Worshipping Walt: The Whitman Disciples

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9780691128085: Worshipping Walt: The Whitman Disciples

Despite his protests, Anne Gilchrist, distinguished woman of letters, moved her entire household from London to Philadelphia in an effort to marry him. John Addington Symonds, historian and theorist of sexual inversion, sent him avid fan mail for twenty years. And volunteer assistant Horace Traubel kept a record of their daily conversations, producing a nine-volume compilation. Who could inspire so much devotion? Worshipping Walt is the first book on the Whitman disciples--the fascinating, eclectic group of nineteenth-century men and women who regarded Walt Whitman not simply as a poet but as a religious prophet.

Long before Whitman was established in the canon of American poetry, feminists, socialists, spiritual seekers, and supporters of same-sex passion saw him as an enlightened figure who fulfilled their religious, political, and erotic yearnings. To his disciples Whitman was variously an ideal husband, radical lover, socialist icon, or bohemian saint. In this transatlantic group biography, Michael Robertson explores the highly charged connections between Whitman and his followers, including Canadian psychiatrist R. M. Bucke, American nature writer John Burroughs, British activist Edward Carpenter, and the notorious Oscar Wilde. Despite their particular needs, they all viewed Whitman as the author of a new poetic scripture and prophet of a modern liberal spirituality.

Worshipping Walt presents a colorful portrait of an era of intense religious, political, and sexual passions, shedding new light on why Whitman's work continues to appeal to so many.

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From the Back Cover:


"That Whitman imagined himself to be at heart a religious visionary is as clear as day, but this spiritual striving has been repeatedly obscured in his literary canonization. The concealment of religion has been even more pronounced through the neglect of Whitman's most devoted admirers. Michael Robertson's Worshipping Walt brilliantly recovers the religious world that Whitman generated through Leaves of Grass and beautifully unveils the "Whitmanites" in all their social, erotic, and creative complexity."--Leigh E. Schmidt, author of Restless Souls: The Making of American Spirituality


"Whitman's nineteenth-century worshippers have long hovered in biographies of the poet like so many ghosts, always there but barely visible. In this well-researched book, Michael Robertson brings them passionately alive. The would-be lovers (male and female), the mystics, social reformers, starry-eyed teenagers, and jaded truthseekers--all attracted by Whitman's rapturous poetry and personal magnetism--come sharply into focus in Robertson's book, which makes an important contribution to our understanding of the poet's world."--David S. Reynolds, author of Walt Whitman's America


"'I stop somewhere waiting for you,' Whitman says in the last line of 'Song of Myself.' Michael Robertson gives us the stories of readers who, in Whitman's own lifetime, took him at his word. This informative and highly readable book is a window onto the world of Whitman's early readers. It teaches us how devoted they were to him, and how they read his poetry in a religious idiom, as a new kind of devotion. Illuminating and personal, it gives us Whitman anew through the eyes of these disciples who knew him."--Michael Warner, Yale University


"An illuminating look at some of the people who knew Whitman and saw him as a new spiritual leader, Worshipping Walt is an outstanding book--clear, beautifully written, insightful, and informative."--Ed Folsom, editor of the Walt Whitman Quarterly Review


"Worshipping Walt is an important book. It clarifies the development of Whitman's reputation, highlights the nature of his key friendships, and illuminates his ongoing significance as a spiritual force."--Kenneth M. Price, author of To Walt Whitman, America


About the Author:

Michael Robertson is professor of English at the College of New Jersey. He is the author of the award-winning "Stephen Crane, Journalism, and the Making of Modern American Literature" and the coeditor of "Walt Whitman, Where the Future Becomes Present".

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