The Private Lives Of Authors

The Guardian has this interesting piece discussing whether or not we should dive into the hidden diaries, notes, unpublished manuscripts of our favourite writers; and at what point do all these notes etc. cease to be the author's real work?

'HarperCollins has announced that it will publish The Children of Hurin this April: JRR Tolkien's novel set in pre-Lord of the Rings Middle Earth wasn't finished when he died in 1973, but it has now been completed by his son Christopher. The publishers tell us that, after 30 years' work and "long study of the manuscripts", he's written "a coherent narrative without any editorial invention" - condensing aborted drafts and plot outlines into a single text. Naturally John Ronald Rueul's name takes top billing on the cover: but whose book is it, really?'

I find this quite fascinating. Previously unpublished works thrust into the limelight can be beneficial to the die-hard literary fans. There's been the recent publication of Robert A. Heinlein's Variable Star which was an unfinished novel compiled from an outline and notes. I've not read it. But is this really a Heinlein book? When does it cease to be his work?

Is all this simply a case that whoever benefits from the deceased's royalties has burnt out all their cash clearing top rows in the bar at the dog track? I think sometimes it can work. As a huge Hemingway fan (Solaris office groans collectively), I loved his Garden of Eden, and a remarkable glimpse into the man's (sensual, erotic, livin' it large) thoughts. Sometimes it can be worthwhile, I guess, and in Hem's case he actually left five (I think) unpublished works in a Cuban bank vault to be published after his death. So that was okay.

But authors: when you die, would you want your dirty laundry out for all to see? Would you want all your exposed thoughts, secret jottings, rude sketches, on display for us to guess at your life?

And who'd want to get inside the mind of some of our authors...? Jeffrey, I'm thinking of your mind of horrors ;-p

— Mark N


Christian said...

I think this chap might disagree with you:

narrativium said...

Wouldn't the early drafts and such be more the writer's work than the published versions, given that editors and typesetters and people get involved afterwards?

Mark Newton said...

That's not the case when we're talking notes heaved together by someone else. The influence of others comes into play. Anyway, edited manuscripts are in unison with the author in an attempt to get things as polished as possible, as perfect as possible. The author would have worked closely with people on this.

The unpublished versions were probably not published in the author's lifetime for good reasons. Unless you're Kafka.

And there's a massive difference between outlines and finished results. Then there's the whole question of prose, and having someone else with a different style and approach step forward to tamper...

Jeffrey Thomas said...

"And who'd want to get inside the mind of some of our authors...? Jeffrey, I'm thinking of your mind of horrors ;-p"

Hell, even I don't want to be inside my own mind much of the time!