Photo of Walt Whitman

Long Lost Walt Whitman Novel Washed Up After 165 Years

On March 13th, 1852, when the Sunday Dispatch began to run a serialized story by Walt Whitman, nobody knew the completed version would take as long as 165 years to resurface. Besides his essential poetry collection “Leaves of Grass,” Walt Whitman is now also known as the author behind this 36,000-word story called the “Life and Adventures of Jack Engle.”


This serialized novel takes readers onto a journey through the viewpoint of an orphan as he encounters both good and evil. The larger-than-life creations are colorful and humorous like the vivacious characters you would meet in the typical Dickens novel. Much like “Great Expectations,” it is a tale of self-discovery that touches on the themes of money, power and criminal justice. As protagonist Jack Engle’s struggles to survive in a city of claustrophobic chaos, he is forced to break through a tangled web of connections while finding himself head over heels for a woman who turns out to have helped him during early childhood.


Via the Guardian

Via the Guardian


According to researchers, the novel was never reprinted after it was published anonymously as a segment on The Sunday Dispatch. However, the book matches a detailed synopsis in the poet’s notebook. This crucial link was established last year by Zachary Turpin, a PhD student studying English at the University of Houston.


“Something about it just seemed right,” said Turpin. “The name Jack Engle. The year. The newspaper (to which we know Whitman had contributed before).” The clincher came when he matched the character names from Whitman’s notebook with those in the published story. “I couldn’t believe that, for a few minutes, I was the only person on Earth who knew about this book.”


Since Whitman is mostly well-known for his poetic proficiency, this astonishing discovery will offer an eye-opening perspective through its fluid structure backed-up with lyrical prose.


“The Whitman we see in Jack Engle is not yet the confident, committed poet we now take him to have always been,” Turpin explained. “It is during this vital time that he’s experimenting, trying on different genres and modes of writing, looking for one that’s ample and expansive enough to express what [Ralph Waldo] Emerson would call ‘the infinitude of the private man’.”


Brooklyn Daily Eagle

Via Brooklyn Daily Eagle


Thanks to Walt Whitman Quarterly Review, you can now read the online version of ‘The Life and Adventures of Jack Engle​​​​​​’​ here along with an introduction by Turpin. Although there remains very few microfilm copies of the Sunday Dispatch, Regan Arts collated the six consecutive series and published the completed story in book form, the Iowa City Press-Citizen reported.


According to the Washington Post, the director of UI Press James McCoy, said he first learned of Turpin’s shocking discovery through an email with the subject line: “Walt Whitman’s lost novel! This is not a joke!”


“I immediately thought it was a joke,” McCoy said.


After Folsom confirmed that the find is genuine, McCoy worked with Turpin to publish the book.


Featured Image Courtesy of Investors’ Business Daily