A literary ethical dilemma involving the unpublished writings of Vladimir Nabokov is discussed at length by journalist Ron Rosenbaum over at Slate. It seems that Nabokov’s sole remaining unpublished work “ a manuscript titled The Original of Laura “ is mouldering away somewhere in a Swiss bank vault, unread. But Nabokov’s sole surviving heir “ his 73-year-old son Dmitri “ is torn about what he should do with it. Should he destroy it, as his father specifically requested, or ignore those wishes and unveil it to the world?
For the past two years I’ve involved myself in this question in print and in e-mail correspondence with Dmitri Nabokov, but a recent communication from Dmitri to me suggests that a decision may be near.
Dmitri’s predicament goes beyond Laura. It’s one that raises the difficult issue of who “owns” a work of art, particularly an unfinished work of art by a dead author who did not want anything but his finished work to become public. Who controls its fate? The dead hand from the grave? Or the eager, perhaps overeager, readers, scholars, and biographers who want to get their hands on it no matter what state it’s in?
To burn or not to burn? It’s not a question we can argue over forever. Time is running out, and the stakes are high: Dmitri’s past pronouncements suggest that Laura is not merely another scrap of paper. At one point he called it “the most concentrated distillation of [my father’s] creativity.”
So, to burn or not to burn? What say you, gentle readers?