Speaking Monuments: Henry James, Walt Whitman, and the Civil War Statues of Augustus Saint-Gaudens
Although James's first published response to Whitman's poetry, an 1865 review of Drum-Taps , was dismissive, he expressed a profound affinity with the poet later in his career. This essay considers how his reading of two volumes of Whitman's correspondence in 1898, in particular The Wound Dresser letters, are crucial to James's reevaluation of Whitman and may be seen to be exerting pressure in The American Scene (1907). Through also examining a key event of the year previous, when James's Civil War memories were reignited by the dedication of the Robert Gould Shaw memorial in Boston, I suggest reasons for his changed relation to Whitman's aesthetic project. My argument focusses on how Whitman's epistolary and poetic treatment of the wounded body reformulated vital representational and emotional issues for James, and made Whitman an active presence for him during his 1904-5 American sojourn. James makes no explicit comment about Whitman when he details his journey in The American Scene , yet the poet's influence can be felt in the way James writes about recently erected Civil War monuments by Saint-Gaudens, in New York and Boston, and Whitman is also acknowledged by the stylistic memorial, in this work, that James builds for him.
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