Aleteia logoAleteia logo
Friday 15 January |
Saint of the Day: Bl. Nikolaus Gross
home iconNews
line break icon

Long-lost novel by Walt Whitman discovered

David - CC

Zelda Caldwell - published on 03/07/17

...and it's likely the author of 'Leaves of Grass' would have preferred it to remain undiscovered

A long-lost novel by Walt Whitman has been discovered, and if the author of Leaves of Grass were still around today he wouldn’t be pleased.

The New York Times, reporting on the novel’s discovery, described it as “a quasi-Dickensian tale of an orphan’s adventures [that] 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.”

Zachary Turpin, a graduate student at the University of Houston, found the 36,000-word novel, entitled Life and Adventures of Jack Engle, after connecting characters mentioned in Whitman’s own notebooks to an anonymously published novel serialized by The Sunday Dispatch, a New York newspaper in 1852.

Turpin suspects the novel was something of a writer’s workshop for Whitman. He told the Times that Whitman’s notes reveal that he had considered writing his free verse Leaves of Grass, published three years later in 1855, in the form of a novel.

“You could see him asking, Should it be a novel? Or a play, with thousands of people onstage, chanting in unison?” Turpin said.

Alas, Whitman’s try at a novel seems to have been a flop, and the author was likely to have been pleased to remain anonymous. In fact, he felt quite strongly about it, as the Times reported:

“My serious wish,” he wrote in 1882, “were to have all those crude and boyish pieces quietly dropp’d in oblivion.” In 1891, when a critic was planning on republishing some of his early tales, he was blunt: “I should almost be tempted to shoot him if I had an opportunity.”

The complete novel is available to read at the Walt Whitman Quarterly Review.

Support Aleteia!

If you’re reading this article, it’s thanks to the generosity of people like you, who have made Aleteia possible.

Here are some numbers:

  • 20 million users around the world read every month
  • Aleteia is published every day in eight languages: English, French, Arabic, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, Polish, and Slovenian
  • Each month, readers view more than 50 million pages
  • Nearly 4 million people follow Aleteia on social media
  • Each month, we publish 2,450 articles and around 40 videos
  • We have 60 full time staff and approximately 400 collaborators (writers, translators, photographers, etc.)

As you can imagine, these numbers represent a lot of work. We need you.

Support Aleteia with as little as $1. It only takes a minute. Thank you!

Daily prayer
And today we celebrate...

Top 10
Cerith Gardiner
Meet the dad who's teaching basic skills on Y...
Bret Thoman, OFS
An exorcist teaches 4 steps to forgive
Philip Kosloski
What is the Holy Cloak of St. Joseph?
Zoe Romanowsky
20-year-old filmmaker wins award for powerful...
Kathleen N. Hattrup
Why God loves ordinary stuff: Pope Francis' r...
POPE FRANCIS; Ash Wednesday
Kathleen N. Hattrup
Vatican: Imposition of ashes on Ash Wednesday...
Cerith Gardiner
Meet the family of 12 siblings with a very sp...
See More
Get Aleteia delivered to your inbox. Subscribe here.