New Walt Whitman Novel Discovered

Among his multitudes, Whitman also contained a mediocre novel

Whitman Portrait, aka The Sweaty-Toothed Madman

It seems a new work needs to be added to the iconic Walt Whitman oeuvre. The short novel Life and Adventures of Jack Engle, which first appeared in 1852 as an anonymous serial in the now defunct New York newspaper, The Sunday Dispatch, was penned by the great poet, according to recent scholarship. Jack Engle is a quasi-Dickensian tale, with some distinctly American aspects; 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,” according to The New York Times.

Zachary Turpin — a Whitman scholar and a graduate student at the University of Houston — made the discovery by cross referencing names and phrases from the poet’s notebooks with digitized databases of 19th century newspapers. The novel isn’t Turpin’s only Whitman find. Just last year, he unearthed Whitman’s 1858 self-help manifesto Manly Health and Training , which was originally published under a manly pseudonym — Mose Velsor.

While reviews of Jack Engle have not been stellar — either in the past or the present — Whitman aficionados appear energized by the discovery. The text is currently available online at the Walt Whitman Quarterly Review. It’s worth remembering, however, that Whitman likely would be rolling in his multitudinous grave if he learned of the novel’s sudden attribution and prominence. When a critic planned to republish Whitman’s fictions in 1891, the poet remarked, “I should almost be tempted to shoot him if I had an opportunity.”

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