Selected Letters of Walt Whitman

The GLBTRT has been reviewing books and movies in its newsletter since the early 1990s. Trace the evolution of queer publishing through these historic reviews. This review was originally published in Vol. 3, No 3 & 4 Spring/Summer 1991. 

Cover of Selected Letters of Walt WhitmanSelected Letters of Walt Whitman. By Edwin Haviland Miller. University of Iowa Press, 1990. Goth (alk. paper) $39.95. (ISBN 0-87745-266-0) Paper (alk. paper) $16.50. (ISBN 0-87745-267-9)

Selected Letters is divided into chronological sections introduced by biographical sketches. These biographies, which could stand alone, and the thorough endnotes strengthen and support the letters.

Whitman did not write literary or intellectual letters but wrote about his private life although discretely. He was not explicit about homosexual feelings or actions but the editor does not contrive heterosexual apologies for the emotions and affections expressed in the letters. Miller accepts that Whitman’s phrases ‘love of comrades” and “adhesive nature” are codes for homosexual feelings, codes which would be clear to the sympathetic reader but which Whitman could deny when questioned by the unsympathetic.

The letters about visiting Army hospitals during the Civil War are striking as historical documents and also as personal documents expressing Whitman’s nurturing, almost maternal nature.

I recommend this book for public, college, and high school libraries.

Reviewed by Bill Edminster
Gerber-Hart Library
Chicago, Illinois

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