Commentary

Selected Criticism

Title:
Miller, James Edwin, Jr. (1920–2010)
Author:
Kummings, Donald D.
Print source:
J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings, eds., Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998), reproduced by permission.

Among the most distinguished Whitman scholars of the last four decades, James E. Miller, Jr., came to prominence in the late 1950s and early 1960s. In an era when Whitman's poetry was widely regarded as undisciplined, formless, devoid of conscious artistry, Miller published A Critical Guide to "Leaves of Grass" (1957) and Walt Whitman (1962; rev. ed., 1990), two books that persuasively demonstrated the poet's technical excellence. In an age when Whitman's work was snubbed by the ruling sensibilities, in particular by T.S. Eliot and the American New Critics, Miller, assisted by Bernice Slote and Karl Shapiro, challenged the status quo with a polemical collection of essays entitled Start with the Sun: Studies in the Whitman Tradition (1960; initially subtitled Studies in Cosmic Poetry). At a time when good and ample collections of Whitman's writings were relatively scarce, Miller put together the Houghton Mifflin-Riverside Edition of Walt Whitman: Complete Poetry and Selected Prose (1959).

Born in Bartlesville, Oklahoma, and educated at the University of Oklahoma (B.A., 1942) and University of Chicago (M.A., 1947; Ph.D., 1949), Miller taught at various institutions, such as Michigan, Nebraska, and Hawaii, but spent most of his career at the University of Chicago (1962–1990). Following his auspicious debut, Miller went on to publish other important works on Whitman, notably The American Quest for a Supreme Fiction: Whitman's Legacy in the Personal Epic (1979). He also published studies of other American authors, including Herman Melville, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Henry James, and T.S. Eliot. It is his work on Whitman, however, that most commands attention, for it unquestionably contributed to the mid-century rehabilitation of the poet's reputation. Moreover, it bequeathed to the lexicon of Whitman studies certain highly useful and now familiar terms: "inverted mystical experience," "personal epic," and "omnisexuality."

Bibliography

Miller, James E., Jr. "Whitman Then and Now: A Reminiscence." Walt Whitman Quarterly Review 8 (1990): 92–101.


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