Mayor Mullins explores Walt Whitman and the Washingtonian Temperance Movement in his latest publication | Writing

Maire Mullins, White E. Seaver Professor and Professor of English Literature at Seaver College, recently published a research paper titled “Walt Whitman and the Washingtonian Temperance Movement,” in ESQ: A Journal of Nineteenth-Century American Literature and Culture. In this text, Mullins dissects Whitman’s first novel, Franklin Evans, or The Drunk: A Tale of the Timesand highlights the cultural and personal influences that flood the work of the renowned author.

“Whitman had a lot of alcoholism in his family,” says Mullins. “We believe his father died of alcoholism. His brother, Andrew, died of alcoholism. And his brother-in-law, Charlies Heyde, was probably a violent alcoholic. So Whitman was familiar with the concept of temperance in his day. , and it was an integral part of the cultural landscape.

This background helps readers understand the inspiration behind Whitman’s novel, which traces the life of Franklin Evans, a man who becomes a drunk throughout the story. Originally, this novel was published as a newspaper supplement to The New World – a weekly publication based in New York – and has since become known as one of the great author’s weaker works. Still, Mullins points out that the text was more successful than critics like to mention.

“I think it was important for [Whitman’s] career even if he denies the novel,” Mullins says. “He claims he wrote it while he was drunk – he said so later. The fact is that it was probably [Whitman’s] best-selling work. It sold thousands and thousands of copies, and he was in his early twenties when he wrote this. He was a journalist, and it was a huge success for him to have his name printed, and many of the themes and focuses of this novel carry over into much of his poetry and later works.

Beyond reviving Whitman’s career, Franklin Evans also gave the author a platform from which to comment on the temperance movement. Specifically, Whitman advocated on behalf of the Washingtonian Temperance movement, which offered compassion and support to alcoholics. This was a rarity given the cultural context of the time, as most viewed alcoholism as a link to sinful behavior.

Mullins points out that in empathy with the alcoholics of his day, Whitman displayed an early ability to be a compassionate observer – a trait that would eventually lead him to literary success.

To learn more about Mayor Mullins’ most recent publication, Walt Whitman, visit the
online digital edition.

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