Date of Degree
PhD (Doctor of Philosophy)
Focusing on the three-year period from 1859 to 1862 during which the poet Walt Whitman frequented Pfaff's Beer Cellar on Broadway in New York, this dissertation examines how the barroom and its unique clientele shaped the poet's life and writings. This project demonstrates that Pfaff's functioned as an American saloon and a popular salon and argues that the communities of beer cellar regulars Whitman joined there made Pfaff's the most significant social and literary space of his career.
Whitman's participation in two social and intellectual communities at Pfaff's was vital to his literary production before and during the Civil War. While Whitman prepared the 1860 edition of Leaves of Grass for publication, he joined a group of writers and artists at the beer cellar--a group now recognized as the first American Bohemians. Later, he became a central figure in the "Fred Gray Association," a little-known group of young Pfaffians. This dissertation shows that Whitman's membership in the Bohemian coterie influenced his writing and revision of his homoerotic Calamus poems, first published in Leaves of Grass (1860). It also reveals that Whitman's time with the Fred Gray members served as a foreground for his volunteer work in Washington's wartime hospitals, where he not only attempted to recreate the beer cellar environment as best he could under terrible conditions, but he also continued to practice the theories of affection he put forth in Calamus .
By studying Whitman's years at Pfaff's through an interdisciplinary approach that draws on methodologies ranging from cultural studies and literary history to gender and sexuality studies, this dissertation makes significant contributions to several fields of literary study. In addition to offering a fuller understanding of Whitman's literary production at Pfaff's, it contributes to biographical studies of the poet by drawing connections between his personal and professional transitions from temperance writer to bar-hopping Bohemian, and, finally, from a Pfaffian poet to a hospital volunteer. This study also adds to the history of sexuality by places Whitman's Calamus poems, which are counted among his most sexually radical, in the context of nineteenth-century debates concerning gender and sexuality. It also explores the counter-cultural communities that formed at Pfaff's and illuminates how Whitman's writing is intertwined with the space of the barroom and his relationships to its inhabitants. Finally, this dissertation illustrates how underground networks respond to the larger social and cultural milieus that they both exist within and position themselves against.
American Literature, Nineteenth-Century American Literature, Sexuality and Gender in the Nineteenth-Century, Walt Whitman
xi, 396 pages
Includes bibliographical references (pages 369-396).
Copyright 2011 Stephanie Michelle Blalock