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 Instead, he found a collection of previously unpublished short stories and poems from the author’s youth.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 🙂 .