. . . . Zachary Turpin. a graduate student at the University of Houston found this long lost novel through digital archives.
Readers who picked up The New York Times on March 13, 1852, might have seen a small advertisement on Page 3 for a serial tale set to begin the next day in a rival newspaper.
“A RICH REVELATION,” the ad began, teasing a rollicking story touching on “the Manners and Morals of Boarding Houses, some Scenes from Church History, Operations in Wall-st.,” and “graphic Sketches of Men and Women” (presented, fear not, with “explanations necessary to properly understand what it is all about”).From the NY Times story:
The The 36,000-word “Life and Adventures of Jack Engle,” which was discovered last summer by a graduate student, is being republished online on Monday by The Walt Whitman Quarterly Review and in book form by the University of Iowa Press. 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.
“This is Whitman’s take on the city mystery novel, a popular genre of the day that pitted the ‘upper 10 thousand’ — what we would call the 1 percent — against the lower million,” said David S. Reynolds, a Whitman expert at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York.
Everything about this news is pleasing!
First of all though, as much as we studied Leaves of Grass when I was still at university it was never revealed somehow, whether in class or in critical studies, that this great American poet had ever written fiction at all. I have learned for the first time that not only did he write fiction, he wrote quite a bit of it. However, as he turned himself in the poet who would spend his life creating ever more types of Leaves of Grass, he tended to bury or obscure that he had done so. Second, whereas I tended to mine the poet's life and his poetry for historical information on culture and mores of the Civil War era generally and New York City's past, scholars will be mining Jack Engle for years for clues to how he turned himself from prose writer to poet -- and an experimental one at that.
Second, Turpin discovered this lost work through expert searching of several vast online digital archives that include the Walt Whitman Archive and the Library of Congress. Any of us can do this now! It's so exciting for research and scholarship!
I particularly like the Guardian's story about the discovery includes this:
" . . . "rollicking” anti-lawyer revenge fantasy . . . "
The Life and Adventures of Jack Engle has just been published free online by the Walt Whitman Quarterly Review.