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Walt Whitman Among the French : Poet and Myth by Betsy Erkkila

Walt Whitman Among the French : Poet and Myth by Betsy Erkkila


New Jersey : Princeton University Press, 1980. Hardcover. 296 pages ; 22 cm. In original dust jacket, with firm binding, clean and unmarked pages.

Poet and Myth

As the first full treatment of Walt Whitman's French sources and his later impact on French writers, this book revises our image of the poet and challenges many critical assumptions. Betsy Erkkila begins with the cultural traditions that formed a large part of Whitman's background, such as the Enlightenment, Romanticism, Positivism, and Symbolism. Then through a study of writers such as Rimbaud, Gide, Claudel, Apollinaire, and St.-John Perse, who participated in the wave of Whitmanism in France, she shows how the American poet anticipated, if he did not directly inspire, the modernist spirit of Post-Symbolism, Futurism, Cubism, and Surrealism.

The author contends that Whitman was the first major American writer to find important sources for his work in the literature and philosophy of France. Focusing on the poet's rhythmic free verse and his liberated social and sexual, cosmic and cosmopolitan attitudes, she illuminates not only Whitman's unique poetic achievements but also the continental parallels and origins of some of his ideas and themes.

In an Epilogue, Professor Erkkila briefly discusses American writers such as Eliot, Pound, Williams, and Ginsberg, who were later influenced by the same French sources that Whitman had nourished.

Betsy Erkkila is Visiting Assistant Professor of English at California State University, Chico.

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