Commentary

Selected Criticism

Title:
"Boy Lover, The" (1845)
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.

This short story was first published in American Review, May 1845. For publication particulars and revisions, see Brasher's edition of The Early Poems and the Fiction.

"The Boy Lover" is a first-person account of a love story. It is unusual in that four young men fall in love with the same girl, the beautiful Ninon. When she dies unexpectedly, the four men grieve, but one of them less violently, less openly than the others. This one, Matthew, maintains an even temper and dies of grief unexpressed: "The shaft, rankling far down and within, wrought a poison too great for show, and the youth died" (308). Matthew's brother is the narrator, now an old man reminiscing. He reminds his readers that they will grow old and have to measure their happiness, and he extols love as "the child-monarch that Death itself cannot conquer" (302–303).

Through his choice of narrator, Whitman is able to characterize the passion of the four boys with the immediacy of a first-person viewpoint, while still allowing for the sentimentality of the ending: death through grief. Grief as a cause of death is a pervasive theme in Whitman's fiction; it is implicit in "Death in the School-Room (a Fact)" (1841) and explicit in "Dumb Kate" (1844) and in number 1 of "Some Fact-Romances" (1845).

Little critical attention has been given to "The Boy Lover."

Bibliography

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


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