The Lost Novellas of Chaplin and Kerouac


What do Charlie Chaplin and Jack Kerouac have in common?

It sounds like the set-up to a truly awful joke, but in recent weeks both Chaplin and Kerouac have had previously-unreleased works of fiction made available – both of them novellas.  ‘Footlights’, by the former, and ‘The Haunted Life’, by the latter, were announced within weeks of each other.

Chaplin’s novella is linked to the film ‘Limelight’ which he wrote, directed and starred in – released in 1952 to major controversy and re-released to more appreciative audiences in 1972. ‘Footlights’ serves as a foundation, or a prequel of sorts, to the story, wherein a once-famous clown (now an alcoholic) saves a ballet dancer from committing suicide. It adds further depth to the film, fleshing out the protagonist’s motivations and mirroring them to that of Chaplin himself – nostalgic and mournful at the decline of silent cinema and his own fame.


Kerouac’s lost tale, ‘The Haunted Life’, is also partially autobiographical. Lost in 1944 (reputedly in the back of a New York taxicab) and popping up fifty-eight years later at an auction at Sotheby’s, it is now being published for the first time. It tells the story of three young residents of Kerouac’s hometown, Lowell, Massachusetts, hoping for ‘one last idle summer’ before real life sets in. Some critics have labelled it as ‘stagey’ and ‘a lost Kerouac that should have stayed lost’ – but it’s worth bearing in mind that Kerouac wrote this when he was 22, a full thirteen years before ‘On The Road’ would make it to print.

You can read an extract from Charlie Chaplin’s ‘Footlights’ here, and an extract from Jack Kerouac’s ‘The Haunted Life’ here. 


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