Deceased Before Released: Novels Published Posthumously

With all the talk these days about the late-in-her-life publication of Harper Lee’s Go Set a Watchman, I got to thinking about well-known novels that came out after the authors died. There are more of them than one might think.

Some posthumous books are released unfinished, while in some cases other writers are hired to complete the works. Then there are 100%-done novels that hadn’t yet reached the market when death came knocking for the authors.

Do posthumous books have anything in common? Not necessarily. Some are early-career efforts, with later author renown finally spurring the novels’ after-death publication. Other books are the last works of aging writers, and thus perhaps not the peak efforts of their careers. But most posthumous novels evoke a certain reader fascination, whether it involves lamenting that the authors aren’t around to enjoy the fruits of their labors or wondering if the books would have been better off staying in a desk drawer or computer file.

I’ll start with two authors who had summer births or deaths. The Aug. 1, 1819-born Herman Melville worked for years as an obscure customs inspector after his writing career foundered on meager sales of the critically blasted Moby-Dick and Pierre. The older Melville did write some (so-so) poetry in his spare time, and also penned much of a novella. That was Billy Budd — undiscovered and unpublished until the 1920s, more than three decades after Melville’s 1891 passing. The success of Billy Budd, along with a belated realization of Moby-Dick‘s masterpiece quality, retrospectively helped Melville join Mark Twain and Nathaniel Hawthorne in the top pantheon of 19th-century American authors.

Then there was England’s Jane Austen, who died on July 18, 1817. But it wasn’t until a number of months later that publication came for two of her six novels: Persuasion (my favorite Austen work) and Northanger Abbey (actually the novel Austen wrote first, from 1798 to 1803). Interestingly, a “Biographical Notice” written by Jane’s brother Henry for those two books was the first time the previously anonymous Austen’s name appeared with her novels.

In the 20th century, the most famous example of a posthumously released novel might be A Confederacy of Dunces. Its author, John Kennedy Toole, committed suicide in 1969 — at least partly out of despair over not being able to get his raucous, hilarious book published. Over the next few years, John’s mother Thelma resolutely tried to remedy that. Finally, with the help of author Walker Percy, A Confederacy of Dunces made it into print in 1980 — and won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction.

Even more recently, the page-turning Millennium Trilogy (The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, etc.) was published after author Stieg Larsson’s death — and became a mega-seller. A fourth Millennium novel written by a different person is slated to come out later this summer, and the existence of that book just doesn’t seem right. Some Go Set a Watchman-like publisher greed? Yes, when very popular authors die, money grabs can ensue.

Among the most famous unfinished novels published after the authors’ deaths are Charles Dickens’ The Mystery of Edwin Drood, F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Love of the Last Tycoon (aka The Last Tycoon), Robert Louis Stevenson’s Weir of Hermiston, and Ralph Ellison’s Juneteenth. The first two were good/not great Dickens and Fitzgerald works, while Weir of Hermiston was Stevenson’s deepest, most mature book. The book by Ellison — who saw only one novel, the classic Invisible Man, released during his lifetime — was a condensed version of a very long, unpublished manuscript.

Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa wrote only one novel, but the posthumously released The Leopard is exquisitely written. The book was finished when di Lampedusa died in 1957, before a publisher was found.

Sometimes, novels are published long after an author’s death. One example is Alexandre Dumas’ unfinished The Last Cavalier, which was discovered in serial form in a periodical more than 125 years after Dumas’ 1870 death. Parts of it are among The Count of Monte Cristo author’s best writing.

Also many years after the author’s death, Jack London’s The Assassination Bureau was completed by another author. London’s section of the book is of course better, but still doesn’t come close to matching his top efforts (The Call of the Wild, etc.) released when he was alive.

Then there’s Maurice, which wasn’t published until after E.M. Forster’s 1970 death because of that novel’s then-controversial focus on same-sex love.

Outside the novel realm, the most famous example of posthumous publication could very well be the stellar poems of Emily Dickinson.

What are your favorite works (ones I’ve mentioned or not mentioned) published after their writers’ deaths? Also, you’re welcome to discuss the pros and cons of posthumous publication.

(The box for submitting comments is below already-posted comments, but your new comment will appear at the top of the comments area — unless you’re replying to someone else.)

I’m writing a literature-related book, but still selling Comic (and Column) Confessional — my often-funny memoir that recalls 25 years of covering and meeting cartoonists such as Charles Schulz (“Peanuts”) and Bill Watterson (“Calvin and Hobbes”), columnists such as Ann Landers and “Dear Abby,” and other notables such as Hillary Clinton, Coretta Scott King, Walter Cronkite, and various authors. The book also talks about the malpractice death of my first daughter, my remarriage, and life in Montclair, N.J. — where I write the award-winning weekly “Montclairvoyant” humor column for The Montclair Times. You can email me at dastor@earthlink.net to buy a discounted, inscribed copy of the book, which contains a preface by “Hints” columnist Heloise and back-cover blurbs by people such as “The Far Side” cartoonist Gary Larson.

