Selected Criticism

"Madman, The" (1843)
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 fragment of a novel appeared in the Washingtonian and Organ, 28 January 1843. It consists of an unnumbered first chapter and a second chapter which ends with the words "(To be continued)." No other parts of the novel have been uncovered. For further information see Brasher's edition of The Early Poems and the Fiction.

The fragment begins with a description of a crowded dining hall. Emphasis is put on the haste with which people are eating and of the honesty of the diners, who tally their own bills and pay as they leave. This honesty stands in opposition to what "foreign slanderers" have said about "our national integrity" (Whitman 240). Then two characters are introduced. Richard Arden, though poor, is a man of good taste. He eats slowly. He is a philosopher. Pierre Barcoure is a descendant of French radicals. He scorns religious superstitions and abhors religious fanaticism, but allows that each religion holds some excellence. Barcoure is called "an infidel" (243). The fragment draws to its end with Richard and Pierre becoming fast friends.

The final paragraph is an apostrophe against friendships that are "rivetted by intimacy in scenes of dissipation" (243). The intensity of this final paragraph and other references to "ardent liquors" (240) indicate the probable didactic purpose of the novel. Its appearance in a temperance newspaper suggests the same purpose.

Reynolds sees "The Madman" as another attempt by Whitman to appeal to the American masses. Kaplan, following Brasher, suggests that this story undermines Whitman's recollections about abandoning work in the manner of Franklin Evans; or The Inebriate. A Tale of the Times (1842).


Kaplan, Justin. Walt Whitman: A Life. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1980.

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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