Life and Death of Jack Engle, Walt Whitman
In February 2017, the University of Iowa Press published a remarkable addition to the Whitman canon, a short novel entitled Life and Adventures of Jack Engle. It had first appeared in March 1852 in a New York newspaper, the Sunday Dispatch, only one copy of which has survived into the present, now housed in the Library of Congress in Washington DC. A young scholar at the University of Houston, Zachary Turpin, managed to track it down there, thus providing a most valuable addition to our understanding of the poet’s career prior to Leaves of Grass. It also sheds light on the later work, in particular on Whitman’s city poetry, but it should not be imagined that it even begins to approach the quality of some of the mature poetry. It may be described as a sentimental melodrama with many touches of humor, in most respects thoroughly conventional and derivative of other contemporary novelists, most particularly of Dickens, on whom as a journalist he wrote a number of articles,...
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