Tuesday, March 10, 2009

An incomplete list of the incomplete novel???

Even within the most exclusive of canons, there are novels that were considered incomplete by their authors. Others were attacked by critics for "not being novels"; that is they were accused of lacking character development, proper trajectory, conflict, or a proper ending. A third group were left as unpublished manuscripts for diligent relatives, literary executors, or next generations to decipher and define. In no particular order then, I offer a list of favorites with brief notes:

Franz Kafka, Amerika, The Trial, and The Castle. The trifecta as far as brilliant but imperfect manuscripts go. You know the details, death by burning rudely interrupted by good Uncle Max, who manages to make Kafka one of the most powerful authors, images, and ideas of the twentieth century. From words coined in his honor to bars in South Korea to novel and movie titles far and wide, part of our Kafkaesque existence includes our inability to escape the writer's influence.

Herman Melville, Billy Budd. Tell me this forgotten manuscript is not a novel. I dare you!

Thomas Pynchon, The Crying of Lot 49. Does Oedipa's character properly develop? Is he allowed to end it that way? Is it legal to include a long, tangential "play within the play" as early as chapter 3? Could the rumors be true he is rapping as the artist Tommy Pi? "This is America, you live in it, you let it happen. Let it unfurl."

I have a few others in mind, but I encourage you to add to this list.


Unknown said...

Here's a few more...
F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Last Tycoon
Edith Wharton's The Buccaneers
Ralph Ellison's Juneteenth
Henry Roth's six-volume Mercy of a Rude Stream
Tolkien's Silmarillion
Hemingway's A Moveable Feast and Islands in the Stream
Faulkner's Sartoris was completely re-edited by his friend in order to get published
Austen's Sanditon was unfinished at her death, while Northanger Abbey and Persuasion were finished but posthumously published
and just about all of Thomas Wolfe

Alex Kudera said...

Excellent, Dan. Thanks. I'm living in Thomas Wolfe country here... we have an auditorium named in his honor. I'm sure you know he made the long journey back from Harvard University. I hope I CAN go home again one day...

Unknown said...

I was just reading Bernard Knox's introduction to the Fagles translation of The Aeneid and apparently there is an ancient story that Virgil pulled a Kafka 1900 years before Franz -- he hadn't finished polishing the epic and asked his friends to destroy the epic "imperfection" when he died.

Now, without Virgil we wouldn't have had Dante, and without Dante... The absence of The Aeneid in the history of the development of western literature could have been the proverbial "For the want of a nail the war was lost."

Once I'm done Virgil I am, by coincidence, going to start on Look Homeward, Angel.

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