literary & scary

moveable_feastHas anyone else noticed this alarming trend recently? First Vladimir Nabokov’s son insists on publishing his father’s unfinished novel,  The Original of Laura, and now Ernest Hemingway’s grandson has “restored”  A Moveable Feast (an image of the new cover is to the left).  I guess the publishing companies are desperate? Or, in this case, the son and grandson need some money?

The Nabokov situation frightens me because it was Nabokov’s dying wish back in 1977 that the manuscript be burned. I’ve read various reasons given by his son, Dimitri,  for deciding to publish a manuscript that’s been sitting in a Swiss bank vault for over thirty years. Some articles quote him as saying his father appeared to him in a vision and told him to go ahead and publish it! While others say Dimitri, who is his only remaining heir by the way, insists his father didn’t really mean it. If he really wanted the manuscript burned, he simply would have done it himself instead of asking someone else to do it. Is it just me, or do these sound a little flimsy?

I’m afraid to read The Original of Laura because it’s basically a rough draft by someone I consider to be a literary master. Nabokov was such a perfectionist; I know he would feel uncomfortable letting others see this, and this is why I feel uncomfortable about reading it. It would be like showing up at the usually elegant hostess’s home an hour early to find her in curlers and a muu-muu.

Actually, I’m not sure which is worse. In the case of A Moveable Feast, Hemingway’s grandson got involved in reshaping the infamous (and posthumous) memoir about Hemingway’s time in Paris. According to last month’s article in the New York Times:

…Scribner, now an imprint of Simon & Schuster, is publishing a new edition of the book, what it is calling “the restored edition,” and this time it is edited by Seán Hemingway, a grandson of Hemingway and Pauline. Among the changes he has made is removing part of that final chapter from the main body of the book and placing it in an appendix, adding back passages from Hemingway’s manuscript that Seán believes paint his grandmother in a more sympathetic light.

How can Scribner allow such changes to be made 45 years after the fact by his grandson? A. E. Hotchner wrote a passionate Op-Ed piece in the Times just a few days ago, shaming Scribner for amending work the author entrusted to them and asking why the grandson didn’t simply write his own book, offering his version. These are excellent points, and I’m sure the debate over this will rage for years to come.

In Nabokov’s case, The Original of Laura was written on index cards.  Some sources say 138, while others say 50 cards. How can short passages written on index cards be transformed into a novel without the help of the author? Not to mention the minor detail that it lacks an ending. Maybe he wanted it burned because he knew he was dying and wouldn’t be able to finish the novel according to his own standards? The UK’s Independent brings up another valid point:

Many literary experts have speculated that The Original Of Laura was far more sexually explicit that its predecessor, perhaps explaining why Nabokov did not want it to be published without an ending.

Perhaps this is why Playboy paid top dollar for the right to serialize the novel? We’ll just have to wait until November to find out, won’t we.


~ by Valerie Palmer on July 23, 2009.

2 Responses to “literary & scary”

  1. Valerie, Sean Hemingway explains everything in his introduction to this brilliant re-assembly of the manuscript as it was when Hemingway was still working on the book in April 1961, three months before his suicide; one of the Hemingway archivists noted years ago that the version of the book that has been in circulation since 1965 is “a bastard version” and he was absolutely correct.

  2. […] Palmer is a contributing editor to Planet magazine and she blogs at The Slog. Two days ago, Valerie contributed a blog posting regarding the reissue of Hemingway’s A Moveable Feast and Vladimir Nabokov’s posthumous […]

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