Not that one needs to be reminded, death comes for everyone. It often comes too early, but never too late, apparently, and it comes for the beloved, the hated, the famous, the unknown. It doesn’t matter if you are America’s biggest heartthrob or have the greatest voice of all time or make awesome gadgets that have people camping out for them days in advance. It doesn’t matter if you have a plan for what is going to be the next big thing and need more time. It doesn’t matter if your story isn’t finished yet.
That’s where unfinished novels come from. For this blog post, I was originally going to expose Nathaniel Hawthorne’s failed first attempt at a novel, Fanshawe, which, later in his life, Hawthorne attempted to burn every copy, to never let it be known that he had written something that was bad. After his death, however, a rare copy of the novel was found and published, and Hawthorne could obviously do nothing about it. That’s what got me thinking about the inevitable ends of famous writers and what happened to the novels that they were working on at the time. Also, of course, it was easier to find a list of unfinished novels, than of bad first novels by famous writers that the writers tried to destroy out of humiliation. (Sorry for outing you, Hawthorne.)
Here is a list of novels that were unfinished due to the author’s death, from writers you most likely know:
The Love of the Last Tycoon is an unfinished novel by F. Scott Fitzgerald, who had a drinking problem and had suffered multiple heart attacks until on December 21, 1940, he died from a massive heart attack at age 40 while eating a candy bar. According to my sources (Wikipedia), the novel was inspired by the life of film producer Irving Thalberg and follows the main character Monroe Stahr’s rise to power in Hollywood. The novel in its rough form was edited by the literary critic Edmund Wilson, who was also a friend of Fitzgerald.
The unfinished manuscript of Albert Camus’ final novel, The First Man (French title: Le Premier Homme), was found in the mud when Camus was killed in a car accident outside Paris in 1960. Apparently Camus had intended it to be his masterpiece, which, again, makes me sad even as I write this. It (the disparity between Camus’ tragedy and his aspirations) reminds me of Jean-Paul Sartre’s No Exit (French title: Huis Clos), for Sartre tells us that cruelly enough, what matters in the end is what is left and what you have done, not what you intended to do, what you could have done.
Herman Melville’s Billy Budd is an example of how important the editorial process of works published posthumously is. The novella without its author was so hopeless and vulnerable. In its earlier versions, it was wrongly titled by clueless third parties as Billy Budd, Foretopman, even though later it was explained and corrected that Melville had intended the title to be Billy Budd, Sailor: (An Inside Narrative). Some versions made other mistakes, such as putting in a chapter that Melville did not want, or forgetting to change the ship’s name from Indomitable to Bellipotent.
Franz Kafka died at the age of 40 due to starvation caused by the effect of tuberculosis on his throat, which made it impossible for him to eat. It is unclear whether he simply abandoned The Castle (German title: Das Schloß) or intended to finish it but could not due to his death. What is clear, though, is that Kafka did not intend for his works to be published after his death, but Max Brod, the person he told that to, did not listen to him and published them anyway.