Selected Criticism

Asselineau, Roger (1915–2002)
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.

Born in Orléans, France, Roger Maurice Asselineau was educated at the Université de Paris-Sorbonne, where he received degrees in 1935, Licence ès Lettres; 1938, Agrégation d'anglais; and 1953, Doctorat ès Lettres. After teaching briefly at the Université de Lyon, he returned to the Sorbonne, there to serve as Professor of American Literature from 1960 to 1983. In 1954, Asselineau published his massive doctoral dissertation, calling it L'Évolution de Walt Whitman. A few years later, aided by Richard P. Adams and Burton L. Cooper, he translated his 569-page book into English. Harvard University Press published the translation in two volumes: The Evolution of Walt Whitman: The Creation of a Personality (1960) and The Evolution of Walt Whitman: The Creation of a Book (1962). This two-part study was promptly recognized as a major contribution to the effort to demythologize the poet, and Asselineau was well on his way to becoming one of the foremost Whitman scholars of our time.

Asselineau's Evolution advances the thesis, venturesome in its day, that homosexuality is the key to Whitman's personality and poetry. Because of a struggle with homosexual desires, Asselineau argues, Whitman was unstable, tormented; he used his poetry as a means to discharge his turbulent passions. His art was, in effect, not only compensatory, a substitute for physical gratification, but therapeutic. Whitman's poetry saved him.

In addition to The Evolution of Walt Whitman, Asselineau published a French translation of Leaves of Grass (Feuilles d'herbe, 1956), as well as a bilingual edition (1972). He wrote the long chapter on Whitman in Eight American Authors: A Review of Research and Criticism, edited by James Woodress (rev. ed., 1971). In 1980, he published The Transcendentalist Constant in American Literature, a collection of essays in which Whitman is a central figure. Finally, in 1992, the centennial of the poet's death, he edited a special Whitman issue of Études Anglaises. Although Asselineau wrote books on other authors, such as Mark Twain, Sherwood Anderson, Ernest Hemingway, Edgar Allan Poe, and St. Jean de Crèvecoeur (with Gay Wilson Allen), his primary focus, for more than fifty years, has been on Whitman.


Asselineau, Roger. "My Discovery and Exploration of the Whitman Continent (1941–1991)." Walt Whitman Quarterly Review 9 (1991): 15–23.


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