NABOKV-L post 0018889, Tue, 1 Dec 2009 09:10:49 -0500

It is of immense value ...

Updated: Tuesday, 01 December, 2009 07:34:39pm


It is of immense value1 December 2009, 12:21am IST

The publication of Vladimir Nabokov's novel, The Original Of Laura, more than three decades after his death has triggered a debate on the merits of publishing posthumous works by writers. Nabokov's latest book is somewhat unusual since the novel was unfinished and only existed as a series of index cards, and the author himself had left instructions with his wife to destroy the fragments. But none of these represents a compelling case not to have published the novel.

If it had not been for Max Brod who chose to ignore Franz Kafka's instructions to destroy his manuscripts some of the masterpieces of 20th century literature would not have seen the light of day. Ironically, if Nabokov had his way his greatest work, Lolita, would have ended up in the incinerator. Nabokov's wife had at least on two occasions prevented the author from consigning the manuscript of Lolita to flames.

Similarly, for Laura, Nabokov's wife and subsequently his son might have disregarded the author's wishes but they have done a service to literature. The book is clearly presented as an incomplete work and is even subtitled 'A novel in fragments'. The format of the book, which is composed entirely of index cards, makes no pretence that the novel is finished. If readers have a problem with Nabokov's wishes being disregarded or the merits of an incomplete novel they are free not to buy it.

Writers such as Nabokov or Kafka are some of the biggest names of modern literature. Whatever they write is of some intrinsic value and deserves a wider audience. The same can be said for artists in other fields. A rough sketch by Van Gogh or an incomplete composition by Beethoven would have tremendous value even if they weren't meant for public consumption.

Nabokov's son could well have seen Laura as a money-spinner. Even if that is the case, the book offers us insights into a great writer's craft.

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