As part of our Walt Whitman Weekend, join scholar Andrew Rimby for a talk on the curious relationship between two literary giants.
The year is 1882, celebrated Victorian novelist Oscar Wilde has just arrived in NYC to begin the first of his many lectures, in America, on the philosophy of beauty. Right after finishing his lecture in Washington Square Park, Wilde demands to his press team to arrange for him to meet Walt Whitman, who he knew lived in Camden, across from Philadelphia which was his next lecture stop. Why was Wilde so insistent and infatuated with meeting Whitman? Literary scholars have written that Wilde’s major motive to meet Whitman was to learn how to become a literary celebrity.
A motive that has not been discussed in scholarship, but is the starting point for this talk and my project, is Wilde’s claim to a journalist that he still had the “kiss of Whitman on his lips.” I will argue that Wilde's desire to meet Whitman was not motivated for knowledge about becoming a literary celebrity but about meeting an American poet who openly discussed male same-sex desire in his literature.
Andrew Rimby is a Ph.D. Candidate in the English department at Stony Brook University. He researches nineteenth-century American and Victorian literature from a queer trans-Atlantic perspective. He is the 2019 inaugural recipient of the Guiliano Global Fellowship which will allow him to go to the British Library, in July, to look at the Lady Eccles Oscar Wilde collection. He is a 2019-2020 Public Humanities Fellow and a 2019 Stony Brook Graduate Fellow in the Arts, Humanities, and Lettered Social Sciences. He is currently on the organizing committee for International Whitman Week (IWW) which will be at NYU, in May. In 2017, he was an IWW seminar participant in Creteil, France. At Stony Brook, he was on the organizing committee for the May 3 Whitman Bicentennial symposium where he spoke about Whitman's homoerotic poetry. Recently, he has presented his research on Wilde at the Northeast Modern Language Association conference. Andrew is also a queer activist who has advocated for equal access for LGBTQ* students at Stony Brook.