Born on the 14th of July

I’ll return next week to the kind of post I usually write, but I wanted to devote today’s column to the one-year anniversary of this blog — which launched on July 14, 2014. There will be some statistics, some of my thoughts, and more.

As many of you know, I decided to start this blog after three years of writing about literature for The Huffington Post — where my columns became the most consistently popular of any on that site’s “Books” page. The “thanks” I got from HP was no pay, frequently buried posts (perhaps because I wasn’t a “celebrity”?), being ignored 90% of the time when I occasionally emailed HP with a question, etc. My readers were “thanked” by often having their great, intelligent, unobjectionable comments killed by human or “automatic” moderators, or waiting hours or even days for their comments to post. (The same thing happened with my replies to comments.) There were other problems, too.

The 2005-founded HP — which continued to not pay bloggers even after making $315 million when bought by AOL in 2011 — does have a huge audience, and I’m grateful I was able to “online-ly” meet some of that audience. Being on the site also got me several offers for other work, but unfortunately each and every offer was to again work for free. I declined.

But now it’s time to get positive! 🙂 Being only middling savvy with things digital, I was nervous about creating a blog, but WordPress made it easy. And I vowed to make things easy for readers — including adjusting the settings to make sure comments posted immediately. Still, I wondered how many current or former HP commenters would migrate to my blog, but a lot of them did. (Thank you!) I was able to tell a number of people about my new blog via email and social media, but there were some HP commenters I couldn’t find because I knew them only by their aliases.

That said, a number of my current visitors never commented at HP!

What you’re now reading is the 50th column for this blog, and, by afternoon’s end on July 14, those posts had drawn a total of 31,015 views and 8,224 comments. (As you might have guessed, WordPress offers its bloggers a handy-dandy statistics page!) Nearly every comment has been friendly and full of literary knowledge — with many also containing humor.

The most views in a day was 366, on Feb. 23 — after I posted a column about authors’ pen names. That Feb. 22 piece attracted 295 comments, second only to the 344 comments under a Nov. 2 piece about single parents in literature. Rounding out the top five were posts about novels turned into movies (249 comments), unhappy marriages in literature (236), and humor in fiction (229).

The post with the fewest comments (88) was about symbols in literature. Imagine how few comments there would have been if I had discussed cymbals in literature!

Countries where the readership originated? The U.S. was first by far (26,667 views), followed by Japan (896), Australia (729), Canada (363), Brazil (311), the United Kingdom (274), Germany (256), India (113), Italy (74), and Russia (65). Views came from a total of 111 countries on six continents.

Approximately 75% of the books and writers I read nowadays are those recommended by commenters here. Thanks to you, authors I tried for the first time during the past 12 months included, among others, Joan Barfoot (Duet for Three), Geraldine Brooks (March), Eleanor Catton (The Luminaries), Lee Child (eight Jack Reacher novels — I’m hooked!), Michael Connelly (The Lincoln Lawyer), Alexandre Dumas fils (Camille), Neil Gaiman (American Gods), Nadine Gordimer (My Son’s Story), and Graham Greene (short stories).

Also: Adam Johnson (The Orphan Master’s Son), Anne Lamott (Blue Shoe), Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa (The Leopard), Stieg Larsson (The Millennium Trilogy), Billie Letts (Where the Heart Is), Mario Vargas Llosa (Aunt Julia and the Scriptwriter), Alistair MacLean (Where Eagles Dare), Elsa Morante (History), Patrick O’Brian (Master and Commander), Boris Pasternak (Doctor Zhivago), Dorothy Sayers (Strong Poison), Zadie Smith (On Beauty), M.L. Stedman (The Light Between Oceans), and John Kennedy Toole (A Confederacy of Dunces).

In addition, after recommendations from you, I’ve enjoyed other novels by authors I had read before, including Ray Bradbury’s Dandelion Wine, E.L. Doctorow’s World’s Fair, George Eliot’s Daniel Deronda, Ernest Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea, John Grisham’s The Firm, Henry James’ The Portrait of a Lady, Jhumpa Lahiri’s The Lowland, and Toni Morrison’s Sula.

And the words of commenters were part of the reason I reread and was impressed again by classics such as Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights, Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s Crime and Punishment and The Brothers Karamazov, and Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird. (Yes, we can continue discussing Ms. Lee’s “new” Go Set a Watchman!)

Which literary works have you read during the past year at least partly because of this blog and its comments? Anything else you’d like to say is welcome as well!

One more note: During the fantastic U2 concert I attended last night, the band did not sing “One” — which reminds me that one-year anniversaries are not that significant. 🙂

(The box for submitting comments is below already-posted comments, but your new comment will appear at the top of the comments area — unless you’re replying to someone else.)



