This is the question: Is it right to print unfinished works of dead authors even when they’ve specifically asked for those writings be destroyed? Eg. Franz Kafka. I’ve lately been reading his early and unfinished work ‘Amerika’. To me it reads well, so for me it’s apropos that I’m asking that question now.
Jane Austen (Sanditon), Charles Dickens (Edmond Drood), F. Scott Fitzgerald (The Last Tycoon) and Ernest Hemingway (A Moveable Feast, Islands in the…etc. etc.) all left this sphere with works in progress and that’s just a sampling of the many authors who have. Others put works aside purposely because they were unfinished and somehow unsatisfactory in the author’s mind for public consumption. Kafka kept virtually everything he wrote from the public and when near death from a particularly nasty type of TB ordered his friend and executor Max Brod to burn it all unread, upon his demise. For Kafka, his works were his to do with as he pleased.
Eventually all these half finished efforts by all the above-mentioned authors ended up coming out anyway. In some cases the reason for doing so may have been praiseworthy. Kafka’s friend went against his wishes in order to honour his memory by presenting them to the public and leaving them for posterity. In other cases it is less clear. When Brod died in 1968, a mass of other Kafka papers were squabbled over for decades with motives appearing more opportunistic than altruistic.
Take Jane Austen as an example; her fans number in the millions - perhaps tens of millions and most of them likely wish there was more material from her and I wish there as too. But the posthumously published Lady Susan (64 pages) has recently been released as a movie called Love and Friendship. Depending on its financial success, the unfinished Sanditon (62 pages) will no doubt follow soon, much ‘enhanced’ by screenwriters. Then, her juvenilia 16 stories (ranging in length from 1 to 41 pages) will probably be scanned for exploitation. Can Seth Grahame-Smith’s comic novel - Pride and Prejudice and Zombies (319 pages) - be that far from hitting the big screen too?
As far as that goes, some books have been always been lampooned or satirized especially if they are highly successful. It’s been the case for a long time. Henry Fielding’s satire of Richardson’s Pamela with a piece named Shamela comes to mind. Once anything is public - it's fair game.
Finally, look at the ancient classics. There’ve been centuries of debate by all the usual ‘scholastic experts’ of every cogent age since then that have been judgmental as to their merits, their values and often their morals. And what about the ‘famous’ Hollywood ‘adaptations’ of such masterpieces? They are even more vaudevillian, if not downright cartoonish. Do you think the authors and playwrights of the past would like the way they’ve been treated? Would they be eager for royalties, threaten to file lawsuits - or both? Which would spin angrily in their graves and which would laugh their skulls off over at how they’ve been interpreted with the passing of time?