Commentary

Selected Criticism

Title:
"Some Fact-Romances" (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 work, a collection of five numbered short tales and an introduction, first appeared in The Aristidean, December 1845. Several of the tales were later published separately: the first as "A Fact-Romance of Long Island," the second as "The Old Black Widow," and the fifth as "An Incident on Long Island Forty Years Ago." For publication history and revisions, see Brasher's edition of The Early Poems and the Fiction.

Whitman's purpose in gathering the tales under one title is obscure. In the introduction, he pledges that the stories are true and, therefore, more charming than fiction. The fifth Fact-Romance involves Whitman's mother and grandparents.

The first Fact-Romance has been singled out by Brasher as, perhaps, Whitman's best effort at fiction writing. After a boat capsizes, a young man, helping his sister to shore, hears his fiancée's call for help. He abandons his sister, who then drowns. Within a year, the couple marries, but the man becomes weaker and weaker and finally sinks into a death caused by grief.

In the second Fact-Romance, a pious old African-American widow saves an innocent deaf-and-dumb girl from the indecency of their Broadway neighborhood. The third tells of an émigré French couple. When the wife becomes ill, they consult several New York physicians. The wife dies on the return trip, and the husband becomes a madman. In the fourth, a villain is captured because he tried to retrieve from a pawnbroker his mother's keepsake instead of trying to escape. In the final Fact-Romance, during a storm, two frightened women mistake the sound of falling peaches for footsteps of a ghost.

Reynolds sees each tale as a variety of sensationalism, though the second seems more sentimental than sensational and the fifth includes humor.

Bibliography

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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