Jilly: Books Lost and Found

Title Page, 1728 quarto edition of Lewis Theobald's Double Falsehood (via Wikimedia Commons)

Title Page, 1728 quarto edition of Lewis Theobald’s Double Falsehood (via Wikimedia Commons)

Could you lose a manuscript? Maybe your first novel, the one you wrote on now-obsolete word processing software, queried without success and put away in a drawer or a storage box under the bed?

Kay posted on Thursday about the upcoming release of Harper Lee’s novel Go Set A Watchman, almost 55 years after the publication of To Kill A Mockingbird. The ‘lost’ novel was actually Ms. Lee’s first book. It included flashbacks to the childhood of the protagonist, Scout, which Ms. Lee’s editor told her to take out and make into a separate story. She did, that book was published to great acclaim, and Go Set A Watchman was forgotten until Ms. Lee’s lawyer re-discovered it last September, clipped to the back of an early draft of TKAM.

A whole novel by a prize-winning author lying forgotten for more than fifty years is a great story. I assumed it was an unusual one, until I saw another announcement a couple of days later about the upcoming publication of a ‘lost’ Dr. Seuss book. Two major finds in a week piqued my curiosity, so I did a little investigating to see whether any other forgotten gems came to light recently. Here’s what I found.

Dr. Seuss – What Pet Should I get?
Last week Random House Children’s books announced the July release of What Pet Should I Get? following the re-discovery of the illustrations and full text of this book by the late Ted Geisel, better known as Dr. Seuss. Apparently they were found in the author’s office space by Geisel’s widow, Audrey, and his secretary/friend Claudia Prescott, in late 2013. I have to confess, that set me wondering what happened to his office during the last fifteen years, since the author died in 1991.

Samuel Beckett – Echo’s Bones
This 13,500-word story was originally commissioned as the final story for More Pricks Than Kicks, a collection of inter-related short stories published in 1934. It was rejected by his publisher, Charles Prentice at Chatto & Windus, who described it as a “nightmare” and said it gave him the “jim-jams.” It was finally published in 2014, some 80 years later. Here’s more information and a review courtesy of The Guardian.

Truman Capote – Short Stories and Poems
A Swiss publisher, Peter Haag, searched through Truman Capote’s writings and papers at the New York Public Library, looking for chapters of the author’s unfinished last novel Answered Prayers. Instead, he found a collection of previously unpublished short stories and poems from the author’s youth. According to the New York Times, a collection of around a dozen poems and 20 stories will be published by Random House in December 2015.

Bram Stoker – The Forgotten Writings of Bram Stoker
American author and scholar of horror and fantasy John Edgar Browning tracked down short stories, poetry and journalism that were written pre-Dracula and published more than a hundred years ago in periodicals that are long gone. The collection was published in 2012 by Palgrave MacMillan as The Forgotten Writings of Bram Stoker. Here’s what The Guardian had to say about it.

Does the above inspire you to do a little sleuthing? For better or worse, these are probably gone forever:

William Shakespeare – Cardenio
In 1653 The History of Cardenio appeared in a register of soon to be published works, credited to William Shakespeare and his collaborator, John Fletcher. The play, believed to be based on an espisode in Cervantes’ Don Quixote, never made it into print, but more than seventy years later Lewis Theobald published a play called Double Falsehood, which he claimed was based on the original manuscripts of Cardenio. Another possibility was suggested in the 1990s by handwriting expert Charles Hamilton. He saw a 1611 manuscript known as The Second Maiden’s Tragedy and identified it as a text of Cardenio in which the characters’ names had been changed. Who’s right? We’ll probably never know, but the mystery of who actually wrote what has kept scholars busy for many a long year. Here’s what Wikipedia has to say about it all.

Thomas Hardy – The Poor Man and the Lady
Thomas Hardy’s first novel, written in 1867 and rejected by at least five publishers before Hardy gave up on it. Apparently he recycled some of it – there’s a poem of the same name, and other bits went into his 1878 novella An Indiscretion In The Life of an Heiress – and destroyed the rest. Or did he?

Ernest Hemingway’s suitcase
In December 1922, Ernest Hemingway was in Lausanne, working for the Toronto Daily Star. He was then unpublished as a novelist, and when the editor Lincoln Steffens expressed an interest in his work, Hemingway’s wife Hadley packed up all his papers – originals and carbons – into a suitcase to take to Switzerland. She boarded a train at the Gare de Lyon in Paris, left the case unattended while she went to buy a bottle of water, and when she came back, it was gone. It’s never been found.

Robert Ludlum’s first novel
Written while he was a young man in the US marines; lost after a long drinking session while on leave in San Francisco.

I was pondering all these missing manuscripts, especially poor Hemingway’s carbons, and thinking smugly that this must be a problem of the past. With hard drives and thumb drives and the cloud and automated backup, surely we could never lose a story. Then I read a BBC interview with Vint Cerf of Google. He said he fears we may be heading towards a ‘digital Dark Age’ in which the rapid evolution of technology quickly makes storage formats obsolete. When I think about CDs, floppy disks and video tapes, I see exactly where he’s coming from. We could lose stories, and it could happen fast. Mr. Cerf’s proposed solution is something called ‘digital vellum.’ Maybe. For now, I’m thinking perhaps it wouldn’t be a dumb thing to print out a hard copy or two of the final draft of my WIP and put them in (separate) safe places. It may never win a Pulitzer or a Nobel Prize, but I’d hate to lose it 🙂 .

