Virginia S. for September 22

missvirginia on Sep 21st 2009

So, I’ve worked retail for two years now. Those years have honed my skill for picking up items that are easy to sell, harder to sell, create selling points for the customer, etc. After finishing most of the readings between the 1855 and 1867 editions, I was looking back and comparing the table of contents. OH MY WORD–comparing just the table of contents was a little overwhelming. The 12, short and sweet, lines in the 1855 table of contents make the book seem so much more marketable, so much more less intimidating to read. Wikipedia reports, “Early advertisements for the first edition appealed to “lovers of literary curiosities” as an oddity. Sales on the book were few but Whitman was not discouraged.” In fact, Whitman seems to have written L of  G for the reader, he was being selfless in a sense. Wikipedia also recounts that “Whitman once said he intended the book to be small enough to be carried in a pocket. ‘That would tend to induce people to take me along with them and read me in the open air: I am nearly always successful with the reader in the open air.'” Whitman wants to be seen as a poet of the people, which we have already established. The 1855 edition is his rise, his ambition to become America’s Bard to the Citizens.

I’m thinking that Emerson’s letter somewhat reviewing L of G prompted Whitman to, like you said last week Scanlon, “micromanage”. Almost like when you tell someone you like their hair or a certain sweater and they ONLY wear their hair like that or they wear the damned sweater a million times a season. Wikipedia quotes Whitman saying that the 1867 edition was “‘a new & much better edition of Leaves of Grass complete — that unkillable work!'” Also, the 1867 edition, with it’s almost 80 poems, instead of the original 13, lacked the legendary frontispiece.

Whitman’s Civil War experiences definitely  influenced the 1867 version. You can tell because he filled the 1867 edition with SO much more, not to mention this is the first time Drum Taps is published. Obviously, he felt compelled to show the reader, instead of what a wonderful world we live in (and being able to reach the reader “by being in their pocket”) he wanted to show the gruesome, live-or-die side of life. Which, can also be the most alive side of life. The fight for life or death, especially in the scenes Walt observed, he wanted the general public to realize the fight their sons, husbands, and lovers were putting up and mostly losing to disease and lack of proper healthcare. From just the shear amount of new poems, a lot can be inferred from his experiences as a “nurse”, of sorts, in the “Great Effort”.

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4 Responses to “Virginia S. for September 22”

  1. It definitely makes sense to think of the marketing of LG as something that was foremost in Whitman’s mind all his adult life–pretty funny, e.g., that he even included negative reviews in the 1856 edition to generate buzz.

    Just to set the record straight on a few points, though: you probably know this, but the 1855 edition didn’t even *have* a table of contents. (The one on page 3 of our edition is the editors’ afterthought.) How about that for daunting? It’s almost like he was daring anybody to read the thing at all.

    Also, Drum-Taps *had* been published before (in 1865), but 1867 was the first time it was included as part of Leaves.

    This is not to take away from your point about WW having a strong awareness of death in the 1867–maybe something we can talk about tomorrow night.

  2. Avatar of Mara Scanlon Mara Scanlon says:

    “I am nearly always successful with the reader in the open air.”

    “being able to reach the reader ‘by being in their pocket'” (!!)

    These are two of my favorite moments in this post. Knowing where you work retail, I am also enjoying imagining the editions of L of G as pieces of lingerie– would they have to be men’s apparel? Despite his hard work for it, I’m not so sure. The 1867 would be something with a lot of complicated tiny buttons or straps or with strong tummy control.

  3. Avatar of emilym emilym says:

    This is a neat concept–thinking about the book as a whole, a tangible object to buy and sell. It isn’t something I typically think about during my study of books. You created more possible paths for thought. Thanks.

  4. Avatar of abcwhitman abcwhitman says:

    Though the later edition is longer and filled with “SO much more,” as you put it, and the 1855 edition just a little somethin-somethin you can fit into your pocket, the 1867 edition is more digestible than the 1855. As Earnhart just mentioned, the 1855 edition did not even have a table of contents, the reader was clueless as to what they were getting themselves into (which we’ve figured out now is a whole hell of a lot). The 1867 version is typical in its format, includes an introduction and numbered sections, and cuts back on some of the delirious poetic mania that’s present in 1855. I guess it’s true what they say (CLICHE ALERT!): big things come in small packages.

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