Monday, 21 July 2008

An Ethical Diversion


I may have expressed my pathological love for the unparallelled genius of Nabokov before (hey, who hasn't?) so I can only describe what follows as deeply subjective...
I recently read that an unpublished novel (that he emphatically wanted destroyed) is to be published by his son. Hmmm, a tricky ethical question. I can't think of anything I want more, under normal circumstances, than a new novel by an author I love - especially if I was no longer expecting them to write one. When an author dies, Robertson Davies as a prime example, your first thought (because readers are addicts, and their first thought is always of their addiction) is "Oh no! No more new things to read!" and then, belatedly and guiltily, "How awful for their family, of course..." HOWEVER, and this is a big however, the finest authors are their own harshest critics, and Nabokov more than most; one can only assume if he wanted it destroyed he didn't feel it was of a quality worth publishing. On the other hand, a second-rate Nabokov would still be a million times better than a million other authors at their best. As always, the addiction wins out and, unable to boycott it on principle, I know I'll be the first in the queue to read it. The only consolation is that if it does turn out to be less good than the books published in his lifetime, I can tell myself he knew that would be the case...

13 comments:

Reluctant Blogger said...

Well, maybe that wasn't the reason he wanted it destroyed? Perhaps there is something in there, autobiographical or whatever, that he did not want to be known. That is far more intriguing.

But I think you should respect the wishes of your family if you know that they felt strongly about something. I think it would be disrespect of the son to allow it to be published.

LucyFishwife said...

RB - The son's argument was "well, it'll only get published later anyway" - to which two thoughts spring to mind - (1) Not if you destroyed it as requested, and (2) How handy that you should reap the financial rewards rather than any unconnected third party..... Mean and cynical of me I know, and as I said I'll be the first to buy a copy!

Steve said...

I agree with RB - speaking as a writer I'd be horrified if somebody went against my wishes regarding a peice of work that I produced. However, if I hated it that much I'm pretty sure I'd have destroyed it myself. The fact that Nabakov didn't is rather telling...

LucyFishwife said...

Steve - true. Although it could have been one of those deathbed moments of "Oh and burn my juvenilia" I'm hoping to have myself.. to the weeping throng kneeling beside my chaise longue as I feebly cough my photogenic last into a tiny lace hanky.

Steerforth said...

Difficult isn't it. I'm both appalled and impressed that Larkin's lover respected his wishes and burned his diaries.

On the whole, like you I'd rather read second-rate Nabokov than first-rate...well, it would be rude to say.

LucyFishwife said...

Steerforth - (nearly called you Steerfroth there - the pub beckons!) Yup ethics are a bugger. Respect someone's will though, after all artists/writers etc are ego-driven, in the best possible way, and most of them have enough sense to know what will and won't make them look good after death. If Larkin wanted his diaries burnt I bet it was because they were full of "Tuesday. Clean socks. Don't forget bread, milk, peas." etc...

The Poet Laura-eate said...

To my shame I have only read 'Lolita' but I did think it was brilliant.

I guess if you are a fast reader you are able to whip through people's works, but I am so slow (and so busy with other things too) I am lucky to read one from each author's repertoire, though I managed to go through a whole Patricia Highsmith phase once.

Brother Tobias said...

It's a dilemma. Like 'Babs', Parry Jones' car that was buried on Pendine Sands (I believe at his request, presumably before it decapitated him), but which was dug up decades later and restored to running order. I think I agree with Steve; you should not expect others to destroy what you could not bring yourself to destroy.

LucyFishwife said...

Laura - Patricia Highsmith is a genius. I'm supposed to be doing a piece on short stories for our (as yet unlaunched) website and she will feature hugely. Her novels were fabulous little pieces of madness - "This Sweet Sickness" is about a man who is eagerly awaiting the arrival of his married beloved, who will soon be leaving her awful husband for him... except you realise he's totally deluded and stalking her, and she has no real idea who he is.. a creepy but unputdownable book!

BT - You're right. If someone decides to leave everything to Battersea Dogs' Home it's their choice... Apparently the author of "Girl With The Dragon Tattoo" left all his money to the Swedish Communist Party, and his family (now he's about to be posthumously wealthy) are contesting it..

LucyFishwife said...

BT - PS Sorry missed out the whole point of my reply! Damn Night Nurse. Yes I agree - but there must be a point when you're on your deathbed and suddenly go "Oh yes that awful tripe I was writing last year.. burn that, I completely forgot..."

Brother Tobias said...

It's a good point, Lucy. Favourite last words for the Noughties; 'Quick, wipe my hard drive!'

LucyFishwife said...

I occasionally have awful sweaty nightmares in which I'm powerless to intervene as some nameless third party reads the torrid romance novel I wrote when I was 15 - out loud, in a sarcastic voice, to a room full of sniggering strangers. If I knew where it was I'd burn it but I have no idea!

The Poet Laura-eate said...

You have won an award over @ mine.

:-)