MEMETERIA by Thomas May

Music & the Arts

Walt Whitman, Novelist


Walt Whitman, 1853 or 1854. Credit The New York Public Library

This looks exciting: report of a short serialized novel the young Walt Whitman published anonymously in 1852. University of Houston grad student Zachary Turpin discovered the work — The Life and Adventures of Jack Engle — in the archives of the Library of Congress:

Tucked away in the long-forgotten, never-digitized “Sunday Dispatch”, the short novel was all but lost to the ages. But Turpin, who unearthed “Jack Engle” in the Library of Congress archive, used unpublished notes and outlines to connect the story to Whitman, one of America’s best known and most beloved poets.

In her report for The New York Times, Jennifer Schuessler describes the novel as “a quasi-Dickensian tale of an orphan’s adventures [that] features a villainous lawyer, virtuous Quakers, glad-handing politicians, a sultry Spanish dancer …”
A quasi-Dickensian tale of an orphan’s adventures, it features a villainous lawyer, virtuous Quakers, glad-handing politicians, a sultry Spanish dancer and more than a few unlikely plot twists and jarring narrative shifts.The Walt Whitman Quarterly Review has published the entire text, along with background material, here. The opening:
Life and Adventures of Jack Engle: An AutoBiography:
PREFATORY.—Candidly reader we are going to tell you a true story. The narrative is written in the first person; because it was originally jotted down by the principal actor in it, for the entertainment of a valued friend. From that narrative, although the present is somewhat elaborated, with an unimportant leaving out here, and putting in there, there has been no departure in substance. The main incidents were of actual occurrence in this good city of New York; and there will be a sprinkling of our readers by no means small, who will wonder how the deuce such facts, (as they happen to know them) ever got into print.

Filed under: literature, Walt Whitman


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