Commentary

Selected Criticism

Title:
Shephard, Esther (1891–1975)
Author:
Rachman, Stephen
Print source:
J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings, eds., Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998), reproduced by permission.

Esther Shephard, scholar, poet, and folklorist (she compiled a popular edition of Paul Bunyan stories) was the author of Walt Whitman's Pose (1938), an early source study which doggedly demonstrates the influence of some of Whitman's reading on Leaves of Grass. In particular, while she places undue emphasis on it, Shephard convincingly shows that George Sand's Countess of Rudolstadt and Journeyman Joiner influenced Whitman's literary persona of the "vagabond poet, dressed in laborer's garb" (141). However, Shephard's sense of Whitman as poseur and dissembler is so extreme that it colors her judgment of Leaves of Grass to the point that she has virtually no sympathy or ear for Whitman and his work. By the end, Shephard throws up her hands, suggesting that "a consideration of Walt Whitman in his career as the self-styled metaphysician and philosoph [sic] of the nineteenth century is a saddening experience" (396). Despite these drawbacks, as Gay Wilson Allen suggests, Shephard's work was important in redirecting Whitman biography toward a more thorough investigation of his literary sources. Shephard taught for most of her career at San Jose State (presently California State University at San Jose) and contributed scholarly articles on Whitman through the 1940s and 1950s.

Bibliography

Allen, Gay Wilson. The New Walt Whitman Handbook. 1975. New York: New York UP, 1986.

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

"Shephard, Esther." Contemporary Authors, Permanent Series. Ed. Christine Nasso. Vol. 2. Detroit: Gale Research, 1978.

Shephard, Esther. Walt Whitman's Pose. New York: Harcourt, Brace, 1938.


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