Sunday, September 14, 2008

NABOKOV’S LAST NOVEL – WHAT WOULD YOU DO?


One of the most controversial literary dilemmas of the last century appears to have been resolved, with the decision to publish The Original of Laura, by Vladimir Nabokov. When Nabokov died in 1977, he left instructions that the novel he was feverishly hoping to finish before his death be destroyed. His wife, Vera, unable to carry out his wishes and reduce her brilliant husband’s final work to ashes, left the manuscript to their only child, Dimitri. Now in his 70s, Dimitri is faced with the same on-going choice. Does he grant his father’s last wish, or does he give the book to the world? It should be noted that Nabokov didn’t want the ms. destroyed for any reason other than that it simply wasn’t finished. So those who are in favor of publishing cry, Does that mean it should be lost to us forever?

I visited several blogs and other sites that have asked for feedback on this, and the comments are quite fascinating. The passion with which every shade of opinion is defended is remarkable. The main topic seems to be whether the final dying wishes of the author is to be respected at all costs, or does the final work by one of the true literary giants of our time belong to the world, regardless. Hmm. What if Van Gogh had wanted all his paintings destroyed after his death? Well, since he was almost totally unappreciated in his lifetime, no one in 1890 would have cared. But Nabokov lived long enough to see himself recognized for his contribution to both Russian and English literature. The question arises: To whom does great art, even unfinished great art, belong? Does it belong to the author (whom, it could be countered, is dead and gone and presumably beyond earthly concerns) or to us all?

There are many examples of unfinished works throughout the arts and even industry, from ancient times to the present. Not all had to deal with the legal or ethical matter of their creators wishing their works destroyed upon their deaths, but one famous example that did is the entire body of work by Franz Kafka. Max Brod, Kafka’s lifelong friend and supporter, published Kafka’s body of work posthumously, and against Kafka’s dying wishes. In his own defense, Brod said that he told Kafka he wouldn’t destroy the manuscripts, and that he (Kafka) had better find someone else to execute his wishes if he was so set on it. We can assume Kafka never did replace him, for whatever reason.

How about you? If the decision had been up to you, what would you have done with Nabokov's final work – publish, or let it perish?


Photo by D. Godin

13 comments:

Sylvia K said...

Have to admit that as much as I would want to respect his wishes, I'd have trouble destroying such a manuscript. Glad it's not my decision to make!

Bob Dylan said...

I would like to read the unfinished work. I wouldn't want it re-worked and finished by another author.

Bob Dylan said...

no real point in destroying things like that. Nabokov would probably change his mind after death, about this kind of promise.

Still said...

Art and fiction.Almost never.I would want to share and see the work. I agree with bd. But I have destroyed works of a personal nature which may have caused problems for others. Non fiction diaries /journal.

Indrani said...

I have not read this author's other books.

My opinion is great authors' works must be published. It is not about 'not respecting his last wishes' but enriching ourselves with their thoughts and works. I am sure no author would dislike that.

(btw there are more details of those sculptors in my other blog 'i Share'. Somnathpur has a famous Kesava temple. )

magiceye said...

publish it as it is...

magiceye said...

publish it as it is...

bobbie said...

I would certainly not wish to be placed in the position of making the decision. But I think I am for publishing. Authors and artists are frequently filled with self-doubt, never satisfied with what they have done, while others have only praise and admiration for the accomplishments.

Sian said...

An artist no matter how great remains a person and a person has a right to do with as they wish with their work.

If the man was of sound mind (unlike Van Gogh - poor thing) then his wishes should be followed.

YourFireAnt said...

I'd burn it. It's unfinished. It's not what the author intended to offer to the world.

FA

Anonymous said...

If he wanted it destroyed, he would have done it himself unless he thought he would regain his health and change his mind--that's the problem here--- if he was working on it feverishly he must have thought it was a very worthwhile project. people always change their minds. and once something is destroyed, it can't be brought back. Better to be safe than sorry with art.

Quiet Paths said...

Not everyone on their death bed is able to make the best decisions concerning their own art or consider the best for their loved ones who deal with their unfinished affairs. I'm glad for this outcome.

Sydney said...

I just finished reading Suite Francaise by Irene Nemirovsky, which is a book about the German occupation of France around 1941. The author was a Russian Jew who died in Auschwitz. She had predicted that she would not survive the holocaust and made provisions for her two daughters to be hidden. They both survived along with the manuscript and notes for this book, which is in two parts. Had it been completed it would have been in 5 parts, like Beethoven's 5th symphony as the author had planned It's a good book and even more fascinating are the notes from the author. The book was published first in 2006 I think, Very glad her surviving daughter shared this with the literary world!
So Yes publish and share all of it I say!