Walt Whitman’s post-transcendentalist poetics of New York

Howe, Chiara (2024) Walt Whitman’s post-transcendentalist poetics of New York. PhD thesis, University of Glasgow.

Full text available as:
[thumbnail of 2023HowePhD.pdf] PDF
Download (2MB)


This materialist study considers the place of Walt Whitman’s poetics in relation to American transcendentalist ‘philosophies’ by examining the importance of place to those ideas. Unlike his protean poetic persona, Whitman’s world was New York. My reading of Leaves of Grass views Whitman’s transcendentalist poetics of New York as a geocultural phenomenon of New England transcendentalism. By 1862, Whitman had left New York just twice and published three editions of Leaves. For this reason and their proximity to the historical moment of transcendentalism, I focus on the three antebellum editions (1855, 1856, 1860), tracing Whitman’s democratic poetics in relation to the New York ‘flavour’ of transcendentalism expressed in the early poetry. I analyse sex, the body, and the city as the conceptual site of this facet of Whitman’s poetics, its geographical site(s) being New York, Brooklyn, and Long Island. Most often I refer to ‘Emersonian’ transcendentalism, or the transcendentalist ideas contained in the work of Ralph Waldo Emerson, whose influence is most easily traced.

The thesis is structured in three parts: ‘Locations’, ‘Vocations’, and ‘Print & Periodical’. ‘Locations’ maps Whitman’s relationships with the city more broadly in connection with his transcendentalist poetics and then with Long Island, Brooklyn, and Manhattan; ‘Vocations’ surveys Whitman’s work as a Long Island school teacher and Brooklyn house builder; and ‘Print & Periodical’ reads Whitman as a product of 19th century print and periodical culture in Brooklyn and Manhattan, as well as of artistic contexts, literary and otherwise, and cultural contexts like bohemianism. Within the material and textual instabilities of antebellum New York, such contexts were essential to the development of an emphatically material poetics distinct from New England transcendentalism in its belief in sex, the body, and the city. The transcendentalists gathered at Emerson’s Concord home; the bohemians at Pfaff’s, an underground beer saloon on Broadway which Whitman began to visit daily in 1859. Examining how Whitman inherits and departs from his transcendental heritage, this research argues for the ways in which life in New York led him to transform transcendentalist thought, some of which were more faithful to the transcendentalist conception of self than others had been. I call this Whitman’s post-transcendentalist poetics of New York.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Qualification Level: Doctoral
Subjects: P Language and Literature > PN Literature (General) > PN0080 Criticism
P Language and Literature > PS American literature
Colleges/Schools: College of Arts & Humanities > School of Critical Studies
Supervisor's Name: Gair, Dr. Chris and Benchimol, Dr. Alex
Date of Award: 2024
Depositing User: Theses Team
Unique ID: glathesis:2024-84349
Copyright: Copyright of this thesis is held by the author.
Date Deposited: 13 Jun 2024 13:18
Last Modified: 13 Jun 2024 13:18
Thesis DOI: 10.5525/gla.thesis.84349
URI: https://theses.gla.ac.uk/id/eprint/84349

Actions (login required)

View Item View Item


Downloads per month over past year