Saturday, November 28, 2009
Nabokov gets burned
There was a today about three years ago as to whether the estate of novelist Vladimir Nabokov should publish his last, unfinished novel posthumously. After a bit of hustle and heat in the literary press and blogosphere, the publication of that manuscript,The Original of Laura, has appeared between covers. It's a rare instance where I will skip a new book by a favorite author. From the description supplied by Amazon.com, I have no desire to see this esteemed master of English prose reduced to flash cards. I said three years ago that they should burn the manuscript and be done with it. I wish they had. I’m not a fan of posthumous for the simple reason that most of what surfaces after a famed scribe’s death suffer in the goriest possible terms. After the fact manuscripts by Elizabeth Bishop, Truman Capote, Hunter Thompson and (most grotesquely) Ernest Hemingway are less than the respective geniuses. who commanded our attention in the first place. Their genius, that is, and the insistence of English teachers and professors of literature. Rough drafts, juvenilia, awkward early writings where one was working toward a mature style, and copious late-career self-parodies are all things I‘d have preferred to remain in the drawer, or in the box; it’s embarrassing to have a book in your hand who’s publication wasn’t approved by the author in which there’s writing that falls below the superlative standards the author set for himself or herself. Hemingway’s reputation as a stylist diminished in the view of critics of critics and readers with the surfeit of previously unpublished manuscripts. Mailer fanatic that I am, there’s no thirst on my part to read incomplete and unpolished prose from the late writer set between book covers; it seems immoral to let the less tidy writings be presented as “unpublished gems” , or “lost masterpieces”. It’s a dishonest cheat, a fraud laid upon the readership. Nabokov was painstaking in his craft, and it’s his judgment I trust if he deemed the manuscript unpublished. Burn it and allow us a genius unspoiled by erring scholars and eager publishers.