12 thoughts on “Jilly: Books Lost and Found

  1. Breaking news: after I wrote this post yesterday, I read on the BBC website that a Sherlock Holmes story has been rediscovered more than a hundred years after it was first published. It’s called Sherlock Holmes: Discovering the Border Burghs and, by deduction, the Brig Bazaar. It was written in 1904 to raise money for a bridge in Selkirk, Scotland, and was originally printed in a 48-page book of short stories, Book o’ the Brig. Here’s the link: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-31564442

  2. Demon’s Wager is my fifth novel and, honestly, there’s a good reason why almost no one’s ever seen the earlier ones. All the excitement over these lost works seems to assume that just because they were written by writers who later became famous, these works must be good ignores the fact that writing, like playing piano, is something you learn by grinding practice. I can see where, for scholars, looking at early works would be fascinating, but I wonder if the quality of the work really offers value for the general public.

    I’m even on the fence about Go Set a Watchman (although I have every intention of reading it when it comes out). The story I read was that Harper Lee’s older sister, Alice, was Lee’s lawyer until her death last November. She steadfastly refused to allow publication of Watchman. Then, before she was even cold, the manuscript was “found,” and Ms. Lee, who suffers from dementia, “agreed” to publish. All of which raises some intriguing questions: why didn’t Alice (and, presumably, Harper) want the novel published? Who stands to benefit from publication? Not Lee at her age and in her mental state, certainly.

    • I know what you mean, Jeanne. I’ve enjoyed reading very early books from some prolific romance authors, in part to see how their craft has developed over time, but I guess there’s a difference between the author deciding to publish (or re-publish) a book and somebody else ‘finding’ it after the author’s death or when they’re no longer capable of making that decision. And sometimes an author might wish they could make one of their books disappear – Jenny Crusie says that about Sizzle, which HQN re-packaged and promoted again recently.

      Perhaps I should have said – should you lose a manuscript? If (when – ha!) we all have glittering publishing track records, maybe we should take the time to expunge our early attempts, school exercise books and the like? I’d love to have that problem 🙂 . I believe Robert Ludlum said the loss of his army-days manuscript was a Good Thing.

    • Yes! The Truman Capote book is apparently a collection of stories and poems he wrote between the ages of eleven and nineteen – and according to the NY Times article his editor says his voice was already formed at that tender age!

    • I’m particularly suspicious of ‘early works’. Maybe these ‘discoveries’ are part of the million-word-vomit that many writers require before getting to the good stuff. Later works that might just not have had time to be fully developed or which the artist might have temporarily abandoned with hopes to come to it later (most of us have been there) might be less questionable.

      I remember hearing criticism of the remaining Beatles when they used two of John Lennon’s songs (“Free as a Bird” and “Real Love”) to make ‘new’ Beatles tracks. The speculation was that Lennon must have had a reason for not recording and releasing those tracks. But since those songs were written post-Beatles, I don’t think anyone can argue that his song-writing skills were undeveloped at that time.

  3. I’m suspicious of early works, too—you can almost taste that that “found” book by Dr. Seuss should have stayed lost. But these examples prove, if nothing else, that publishing is a business, after all! And I bet Go Set a Watchman does well just out of curiosity.

    • Publishing is indeed a business. I do find it hard to get my head around the idea of an author being so good and/or so successful that their school work would be considered of a publishable standard and that there would be a market for it.

      I really hope Go Set A Watchman is good, but if it’s not – as you said a few days ago – I don’t think it will damage Harper Lee’s legacy.

  4. As long as we know what we’re getting, it can be a service to some fans to publish early work. I just finished Jane Austen’s juvenalia earlier this year, and it was a lot of fun. Of course it wasn’t Pride and Prejudice, but I knew that going in. It was fun to play “hunt the voice” and also, I found some interesting authors that inspired Austen. I don’t think I would have looked them up otherwise.

    The publishers take the gamble, and the book will find its market — or not, as the case may be.

    Authors like Austen are dead, and like Lee, not going to produce anything else. I don’t think they will be hurt by their early tries.

    The only way a person who has established a solid reputation (and then died or finished writing) could get hurt is if the early work doesn’t jibe with the current political climate — if they turned out to be unexpectedly mean or narrow-minded. IMO, anyway.

  5. Interesting though how easy it is to lose work because technology has moved on. I have all my old books (all four or five, I lose count) on various CD Roms and even floppy disks that I now have no way of accessing – even if they aren’t corrupted. I moved house recently and discovered that I also have several drawers-worth of paper copies that I must go through and prune one day – that really is the only reliable way (unless there’s a house fire!).

    After Kay’s post the other day, I was reflecting on way I keep all of these – it most certainly isn’t because I think they’re any good. They’re not and I would be mortified if they were dug up for public consumption. I think though, it’s because these stories that haven’t finished being told yet – I still think about each of them from time to time and always feel like I’ll go back and redo them one day. Perhaps I never will, but I like the thought that I might. Which also links to another of Kay’s posts – you really don’t need that many ideas, if I went back and redid all of those stories, that’s another five years work!

    • Maybe you should re-visit them, Rachel. Bet Me was one of Jenny C’s early stories, I think the only one she’d never sold. Her agent took it to SMP, Jenny re-wrote it, and it’s become her most popular book 🙂 .

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