Life After Death

October 7th, 2009

I had a segment on public radio’s Studio 360 this weekend about how the publisher, Scribner, has monkeyed with Ernest Hemingway’s memoir, A Movable Feast. Now an article in the Wall Street Journal by Alexandra Alter tells us that the world will soon be awash in monkey: this fall will see posthumous books by David Foster Wallace, William Styron, Graham Greene, Carl Jung and Kurt Vonnegut.Vintage just published a version of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein without the editing of her husband, Percy.

The most interesting case is that of The Original of Laura, Vladimir Nabokov’s final book, which he had sketched out on 138 index cards, and which he instructed his family to burn upon his death. Nabokov’s son Dmitri kept the cards locked in a Swiss bank vault for decades, but last year announced that his father had appeared to him in a vision and told him to “go ahead and publish.” So Knopf is publishing the index cards soon; they’ll be detachable, such that readers can arrange them in whatever order they want. Sacrilege? Tribute? Some argue that if Franz Kafka’s executor had followed Kafka’s directive to burn his works, we wouldn’t have The Trial, The Castle, or Amerika.