Something bothered me when I read Dead Souls. Or more specifically, the latter part: Volume II had me thinking, “What the hell is this?” Missing chapters, fragmented sentences, characters developed to acute familiarity and then never seen again. What existed on the page was the most boring kind of randomness I’d ever encountered.
Of course, this was all explained in the novel’s introduction. Volume II was an unfinished sequel that Nikolai Gogol labored over for the better part of a decade and burned, yes, burned. Twice. But contrary to its placement in the printed book, you’re only supposed to read the introduction after finishing the novel, aren’t you? (1. Spoilers 2. Critical interpretations of the overarching themes that mean jack to you until you’ve digested the thing yourself) But the point is, had I known the situation behind Dead Souls 2: Electric Boogaloo, I would not have read it. I’d have shut Dead Souls as Gogol clearly would have had me do, rather than allow me to associate him with his vastly inferior incomplete work.
There are famous novels that go unfinished upon the death of their authors. I’ll always remember having to close F. Scott Fitzgerald’s heartbreakingly silenced The Love of the Last Tycoon. It was a sparkling road that suddenly ended at a windy cliff. I’m thinking of picking up David Foster Wallace’s recently released The Pale King, but I don’t want to see that cliff again. It’s cold there.
The other concern with these posthumous releases is, even if they were more-or-less completed manuscripts, did these authors ever want them published to begin with?
Hemingway. Hemingway said don’t you bastards ever, ever publish A Moveable Feast, or my ghost will come and hang you on a hook like a prize marlin.
Finished or unfinished, posthumous publications are more prevalent than one thinks. Some people don’t like to read them out of respect for the author, based on the principle that they screw with his/her legacy. Well, if you share that concern, you probably shouldn’t read…
-Anything by Kafka
-Most anything by Dickinson
–Austen’s Northanger Abbey, Persuasion, or Lady Susan
–Machiavelli’s The Prince
–Nietzsche’s The Will to Power
–Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales
–The Diary of Anne Frank
–Dickens’ The Mystery of Edwin Drood
–Poe’s “Annabel Lee”
–Fleming’s Octopussy, The Man with the Golden Gun, and The Living Daylights
-A lot of shit by Bukowski
–Vonnegut’s Armageddon in Retrospect and Look at the Birdie
(from a more comprehensive list on Wikipedia)
So that being considered, does the fact that the book you’re reading was say, left unauthorized by death, change the way you feel about it? Would you rather it weren’t published at all?
Let’s ponder that while I put on some Tupac.