Charlie Chaplin’s Lost Novel

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“What happened?”

“A nervous breakdown. I almost died.”

“And you’re still drinking?”

“Occasionally, when I think of things.” He smiled, “The wrong things, I suppose. However, I’ve talked enough about myself. What would you like for breakfast?”

“What a sad business, being funny,” she said thoughtfully.

The table was laid and now he was ready to cook breakfast. He stood a moment, deep in thought. “But it has its compensations … It’s a great thrill to hear an audience laugh. Now let me see,” he said, opening the door of the larder, “We have eggs, salmon, sardines … ” He snapped his fingers. “That’s broken my dream! I dreamt we were doing an act together! That’s the trouble, I get wonderful ideas in my dreams, but when I awake, I forget them. This morning I found myself shaking with laughter. Then I got up and rushed to the desk and wrote five pages of screams. Then I awoke and found I hadn’t written a line.”

From Charlie Chaplin’s novel, Footlights, excerpted in the Guardian. At just over 30,000 words, it’s the only work of fiction ever written by Chaplin, and it traces the same narrative as his film Limelight. The work was in Chaplin’s archives for decades, and is now being published by the Cineteca di Bologna and will be available on both Amazon and the publisher’s website. Read more about Chaplin in the Longreads Archive.

Julia Wick is a native Angeleno who writes about literature, Los Angeles, and cities.