bucke (Boston: Laurens Maynard, 1897), p. 25. See also Charles A. Roe, quoted in Allen, Solitary Singer, pp. 35–36, and George Washington Whit-man, quoted in Allen, p. 33.

8. Whitman described this episode to Ellen M. O'Connor. See Allen, Solitary Singer, p. 37, and Reynolds, Walt Whitman's America, p. 72.

9. Louis Crompton, Byron and Greek Love: Homophobia in 19th-Century England (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1985), p. 6. In “The Biogra-pher's Problem,” in Walt Whitman of Mickle Street: A Centennial Collection, ed. Geoffrey M. Sill (Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 1994), pp. 18–27, Justin Kaplan observes that “Correctly or not, we tend to think of Ralph Waldo Emerson as having the sexual voltage of a day-old corpse. Yet we know that Emerson married twice and fathered four children. To reduce this to simple acts, we know with certainty at least four more things about Emerson's sex life than we have ever been able to find out about Whitman's” (p. 20). On Whitman and homoerotic desire, see my discussion of the letters to Abraham Paul Leech in chapter 1, and of the men described in Whitman's notebooks in chapter 3.

10. See the Introductions and Commentary in Charley Shively, ed., Calamus Lovers: Walt Whitman's Working-Class Camerados (San Francisco: Gay Sun-shine, 1987), as well as my discussion of these valuable archival materials in chapters 1 and 5. See also Drum Beats: Walt Whitman's Civil War Boy Lovers (San Francisco: Gay Sunshine, 1989), though here the sexually insatiable Whitman persona is even less credible.

11. See Reynolds, Walt Whitman's America, pp. 70–80, and my discussion of this purported episode inchapter 3.

12. Concurrently, Whitman in Washington had formed a deep and he hoped lasting attachment to the abolitionist writer William Douglas O'Connor and his wife Ellen. “Dear Nelly,” he wrote in December 1864, “you & William have neither

of you any idea how I daily & nightly bear you in mind & in love too—I did not know myself that you both had taken such deep root in my heart—few attachments wear & last through life, but ours must” (Corr 1:244). Before her marriage, Ellen (Tarr) O'Connor had worked on The Liberator, William Lloyd Garrison's antislavery journal, and was active in the women's rights movement. Through her sister's husband William F. Channing, a scientist and physician, she was related to the Concord intellectual circle that included Emerson, Thoreau, and Hawthorne, as well as to Thomas Wentworth Higginson—friend of Emily Dickinson, women's rights advocate, and abolitionist hero. Ezra Greenspan notes that “the kind of family [Whitman] did not have in New York he came to believe during the war decade he had found in Washington in the home of the O'Connors.” See Walt Whitman and the American Reader (New York: Cam-bridge University Press, 1990), p. 227.

13. On Whitman and the British sex reformers, see chapter 5. See also Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick, “Toward the Twentieth Century: English Readers of Whit-man,” in Between Men: English Literature and Male Homosocial Desire (New York: Columbia University Press, 1985), pp. 201–17.

14. See, for example, the issues raised by Christopher Newfield in “Democ-racy and Male Homoeroticism,” Yale Journal of Criticism 6, no. 2 (fall 1993): 29–62. Newfield suggests that “Whitman ties democratic theory and the fluid social arrangements represented, in his view, by male friendship” (42). This is both true and not true, and I amplify the psychology of Whitman's perspective in chapter 5.

15. Whitman did not attempt to integrate Doyle into his Washington circle of writers and artists, where his fondness for Pete's company was acknowledged but not easily understood.

16. For the view that “Whitman extended himself with Peter Doyle farther than he had with any other man and at greater risk to his psychic safety,” see Kaplan, Walt Whitman: A Life, p. 313. Kaplan further describes Whitman as “mainly objectless in his affections until” falling in love with Doyle, whereas I describe sequential loves whose intensity belies the “objectless” label.

17. See also Corr 2:69–70 and 118–19.

18. Peter Doyle, quoted in Shively, Calamus Lovers, p. 106.

19. The Correspondence contains a total of forty-six letters written by Whit-man to Doyle beginning in September 1868 and continuing until mid-June 1873. Beginning in the spring of 1874, Whitman's letters were more perfunc-tory. Doyle visited Camden in May but Whitman became increasingly depressed and debilitated during the summer and fall and described himself as too ill to write. See Corr 2:312, 316. By November 1875, Whitman was able to travel to Washington, where he boarded with Pete's relatives.

20. On Whitman and Stafford, see Corr 3:2–9. Following his multiple strokes in 1873, Whitman never fully recovered his health, but at the Stafford Farm in Kirkwood, New Jersey, which he describes rhapsodically in Specimen Days, his health improved markedly. Throughout their loving friendship, Staf-ford and Whitman quarreled repeatedly, and by 1878 both men had begun to go their separate ways.

21. On war and remasculinization, see Susan Jeffords, The Remasculinization

of America: Gender and the Vietnam War (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1989). An alternative though not necessarily antithetical view is that both masculinity and femininity unsettle in historical crisis. See Behind the Lines: Gender and the Two World Wars, ed. Margaret Randolph Higonnet, Jane Jen-son, Sonya Michel, and Margaret Collins Weitz (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1987); Arms and the Woman: War, Gender, and Literary Representation, ed. Helen M. Cooper, Adrienne Auslander Munich, and Susan Merrill Squier (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1989); Susan Schweik, “A Gulf So Deeply Cut”: American Women Poets and the Second World War (Mad-ison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1991).


Preferred Citation: Pollak, Vivian R. The Erotic Whitman. Berkeley:  University of California Press,  c2000 2000.