6 December, 2019
It’s always sad when a ‘Literary Great’ leaves us, knowing that you won’t get to read another new concept from their expansive mind. The departure can leave you feeling lost, realising that you can never look at that spine on your bookshelf quite the same, but on rare occasions some authors have surpassed death with their work, not only living on through their published prose but by the introduction of new material that was not released at the time of their death, yes I’m talking about posthumous releases.
There are often rumours of missing manuscripts following the death of an author. Whether it be a sequel, standalone novel or short story, a great hubbub ensues and the public are left to deduce if the rumour is a nugget of truth or a statement that itself bends into realm of fiction. Only time can tell whether a book makes it to publication.
We’ve chosen ten posthumously-released literary works, all of which are significant in their own right.
The Trial – Franz Kafka
Kafka was an author who generated his own style, so much so that a term was coined to describe it: Kafkaesque, leading him to become a hugely influential literary figure who still inspires writers today. The Trial is arguably Kafka’s most acclaimed novel, published the year after his death. It’s a shame Kafka never got to witness its success. Given that the novel was written, albeit not completed, 10 years before his death, and that in his will it was ordered to be destroyed (along with the rest of his work), it is likely had Kafka not passed away then it may have never seen the light of day. We owe the disobedience of one executor (of his Will) to the availability of this literary classic.
Northanger Abbey and Persuasion – Jane Austen
Jane Austen’s first completed work Northanger Abbey was shelved by the publisher she sold it to in 1803. It wasn’t until after her death that audiences got to delight in Austen’s critique of the upper class. Persuasion, Austen’s last complete novel was co-published alongside Northanger Abbey in 1817, six months after Jane’s death. It is often considered to be Austen’s most mature work and received high praise at the time of its publication.
The Last Tycoon – F.Scott Fitzgerald
Fitzgerald’s The Last Tycoon was published in 1941, the year following his death. Originally, the novel was far from complete, being unfinished and in rough form. It fell on a close friend of Fitzgerald’s; Edmund Wilson, to edit the work into the published version we know today. Debate has existed over the name of this work as it is believed by some that Fitzgerald intended the work to be called ‘The Love of the Last Tycoon’, however, the publisher, Charles Scribner’s Sons, ultimately decided to publish it as The Last Tycoon, a title it still holds today.
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo – Stieg Larsson
Perhaps one of the saddest posthumous releases is Stieg Larsson’s Millenium Trilogy given their huge success and the fact that Larsson suffered a fatal heart attack before the first publication. Larsson was working on an, originally, ten book series. He had completed the first three novels and started a fourth before his untimely death in 2004. The first novel in Larsson’s completed trilogy, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, was released in his native Sweden in 2005 and went on to become an international bestseller, with an English publication in 2008. It was succeeded by the publication of Larsson’s two follow up novels.
A Confederacy of Dunces – John Kennedy Toole
John Kennedy Toole’s debut novel A Confederacy of Dunces, took years to reach the market. Only through his mother’s dedication to getting it published did it finally achieve attention. Rejected twice by publishers during his lifetime, Kennedy Toole’s novel was confined to a draw in his bedroom, but upon its discovery by his mother and its support from author Walker Percy, it was subsequently published in 1980 – 11 years following his death. Despite its long and difficult road to publication, it went on to receive the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction the following year.
The Master and Margarita – Mikhail Bulgakov
Published in book edition in 1967, 17 years after Bulgakov’s death, The Master and Margarita has become known as a significant work of Russian literature. The final novel wasn’t completely finished at the time of his death but was compiled together from the various other drafts that Bulgakov had produced during his lifetime.
The Diary of a Young Girl – Anne Frank
First published in 1947 in its original Dutch language as Het Achterhuis meaning ‘Secret Annex’. This work grew to popular and critical acclaim on the publication of its English translation Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl in 1952. It has since gone on to be the basis of several adaptations and has become a document of historical significance.
The Leopard – Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa
Published a year after his death, in 1958, the Leopard is Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa’s only published novel. It has been renowned as one of the most important works in Italian literature, winning Italy’s most prestigious literary award: the Strega prize.
Suite Française – Irène Némirovsky
Written in 1942, in occupied France, Suite Française was originally going to be a five-part novel, consisting of 1000 pages and chronicling five different aspects of World War II. Its author, Irène Némirovsky, only managed to draft two sections of the planned novel, after which she was arrested under the Nazi regime and deported to Auschwitz where she died at the age of 39. The manuscript remained unread for over 60 years and has since been published and adapted into a motion picture.
The Silmarillion – J.R.R. Tolkein
The Silmarillion is a collection of work by J.R.R. Tolkein, featuring his universe of Eä. It was compiled, edited and published by his son, Christopher Tolkein. The book, although planned by J.R.R. Tolkien, was unfinished at the time of his death and so required Christopher to fill in gaps with new material. Despite reviews being generally mixed upon its release, the book has been well-received by Tolkien fans.