NABOKV-L post 0018891, Tue, 1 Dec 2009 09:29:36 -0500

Posthumous publication: Austen, Tolkien and more ...

December 1, 2009

Posthumous publication: Austen, Tolkien and more

The release of "Pirate Latitudes" by Michael Crichton (shown here) and "The Original of Laura" by Vladimir Nabokov -- authors who left this world some time ago -- reopens the sensitive issue of posthumous publication. They're not alone, of course. Authors including Jane Austen and Franz Kafka have watched from heaven as their works were published. Ditto for one of my favorites, "A Confederacy of Dunces" by John Kennedy Toole.

In the kindest interpretation, these new works offer scholars and fans new knowledge about literary giants, and a chance to reinterpret other works. In the cruelest view, they can be little more than literary grave robbing, crass exploitation to make a few bucks.

Nabokov, for example, recorded thoughts about a new book on notecards, and left instructions that they should be destroyed upon his death. But his son decided to publish the fragmentary work.

I don't have a problem with that sort of publication. It gives Nabokov lovers a chance to examine him working at his craft. In a way, it almost makes him immune from criticism, because we would assume that any bad writing would eventually smoothed over, any plot holes would be plugged.

I have more reservations about "finished" works that are published posthumously. I assume they stayed in a drawer for a reason: The author wasn't satisfied. Out of respect, these works should stay where they are, bound and gagged.

For more on the topic, see this Time essay on posthumous publication and commentary by Nathaniel Rich in The Daily Beast. Meanwhile, The Guardian asks whether this is a sign of "[p]ublishers devoid of inspiration cashing in on sure things, or worthy attempts to provie the complete spectrum of a writer's work? My curious (nosy) nature means I err on the side of worthy."

Posted by Dave Rosenthal at 12:10 AM |

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