By Mathew Brady - U.S. National Archives and Records Administration, Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons
Uncovering the lost writings of Walt Whitman has become a bit of an accidental pastime for Zachary Turpin. Last spring, the University of Houston grad student uncovered “Manly Health and Fitness,” a nearly 50,000 word essay full of tips for healthy living, which Whitman wrote under the pen name Mose Velsor in 1858. Luck was on Turpin’s side again last summer when he came across Life and Adventures of Jack Engle, a serial tale that was advertised in The New York Times on March 13, 1852 as “an auto-biography, in which we will be handled the philosophy, philanthropy, pauperism, law, crime, love, matrimony, morals, etc., which are characteristic of this great city at the present time.” In actuality, it was a novel by Whitman that has remained hidden in the famed poet’s archives for nearly 165 years. Until now.
Today, The Walt Whitman Quarterly Review made the full text of the novel—which The New York Times describes as a “quasi-Dickensian tale of an orphan’s adventures”—available online, while the University of Iowa Press will make it available in book form.
While Turpin describes the novel as “rollicking, interesting, beautiful, beautiful, and bizarre” and compares it to “a pre-modern Thomas Pynchon,” Whitman expert and Walt Whitman’s America author David S. Reynolds is a bit more succinct with his review: “It’s not a great novel, though it’s not a bad read either,” he told The New York Times.
Though Jack Engle may lack a compelling narrative, it offers a unique glimpse into the literary mind of Whitman, who seemed to be using the novel as a way to explore the man—and writer—he longed to be, or, as The New York Times put it, “how a workaday journalist and mostly conventional poet transformed himself into the author of the sensuous, philosophical, wildly experimental and altogether unclassifiable free verse of Leaves of Grass.”
“It’s like seeing the workshop of a great writer,” said Ed Folsom, editor of The Walt Whitman Quarterly Review. “We’re discovering the process of Whitman’s own discovery.”
Harry Potter is looking pretty square these days. In a testament to the enduring appeal of the boy—and the franchise—who lived, LEGO has launched a line of Harry Potter BrickHeadz.
The gang’s all here in this latest collection, which was recently revealed during the toymaker’s Fall 2018 preview in New York City. Other highlights of that show included LEGO renderings of characters from Star Wars, Incredibles 2, and several Disney films, according to Inside The Magic.
The Harry Potter BrickHeadz collection will be released in July and includes figurines of Harry, Hermione, Ron, Dumbledore, and even Hedwig. Some will be sold individually, while others come as a set.
Harry Potter fans can also look forward to a four-story, 878-piece LEGO model of the Hogwarts Great Hall, which will be available for purchase August 1. Sets depicting the Whomping Willow, Hogwarts Express, and a quidditch match will hit shelves that same day.
Louisa May Alcott's Little Women is one of the world's most beloved novels, and now—nearly 150 years after its original publication—it's capturing yet another generation of readers, thanks in part to Masterpiece's new small-screen adaptation. Whether it's been days or years since you've last read it, here are 10 things you might not know about Alcott's classic tale of family and friendship.
1. LOUISA MAY ALCOTT DIDN'T WANT TO WRITE LITTLE WOMEN.
Louisa May Alcott was writing both literature and pulp fiction (sample title: Pauline's Passion and Punishment) when Thomas Niles, the editor at Roberts Brothers Publishing, approached her about writing a book for girls. Alcott said she would try, but she wasn’t all that interested, later calling such books “moral pap for the young.”
When it became clear Alcott was stalling, Niles offered a publishing contract to her father, Bronson Alcott. Although Bronson was a well-known thinker who was friends with Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau, his work never achieved much acclaim. When it became clear that Bronson would have an opportunity to publish a new book if Louisa started her girls' story, she caved in to the pressure.
Alcott began writing the book in May 1868. She worked on it day and night, becoming so consumed with it that she sometimes forgot to eat or sleep. On July 15, she sent all 402 pages to her editor. In September, a mere four months after starting the book, Little Women was published. It became an instant best seller and turned Alcott into a rich and famous woman.
