Literary Rediscoveries of 2017

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These lists just keep getting longer! Per usual for this time of year, here’s a list of classic literary paraphernalia that was released or rediscovered for the first time in 2017. I’ve tried to make this list as complete as possible, but if you know of any other previously “lost” works that were found or published last year, let me know in the comments.


1: The Life and Adventures of Jack Engle: An Autobiography by Walt Whitman

Coming on the heels of his 2015 discovery of a collection of Whitman’s newspaper articles on “Manly Health and Training,” Texas PhD student Zachary Turpin announced this past February that he recently found a lost novel by the great poet. The Life and Adventures of Jack Engle tells the story of a young orphan who grows up to be a vagabond and a sailor. It was published in early 2017 by University of Iowa Press, but it’s available to read online too.

2: I’d Die for You and Other Lost Stories by F. Scott Fitzgerald

This collection of eighteen short stories was compiled by the Fitzgerald estate and published last April by Simon and Schuster. Gathered from the Fitzgerald archives at Princeton University and from papers belonging to the Fitzgerald family, none of these stories have been published previously, according to the book’s editor, Anne Margaret Daniel.


3: The Purloining of Prince Oleomargarine  by Mark Twain

When his daughters were young, Twain, like any good novelist daddy, used to make up fairy tales to tell them at bedtime. Today, The Purloining of Prince Oleomargarine is the only one of them that survives in written form. Twain himself never wrote the fairy tale’s ending, so when Doubleday acquired the story early last year, they enlisted the husband-and-wife team of Philip and Erin Stead to finish and illustrate the tale, about a poor boy who goes on an adventure to save a kidnapped prince.

4: The only known video footage of Marcel Proust

This past February, in an edition of the academic journal Revue d’Études Proustiennes, Canadian professor Jean-Pierre Sirois-Trahan announced that he had recovered the only surviving video footage of the famous French author from the archives at Canada’s National Cinema Center. The film was captured at the 1904 wedding of Élaine Greffulhe, the daughter of Proust’s close friend (and the inspiration behind one of his characters) the Countess Greffulhe. In the film, we see guests descending the steps of the cathedral where the wedding took place. Proust is believed to be the young man walking by himself in a gray suit and a black bowler, or as this French article calls it, a melon hat.

5: Letters and drawings by J. R. R. Tolkien

While these letters and drawings, all of which are housed in Oxford University’s Bodleian Library, were not “lost” to scholars, they have never been published before. They will appear this summer in a book titled Tolkien: The Maker of Middle Earth and will include Tolkien’s correspondence with some of his more famous admirers, among them W. H. Auden, Iris Murdoch, and Joni Mitchell.

6: A letter from W. B. Yeats

The famous photo in question. Source.

In 1904, the American photographer Alvin Coburn visited London, where he met Yeats at a dinner party. Enraptured by the impromptu poetry recital that Yeats gave at the party, Coburn asked Yeats if he could recite again while Coburn photographed him. The result was the photo on the right, which Yeats liked so much he used it as his author photo in his next collection of poems. In March of last year, the letter Yeats wrote to Coburn thanking him for the photo was discovered by PhD student Jack Quin in the library of the George Eastman Museum in New York.

7: Notes from “Shakespeare’s first critic”

I’ve always said that the British version of Antiques Roadshow is better, and this just proves it for me: a man from Berkshire, England appeared at the Roadshow with a small notebook that he said had been in his family for several generations. The experts on the show were able to date the book to the early 1600s and found that it contained the author’s notes on and reactions to some of William Shakespeare’s plays. No word yet on what exactly this 17th century critic wrote about the Bard, but, since little or no contemporary criticism of Shakespeare was thought to exist previously, the book is promised to be invaluable in the realm of Shakespeare studies.

8: Unpublished letters from Sylvia Plath


In March 2017, an antiquarian bookseller named Ken Lopez made waves in the literary world when he put a huge cache of materials belonging or relating to Sylvia Plath up for sale. Lopez had acquired these materials from Harriet Rosenstein, a literary scholar who, at one time, had been writing a biography of Plath. In addition to the taped interviews and interview notes that Rosenstein had accumulated, there were dozens of letters from Plath to her friends, including several letters to her former psychiatrist, Dr. Ruth Barnhouse. These letters set the literary internet on fire for a few weeks in April, as Plath claims in them that her husband Ted Hughes beat her, causing her to miscarry their second child. A few of these letters appear in Letters of Sylvia Plath, the first volume of which was published last October, while others were completely new finds for researchers and scholars.

9 & 10: “To a Refractory Santa Claus” and “Megrims” by Sylvia Plath

While working on These Ghostly Archives, a book about Plath’s unpublished work, Plath scholars Gail Crowther and Peter K. Steinberg discovered two previously-unknown poems by Plath on a sheet of carbon paper in the archives at Indiana University. These are two early works, written in November of 1956, five months after Plath married Ted Hughes. “To a Refractory Santa Claus” recounts the beautiful Spanish landscapes where she and Hughes spent their honeymoon, while “Megrims” deals explicitly with the experience of illness, both physical and mental.

