With the recent release of Vladimir Nabokov’s never-before-published and not-quite-finished novel, The Original of Laura, I thought it might be interesting to touch on the debate that was brought about because of its publication.
After having written the incredible Lolita, and some of my all-time favorite short stories, Nabokov was working on The Original of Laura at the time of his death, in 1977. With strict instructions for his yet-to-be-finished novel to be burned upon his death, the manuscript was not burned, but rather placed in his wife’s hands, and then, upon her death, passed on to his son, Dimitri.
A great article on the matter was written by Ron Rosenbaum for the New York Observer back in 2005, pleading for Dimitri Nabokov to allow the manuscript to either be published or gather dust, but to never let it burn. I suggest you read the article to see just how passionate some people are in the literary world--the poor guy is at the point of panic towards the end of his article. So, I’m gathering he’s pleased now that Nabokov’s unfinished, semi-unauthorized work has finally been released.
Message boards have been filled with comments regarding the publication, and the topic was touched upon in morning news shows as well as in blogs and newspaper columns. Rosenbaum stated that Nabokov’s son, Dimitri, had a "responsibility to the literary world” to publish the “last fragments of his father’s genius."
Many questions arise from this debate: Did Dimitri really have a responsibility to publish his father’s work, despite being told not to? In Leland de la Durantaye’s Boston Review article, "Last Wishes," he writes that Vladimir Nabokov’s wife had to stop her husband from burning a draft of Lolita. Lolita! Was his son, then, afraid of a possible new masterpiece being overlooked, never to be appreciated?
With all these thoughts filling my head, I tend to get a little philosophical and start to wonder about the ethics of the situation. It’s certainly sad to think that another masterpiece could have stayed locked up in a safety-deposit box forever, but was it ok to go against Nabokov’s final request?
How much say or ownership can an author really have upon their death? And, do you think it’s ok to go against an author’s wishes for the sake of art?