Commentary

Selected Criticism

Title:
"Bervance: or, Father and Son" (1841)
Author:
McGuire, Patrick
Print source:
J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings, eds., Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998), reproduced by permission.

"Bervance: or, Father and Son" was published in United States Magazine and Democratic Review in December 1841.

The technique of this story is unusual in Whitman's work in that a first narrator introduces another narrator, Bervance père, who then tells his own tale. The first narrator is presumably Whitman since the introductory paragraph is signed "W.W."

Bervance's tale is in the form of a confession. As in "Wild Frank's Return," the father prefers his older son, and he and the second son have a dispute. Young Luke Bervance is sent to an asylum, where when the father neglects him he becomes wildly deranged. Upon escape, Luke visits Bervance, who is horrified at his son's insanity. After blaming and cursing his father, the madman flees and is never heard from again. But the father, in his soul, sees his maniac son and hears the curse over and over.

Reynolds reads the story as Whitman's attempt to purge his psychological demons, perhaps oedipal in nature. Kaplan sees this story as comparable to the work of Edgar Allan Poe, and Allen sees it as part of Whitman's compulsive interest in cruel fathers. The story also relates to another frequent theme of Whitman's fiction: the separating of two brothers.

Bibliography

Allen, Gay Wilson. The Solitary Singer: A Critical Biography of Walt Whitman. 1955. Rev. ed. 1967. Chicago: U of Chicago P, 1985.

Kaplan, Justin. Walt Whitman: A Life. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1980.

Reynolds, David S. Walt Whitman's America: A Cultural Biography. New York: Knopf, 1995.

Whitman, Walt. The Early Poems and the Fiction. Ed. Thomas L. Brasher. New York: New York UP, 1963.


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