11: A draft of a Ted Hughes poem, deleted from Birthday Letters

As the Guardian article linked above notes, at the same time Crowther and Steinberg were trying to extract those two Sylvia Plath poems from a mess of typescript, they also found a third poem written by Ted Hughes. This untitled piece was originally intended for his book Birthday Letters, his last full-length collection and the first to openly address his relationship with Plath. Like many of the poems that finally did make it into Birthday Letters, this piece deals with the grief and remorse that Hughes experienced following his wife’s suicide.

12: “Thoughts on Poverty, Misery, and the Great Revolutions of History” by Hannah Arendt

It seems little is known about this essay, originally titled “A Lecture” and found among some papers belonging to Arendt. If it was a lecture that she actually gave somewhere, no one knows where or when. All I’ve been able to find out is that it was written between 1966 and 1967 and was printed for the first time this year at The New England Review and Literary Hub, where you can read it now. This essay will also appear this month in a book titled Thinking without a Bannister: Essays in Understanding.


13: “The Christian in the Modern World” by T. S. Eliot

This one was hard to research too, since The Times Literary Supplement seemed to be the only publication talking about it and I don’t have a subscription to them. If you have one, you can read the lecture here.

14: Presto and Zesto in Limboland by Maurice Sendak and Arthur Yorinks (with illustrations)

Last summer, the Maurice Sendak Foundation announced that a complete picture book by Sendak and his frequent collaborator Arthur Yorinks had been found among Sendak’s papers. According to Lynn Caponera, the president of the Foundation, the illustrations had originally been comissioned in 1990 by the London Symphony Orchestra for a performance of Rikadla, a piece based on a series of Czech children’s poems. About ten years later, after another composer asked to use the illustrations in her show, Sendak revisited the pictures and decided to put them into a book, which he co-wrote with Yorinks. Though a complete draft was written, the authors’ involvement with other projects prevented them from getting it to print. The book is set for release through HarperCollins this September.

Dylan and Ginsburg in 1975. Source.

15: Bob Dylan concert videos recorded by Allen Ginsberg

During his famous 1965 tour, Bob Dylan was accompanied at least at a few stops by Mr. Ginsberg and his new video camera. The films that Ginsberg shot, which include parts of Dylan’s concerts and some of their backstage chit-chat before and after the shows, were acquired by Standford University in 2015, but until last year, few knew of their existence. They finally got some attention last summer, when an anonymous Youtuber posted the recordings to his channel, only to take them down again a few weeks later. The music magazine Spin noted a few of the high points of those conversations between Ginsberg and Dylan if you care to take a look.

16: 21 Poems by George Oppen

At one time, George Oppen was thought to be a rising star in American poetry. Having received enthusiastic praise from such poets as Ezra Pound and William Carlos Williams, his first book, Discrete Series, seemed like the start of a brilliant career. But with the coming of World War II, Oppen began to devote more of his life to political activism and did not write any more poetry until the 1960s.

Or did he? Researcher David Hobbs went to the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library at Yale University hoping to find letters that would give him some insight into the writing process behind Discrete Series. Instead, he found a whole manuscript that Oppen had sent to Pound, who then shared it with the poet Louis Zukofsky. The manuscript was published last August. You can read a few of its poems here.


17: An entry from the diary Flannery O’Connor kept in college

Last November, the arts journal Image ran a special issue containing previously-unpublished entries from Flannery O’Connor’s journals. The entries were written in about 1944, before O’Connor became a recognized author, so they reflect her hopes for and fears about her future career. You have to buy the issue to read all of the entries, but a portion of one was republished by Cynthia Haven on her blog The Book Haven.

18: Five short stories by Kurt Vonnegut

In its October 2017 issue, The Atlantic ran “The Drone King,” a previously-unpublished Kurt Vonnegut story. This and four other unseen stories were recovered from the archives at Indiana University by Dan Wakefield, a friend of Vonnegut’s, and Justin Klinkowitz, a literary scholar studying Vonnegut’s work. All five of these stories were published last November in the new Complete Stories of Kurt Vonnegut.


19: John Donne’s secret satirical paper

Late in 2016, Matthew Payne, the Keeper of Muniments at Westminster Abbey, was going through a large box containing unsorted Latin manuscripts from the abbey’s library. He recognized one paper as a spoof of a library’s catalog, but couldn’t identify its author. A few minutes searching Google (seriously) told him that this was the “Catalogus Librorum Satiricus” (in English, “The Courtier’s Library”), written by John Donne. The document consists of a list of fictional book titles and their synopses, all of which are either crude jokes or wisecracks directed at powerful officials in the church or government. The document is believed to date back to 1603 or ’04. At that time, Donne was working as a lawyer, having lost his previous post with the government after he married his boss’s niece Anne Moore without her family’s permission. A paper like this, which Donne circulated secretly to a small cabal of fans and patrons, probably would have landed Donne in jail, if not on the gallows. The document was publicly displayed at Westminster Abbey in November of 2017, which is why the press didn’t report it until last year.

20: “It’s All Right—He Only Died” by Raymond Chandler

And lastly, magazine editor Andrew Gulli takes what’s now his usual spot on this list, having discovered in 2017 a lost short story by Raymond Chandler. “It’s All Right—He Only Died” was found in Oxford University’s Bodleian Library and published last October in Gulli’s magazine The Strand. Written late in Chandler’s career, the story takes a slightly different tack from most of Chandler’s other work: instead of a detective story, “He Only Died” is a social realism piece about the challenges that the poor face in getting healthcare.

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