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Ellen M. O'Connor to Walt Whitman, 25 April 1891

 loc.03007.002.jpg Dear Walt:—

I send you the second part of the "Brazen Android."2 Thanks for your letter. There has never been any more said about the book,3 since the one letter that you sent.

With love—& as ever— Nelly O'Connor.

I wish I was not so busy

 loc.03007.001.jpg see notes 29 April 1891

Ellen M. "Nelly" O'Connor (1830–1913) was the wife of William D. O'Connor (1832–1889), one of Whitman's staunchest defenders. Before marrying William, Ellen Tarr was active in the antislavery and women's rights movements as a contributor to the Liberator and to a women's rights newspaper Una. Whitman dined with the O'Connors frequently during his Washington years. Though Whitman and William O'Connor would temporarily break off their friendship in late 1872 over Reconstruction policies with regard to emancipated African Americans, Ellen would remain friendly with Whitman. The correspondence between Whitman and Ellen is almost as voluminous as the poet's correspondence with William. Three years after William O'Connor's death, Ellen married the Providence businessman Albert Calder. For more on Whitman's relationship with the O'Connors, see Dashae E. Lott, "O'Connor, William Douglas [1832–1889]" and Lott's "O'Connor (Calder), Ellen ('Nelly') M. Tarr (1830–1913)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998).


  • 1. This postal card is addressed: Walt Whitman, | Camden, | New Jersey. It is postmarked: Washington | Apr 26 | 8PM | [illegible] | [illegible]C.; Camden, N[illegible] | Apr | 27 | 6AM | [illegible]. [back]
  • 2. First written in 1862 but not published until 1891, William D. O'Connor's story appeared in The Atlantic Monthly in two installments: Part 1, vol. 67, no. 402, April 1891, pp. 433–454; Part 2, vol. 67, no. 403, May 1891, pp. 577–599. The story also appeared in the collection Three Tales: The Ghost, The Brazen Android, The Carpenter (Boston: Houghton, Mifflin, 1891), for which Whitman wrote the Preface (which he later included in Good-Bye My Fancy [Philadelphia: David McKay, 1891], 51–53). In it, he describes his relationship with O'Connor, writing that "he was a gallant, handsome, gay-hearted, fine-voiced, glowing-eyed man" (iii). Whitman goes on to praise O'Connor's abolitionism, his talents as a literary critic and writer of fiction, and his "special defenses" of controversial literary figures, among whom Whitman includes himself. Although not explicitly mentioned, Whitman no doubt had in mind O'Connor's "vindication" of him in "The Good Gray Poet" (1866). For more on O'Connor's story, see Brooks Landon, "Slipstream Then, Slipstream Now: The Curious Connections between William Douglas O'Connor's "The Brazen Android" and Michael Cunningham's Specimen Days," Science Fiction Studies, vol. 38, no. 1, March 2011, pp. 67–91. [back]
  • 3. O'Connor is referring to the book Three Tales, which, at the time of this letter, was not yet published. [back]
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