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Thread: The Value of Unfinished Novels

  1. #1

    The Value of Unfinished Novels

    I'm thinking about reading The Love of the Last Tycoon - a novel that I'd previously shunned because Fitzgerald died before he could complete it - and I was wondering what your thoughts were on the value or importance of unfinished novels in a writer's oeuvre. I specify novels because I'm convinced of the value of incomplete poems as I read poetry primarily for the language whereas I find narrative to be an important feature of novels.

    Naturally one could not discuss incomplete works of literature without reference to Kafka, who is arguably most famous for his three unfinished novels. I've not read his novels so I can't comment on them, but I've read his short stories and found those that were unfinished interesting to read because his stories almost seem more akin to poetry than to traditional novels or stories; there's a lot to interpret in pieces such as "Blumfeld, an Elderly Bachelor". The fact that so much of Kafka's work is incomplete might be said to contribute to the aesthetics of Kafka's writing. It's almost as if it adds another layer of mystery and confusion to the already difficult, allegorical and seemingly personal texts.

    I've also been thinking about the difference between incomplete literature, either due to death or abandonment, and literature of which we possess only fragments. It seems to me that the latter part of a text, once completed, would influence the former parts in the editing/rewriting process. It's possible that the completed parts of novels by Fitzgerald or Kafka could have been much different had the author actually completed the work. The only incomplete texts that we can be sure of are those like Dicken's Edwin Drood, which were published in parts. In contrast, when we read something like Sappho's poetry or some of the Greek plays we know that what we're reading are the fragments of a completed text. To me that makes fragments seem like a better representation of the author's artistic intentions and therefore maybe more worthy of critical study.

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    In the fog Charles Darnay's Avatar
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    I'm generally not a fan of incomplete novels. Usually because they are often taken up by another author who tends to butcher the work (I am thinking of Dickens' last, unfinished work).
    I wrote a poem on a leaf and it blew away...

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    The Ghost of Laszlo Jamf islandclimber's Avatar
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    I'm rather depressed with what's been done of late with posthumously published unfinished novels.

    Nabokov's "The Original of Laura" comes to mind. Nabokov ordered it destroyed in his will and for good reason. The man was a perfectionist with language. This is obvious from all his works. And this work, published anyways, well... it was an example of a writer derailed, wildly off the tracks, it was a shadow of his former work, hopelessly imprecise, with only rare moments of the Nabokov we all adore. Oh well.

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    The 5&1/2 Minute Hallway The Truth's Avatar
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    Kafka is about the only person that can be allowed to have unfinished novels, because knowing Franz, he'd end them in a way that felt unfinished just for kicks anyway.

    I absolutely love The Trial. Fantastic piece of literature although unfinished.

    I can't bring myself to read other unfinished works. David Foster Wallace's posthumously released novel for instance, I just can't do it. After a colossal work like Infinite Jest, it just leaves a bad taste in your mouth to know that they published something unfinished of his. Maybe it's just me.
    “Why did god create a dual universe?
    So he might say
    ‘Be not like me. I am alone.'
    And it might be heard.”

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    the beloved: Gladys's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by The Truth View Post
    I absolutely love The Trial. Fantastic piece of literature although unfinished.
    The trial is the one novel Kafka did finish . As for The Castle, the novel like the plot is interminable.

    I recently read Patrick White's The Hanging Garden, which is Part 1, I suspect, of a three part novel. The novel is unfinished, a product of his old age. I'm glad I read it, but there is something unsatisfying about reading this novel without its ending, because Patrick White's endings are brilliant.
    "Love does not alter the beloved, it alters itself"

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    The 5&1/2 Minute Hallway The Truth's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Gladys View Post
    The trial is the one novel Kafka did finish . As for The Castle, the novel like the plot is interminable.

    I recently read Patrick White's The Hanging Garden, which is Part 1, I suspect, of a three part novel. The novel is unfinished, a product of his old age. I'm glad I read it, but there is something unsatisfying about reading this novel without its ending, because Patrick White's endings are brilliant.
    The Trial does have an ending but numerous chapters are unfinished or missing.
    “Why did god create a dual universe?
    So he might say
    ‘Be not like me. I am alone.'
    And it might be heard.”

    ― Mark Z. Danielewski, House of Leaves

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    In the fog Charles Darnay's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by The Truth View Post
    The Trial does have an ending but numerous chapters are unfinished or missing.
    I thought that was intentional: there's at leas tone chapter I am thinking of that was never meant to be finished.
    I wrote a poem on a leaf and it blew away...

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    Eiseabhal
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    It depends at what stage it was abandoned. Rising by Hutchinson was nearly finished so it still has many of the qualities of a great novel. I've been trying to approach The Pale King but I keep feeling it would have been very different had it's author Wallace lived long enough and perhaps the text does not do him justice. Weir of Hermiston was not finished but is very readable. The Fox in the Attic and The Wooden Shepherdess are complete but there was a third novel intended and I wish Hughes had lived to write it (We need to be thankful for what we have though) There was a novel of Hemingway's that I read many years ago and although I enjoyed it, I don't think it enhanced his reputation. It's title momentarily escapes me

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    Was it Islands in the Stream?

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    Quote Originally Posted by Charles Darnay View Post
    I thought that was intentional: there's at leas tone chapter I am thinking of that was never meant to be finished.
    No, Max Brody is responsable for the Trial version that seems more "complete", according to what he claims, was what Kafka said to him. Kafka also had an end for The Castle which he never developed.

    Anyways, on topic, Ending or incompleteness does not reduce the vallue of any story or artwork. Even less novels of romances, which sometimes have vallue due some chapters. Several of world's classics are unfinished.

    Now, funny enough, there is a legend that Dante died and when they looked his spoil, the final of the Heaven was lacking the last pages. So, his soon had a dream or something and found the pages in a role in Dante's room.

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    Eiseabhal
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    I've just found out by consulting Kirjasto that the fragments of Hughes unfinished third novel in his trilogy were added to an edition of The Wooden Shepherdess in the mid nineties. I read the second in the trilogy long before that but I would like to read the fragments too. However I doubt if anyone would claim that fragments can be satisfactory in a case like this. I do not feel compelled to read them but if I came across them then I definitely would.

  12. #12
    The Last Tycoon is worth a read I think. It's Gatsby meets Hollywood. Although the novel is incomplete, in the Penguin version they publish Fitzgerald's notes at the end, suggesting how the novel would have ended.

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