How To Read Walt Whitman's Long Lost Novel

The result of a discovery that could change our perceptions of the transcendentalist writer, Walt Whitman's lost novel is now available to read for free online, courtesy of the Walt Whitman Quarterly Review. Editor Ed Folsom says The Life and Adventures of Jack Engle shows that Whitman's "fiction and poetry were mingling in ways we never before knew."

The Life and Adventures of Jack Engle was originally serialized in the now-defunct Sunday Dispatch in 1852, and was written around the same time as Leaves of Grass, which was published in 1855. Sunday Dispatch promoted Jack Engle as a story about "the Philosophy, Philanthropy, Pauperism, Law, Crime, Love, Matrimony, Morals, &c., which are characteristic of this great City at the present time, including the Manners and Morals of Boarding Houses [sic]."

(Don't you love that Victorian/Milnesian capitalization?)

The titular Jack works for a corrupt lawyer named Mr. Covert. When he learns that Covert plans to bilk his own ward, Martha, out of her inheritance, Jack steps in to help her. The story is based on the similar circumstances of Whitman's father, Walter, who "was also swindled by a New York lawyer," according to The Guardian.

CUNY Whitman expert David S. Reynolds says The Life and Adventures of Jack Engle "[i]s not a great novel, [but] not a bad read either." Zachary Turpin, the University of Houston grad student who found the novel among Whitman's papers, says Jack Engle is "rollicking, interesting, beautiful, beautiful and bizarre."

Read Walt Whitman's lost novel online, and share your thoughts with me on Twitter!