3. THE BOOK AS WE KNOW IT WAS ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED IN TWO PARTS.
The first half was published in 1868 as Little Women: Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy. The Story Of Their Lives. A Girl’s Book. It ended with John Brooke proposing marriage to Meg. In 1869, Alcott published Good Wives, the second half of the book. It, too, only took a few months to write.
4. MEG, BETH, AND AMY WERE BASED ON ALCOTT'S SISTERS.
Meg was based on Louisa’s sister Anna, who fell in love with her husband John Bridge Pratt while performing opposite him in a play. The description of Meg’s wedding in the novel is supposedly based on Anna’s actual wedding.
Beth was based on Lizzie, who died from scarlet fever at age 23. Like Beth, Lizzie caught the illness from a poor family her mother was helping.
Amy was based on May (Amy is an anagram of May), an artist who lived in Europe. In fact, May—who died in childbirth at age 39—was the first woman to exhibit paintings in the Paris Salon.
Jo, of course, is based on Alcott herself.
5. LIKE THE MARCH FAMILY, THE ALCOTTS KNEW POVERTY.
Bronson Alcott’s philosophical ideals made it difficult for him to find employment—for example, as a socialist, he wouldn't work for wages—so the family survived on handouts from friends and neighbors. At times during Louisa’s childhood, there was nothing to eat but bread, water, and the occasional apple.
When she got older, Alcott worked as a paid companion and governess, like Jo does in the novel, and sold “sensation” stories to help pay the bills. She also took on menial jobs, working as a seamstress, a laundress, and a servant. Even as a child, Alcott wanted to help her family escape poverty, something Little Women made possible.
Alcott, who never married herself, wanted Jo to remain unmarried, too. But while she was working on the second half of Little Women, fans were clamoring for Jo to marry the boy next door, Laurie. “Girls write to ask who the little women marry, as if that was the only aim and end of a woman’s life," Alcott wrote in her journal. "I won’t marry Jo to Laurie to please anyone.”
As a compromise—or to spite her fans—Alcott married Jo to the decidedly unromantic Professor Bhaer. Laurie ends up with Amy.
7. THERE ARE LOTS OF THEORIES ABOUT WHO LAURIE WAS BASED ON.
People have theorized Laurie was inspired by everyone from Thoreau to Nathaniel Hawthorne’s son Julian, but this doesn’t seem to be the case. In 1865, while in Europe, Alcott met a Polish musician named Ladislas Wisniewski, whom Alcott nicknamed Laddie. The flirtation between Laddie and Alcott culminated in them spending two weeks together in Paris, alone. According to biographer Harriet Reisen, Alcott later modeled Laurie after Laddie.
How far did the Alcott/Laddie affair go? It’s hard to say, as Alcott later crossed out the section of her diary referring to the romance. In the margin, she wrote, “couldn’t be.”
8. YOU CAN STILL VISIT ORCHARD HOUSE, WHERE ALCOTT WROTE LITTLE WOMEN.
Orchard House in Concord, Massachusetts was the Alcott family home. In 1868, Louisa reluctantly left her Boston apartment to write Little Women there. Today, you can tour this house and see May’s drawings on the walls, as well as the small writing desk that Bronson built for Louisa to use.
9. LITTLE WOMEN HAS BEEN ADAPTED A NUMBER OF TIMES.
In addition to a 1958 TV series, multiple Broadway plays, a musical, a ballet, and an opera, Little Women has been made into more than a half-dozen movies. The most famous are the 1933 version starring Katharine Hepburn, the 1949 version starring June Allyson (with Elizabeth Taylor as Amy), and the 1994 version starring Winona Ryder. Later this year, Clare Niederpruem's modern retelling of the story is scheduled to arrive in movie theaters. It's also been adapted for the small screen a number of times, most recently for PBS's Masterpiece, by Call the Midwife creator Heidi Thomas.
10. IN 1980, A JAPANESE ANIME VERSION OF LITTLE WOMEN WAS RELEASED.
In 1987, Japan made an anime version of Little Women that ran for 48 half-hour episodes. Watch the first two episodes above.