Affinities of influence: exploring the relationship between Walt Whitman and William Blake

Davidson, Ryan J. (2014) Affinities of influence: exploring the relationship between Walt Whitman and William Blake. PhD thesis, University of Glasgow.

Due to Embargo and/or Third Party Copyright restrictions, this thesis is not available in this service.
Printed Thesis Information:


This project explores the nature and extent of the relationship between Blake and Whitman. I examine their works to find affinities in tone, style and themes and seek to understand the origin of these affinities. The resultant discoveries, however, lead to the conclusion that, because of Whitman’s lack of exposure to Blake’s work, these affinities must be accounted for through a coterie of indirect influences on Whitman.

Over the course of the introductory chapter, I establish the critical proclivity of connecting William Blake and Walt Whitman, providing examples of such critical interpretation; in addition, I provide an introduction to the key figures, terms, and works with which this thesis engages.

The work of the second chapter of this project is to uncover in Whitman’s work, before he could have read Blake, those elements that are read as points of contact between them. Through close readings, I show that those aspects of Whitman’s work which are read as points of contact between Blake and Whitman predate Whitman’s exposure to Blake’s work, and so necessitate an engagement with influences shared by Blake and Whitman.

The third chapter articulates the notion that a variety of influences affected Whitman’s composition of Leaves of Grass, and these various influences serve as an explanation for those apparent similarities between Blake and Whitman discussed in chapter two. The final element this chapter engages with is that of nineteenth-century periodical culture; this aspect of the influences articulated in this chapter provides a secondary explanation for the similarities discussed in the second chapter.

The fourth and fifth chapters focus on the 1860 and 1867 iterations of Leaves of Grass and the 1867 and 1871–72 versions of Leaves of Grass, respectively, both with special emphasis on the poem that would become “Song of Myself.” The changes seen throughout these iterations will be used to understand Whitman’s evolving prosody as well as his changing public persona. These chapters also engage with the work of Swinburne, in chapter five, and of Gilchrist, in chapter four, as integral elements of this mediated influence of Blake on Whitman.

In the final chapter of this work, I summarize my findings, suggest possible avenues for further inquiry, and discuss the implications of this research. There is a trend in Anglo-American literary criticism to see the relationship between America and England as adversarial rather than generative. The concluding chapter of this work will explore the idea of the Anglo-American literary tradition as a continuum—a complex of acceptance, extension, transformation, and refusal—and place the relationship of Whitman to Blake accurately on this continuum.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Qualification Level: Doctoral
Additional Information: Due to copyright restrictions the full text of this thesis cannot be made available online. Access to the printed version is available.
Keywords: Whitman, Blake, Swedenborg, Paine, MacPherson, Barlow, Influence, Transatlantic, Emerson
Subjects: F History United States, Canada, Latin America > F001 United States local history
P Language and Literature > PB Modern European Languages
P Language and Literature > PN Literature (General)
P Language and Literature > PN Literature (General) > PN0080 Criticism
P Language and Literature > PN Literature (General) > PN0441 Literary History
P Language and Literature > PR English literature
P Language and Literature > PS American literature
Colleges/Schools: College of Arts & Humanities > School of Critical Studies > English Literature
Supervisor's Name: Benchimol, Dr. Alex and Gair, Dr. Christopher
Date of Award: 2014
Depositing User: Mr Ryan James Davidson
Unique ID: glathesis:2014-5590
Copyright: Copyright of this thesis is held by the author.
Date Deposited: 23 Oct 2014 15:25
Last Modified: 23 Oct 2014 15:25

Actions (login required)

View Item View Item


Downloads per month over past year