Commentary

Selected Criticism

Title:
Molinoff, Katherine
Author:
Erkkila, Betsy
Print source:
J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings, eds., Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998), reproduced by permission.

Katherine Molinoff is the author of several privately printed pamphlets about Whitman, including Some Notes on Whitman's Family (1941), Whitman's Teaching at Smith town, 1837–38 (1942), and Walt Whitman at Southold (1966). She is the editor of An Unpublished Whitman Manuscript: The Record Book of the Smithtown Debating Society, 1837–1838 (1941). These pamphlets present revealing and, in some cases, controversial information about the Whitman family and Whitman's life and work as a teacher in the Long Island countryside between 1838 and 1841. Against the idealized image of his family perpetuated by Whitman and his early biographers, Some Notes on Whitman's Family presents documents revealing that Whitman's youngest brother, Eddy, was mentally retarded, his brother Andrew was a drunkard, his sister Hannah was driven to psychopathic behavior by an abusive husband, and his oldest brother, Jesse, died in an insane asylum. In Walt Whitman at Southold, Molinoff presents notes from the Southold town historian Wayland Jefferson (based on oral testimony) suggesting that while Whitman was teaching in Southold between late fall and early winter 1840–1841 he was denounced from the pulpit as a sodomite and tarred, feathered, and run out of town by a local mob. The school where he putatively taught was renamed "the School of Sodom." There is no documentary evidence that Whitman ever taught at Southold or that such an event occurred. But while biographers have generally treated the Southold story as apocryphal, Molinoff's pamphlet suggests that as early as 1840–1841, in the period immediately preceding Whitman's publication of such homoerotically nuanced stories as "The Child's Champion" (1841) and Franklin Evans (1842), Whitman may have experienced a deep physical and emotional attachment to a young man which led to his being persecuted by the townspeople of Southold.

Bibliography

Molinoff, Katherine. Some Notes on Whitman's Family. Brooklyn, N.Y.: Comet, 1941.

———. Walt Whitman at Southold. Brookville, N.Y.: C.W. Post College of Long Island University, 1966.

———. Whitman's Teaching at Smithtown, 1837–38. Brooklyn, N.Y.: Comet, 1942.

———, ed. An Unpublished Whitman Manuscript: The Record Book of the Smithtown Debating Society, 1837–1838. Brooklyn, N.Y.: Comet, 1941.

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


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