Sunday, January 20, 2008

The Unpublished Desire of the Publishing Dead

Slate has published a fascinating article by Ron Rosenbaum to prove that even dead writers have publishing woes. This one is about Vladimir Nabokov who explicitly requested that his last unpublisehd work to be destroyed.

Rosenbaum writes: "It's a decision that has fallen to his sole surviving heir (and translator), Dmitri Nabokov, now 73. Dmitri has been torn for years between his father's unequivocal request and the demands of the literary world to view the final fragment of his father's genius, a manuscript known as The Original of Laura. Should Dmitri defy his father's wishes for the sake of 'posterity'?"

I don't quite understand why this is a question. Nabokov often scrapped entire drafts and started from scratch until he got the book he wanted. Why should we be privvy to his scratch pad when he made his wishes known? Rosenbaum wants to know who owns that manuscript? The dead guy does. I say, burn the damn thing.


Anonymous said...

Dimitri did his father a disservice when he published his complete stories. The huge volume contains much that Vladimir chose to stick in a drawer, and rightly so. Dimitri opened that drawer and gave us VN's doodlings. If the book contained only what Vladimir chose to publish, it would be half as long (and less costly), and it wouldn't tarnish the great Nabokov reputation.

Writer, Rejected said...

It's just plain greedy, American-style, if you ask me. Greedy for money and greedy to look inside someone's underwear drawer. Our culture has gone to trash, so of course we want to read what fine writer's have thrown away. Yuck on us.

Daffodil said...

Nabokov had to be talked out of throwing out Lolita, too. I for one am glad his wishes weren't granted there.

Anonymous said...

As I understand it, the Nabokov manuscript is a fragment of the complete novel and was surely, being a work in progress, in an unrevised state (yes, even the master had to revise to get it right).
Vera didn't destroy the index cards, but she also didn't make any effort to publish Laura.
In the case of Lolita, Nabokov's main concern was not the quality of the work, but the possible harm it could do to his reputation. (Is the author a pedophile?) Vera knew how good Lolita was, and that was her motivation for keeping it from the flames.
By the way, Nabokov's reactions to rejections were acerbic. He'd let the offending editor know what an ass he was.

Anonymous said...

No one would ever had heard of the name Franz Kafka if his dying wishes had been followed. As his heir, he now owns the work, and therefore should be able to do with it as he wishes.

The Trial was never truly finished, yet would anyone dare argue about its greatness?

Anonymous said...

Kafka, Kafka, Kafka. Give another example, please.
None of Kafka's novels were "completed" in the conventional sense, nor did he try to publish them. It had to do with his psychology. He was hindered by a pathological ambivalence.
Nabokov, on the other hand, completed novels and pursued publication. On his tombstone are the words, Vladimir Nabokov, Ecrivain (Writer).
Two very different people.
All of Kafka's novels are of substantial length and give a sense of completeness.
I read that the Nabokov index cards for Laura would make up around thirty manuscript pages. But it wasn't meant to be a short story.
Respect the man's wishes.

Writer, Rejected said...

Second Mouse: I started to love you at Kafka, Kafka, Kafka.