I’m writing a literature-related book, but still selling Comic (and Column) Confessional — my often-funny memoir that recalls 25 years of covering and meeting cartoonists such as Charles Schulz (“Peanuts”) and Bill Watterson (“Calvin and Hobbes”), columnists such as Ann Landers and “Dear Abby,” and other notables such as Hillary Clinton, Coretta Scott King, Walter Cronkite, and various authors. The book also talks about the malpractice death of my first daughter, my remarriage, and life in Montclair, N.J. — where I write the award-winning weekly “Montclairvoyant” humor column for The Montclair Times. You can email me at dastor@earthlink.net to buy a discounted, inscribed copy of the book, which contains a preface by “Hints” columnist Heloise and back-cover blurbs by people such as “The Far Side” cartoonist Gary Larson.

The Very Well-Traveled Caterpillar

We all remember great children’s books from when we were kids or parents of kids. I recently thought of one — The Very Hungry Caterpillar — when my family had a real-life experience with a fennel-consuming cousin of Eric Carle’s fictional character.

I’m going to recount that experience (straying from this literature blog’s usual approach) before ending with a list of several of my favorite children’s books and a request to name some of yours. It’s a true-life children’s story I’ll call…The Very Well-Traveled Caterpillar.

One afternoon last month, my younger daughter stepped off her school bus with a paper cup full of fresh fennel. On one of the stalks was a tiny black caterpillar Maria had named Spike — though she didn’t know if it was male or female. The bus ride was Spike’s first trip.

My wife Laurel ordered one of those soft caterpillar/butterfly cages online, but Spike’s “house” took more than a week to get delivered. Fortunately, Spike stayed on fennel stalks in that paper cup for several days, eating so much that Maria had to bring home new fennel from her school garden several times. Spike, who turned mostly green, grew so much that he (?) was soon perhaps 10 times his (?) original size.

But one day, Spike crawled off the fennel and paper cup and was nowhere to be found. We walked VERY carefully in the living room as we searched for about a half hour — finally spotting Spike on the floor atop one of Maria’s sandals. That was his (?) second trip, and a potentially dangerous one.

So as we continued to wait for delivery of the cloth-and-net cage, we found a large box to put the fennel and cup in. The next day, a certain mailing finally arrived, and we transported Spike from box to cage.

Spike — fortified by his (?) prodigious eating binge — attached himself to a stick we put in the cage and was encased in a chrysalis by June 22. But we were leaving June 24 for a trip to Indiana, with a return planned for June 29. The chrysalis stage was supposed to be 7-10 days, but what if Spike emerged earlier? Obviously, he (?) had to travel with us in the car.

Passenger Spike spent the first day cruising west from New Jersey through Pennsylvania — carried into rest stops, the inside of a fast-food restaurant, and then a hotel room in eastern Ohio. The next day, it was more of the same until we arrived in Indianapolis — where the National Society of Newspaper Columnists was meeting.

But there was more travel to come. As I attended the great NSNC conference, Spike joined Laurel and Maria in visiting a former Indiana State University work colleague of my wife’s in Terre Haute. So the car-cruising/cage-and-chrysalis-covered caterpillar almost made it to Illinois.

Then came a return to Indianapolis, where Spike accompanied us and friends from Bloomington to a restaurant lunch before we headed back east. More rest stops, more fast-food eateries, and another hotel stay before Spike found himself (?) in New Jersey again on June 29. Still in the chrysalis.

Several days later, Spike finally emerged as a large butterfly — mostly black, with some brilliant coloring. According to Maria, his (?) coloring indicated he (?) was…female.

Spike couldn’t immediately fly — her wings needed to dry. But when she began flapping frantically around the cage an hour later, we knew it was time. We walked to the patio area of our garden-apartment complex, slowly unzipped the cage, and Spike soared high into the air. Not west or east, but south, before disappearing above the treetops.

Believe it or not, Spike’s freedom came on July 4 — Independence Day.

So that’s the story of The Very Well-Traveled Caterpillar. My favorite children’s books? Several by Dr. Seuss, of course; Susan Meddaugh’s Martha Speaks series (talking dog!); Eric Litwin’s Pete the Cat books; Faith Ringgold’s Tar Beach; Bernard Waber’s Lyle, Lyle, Crocodile; Ludwig Bemelmans’ Madeline; Robert Munsch’s Love You Forever; Margaret Wise Brown’s Goodnight Moon; and various others. (I’m talking fictional “picture books” aimed at younger kids. 🙂 )

What are your favorite children’s books? And what are some books — kid or adult, with or without caterpillars — that you connect with real-life experiences you’ve had?

One more question: Why didn’t I discuss Go Set a Watchman in this column? Well, Harper Lee’s eagerly awaited novel won’t be released until July 14, and I’m not sure when I’ll read it. It was dismaying to see, in an advance New York Times review, that the beloved Atticus Finch is depicted as a racist in the book — and there are of course questions about whether Ms. Lee truly consented to the financially lucrative publication of this To Kill a Mockingbird “sequel” (set in the 1950s) written before TKAM (set in the 1930s). But feel free to discuss Go Set a Watchman here!

The box for submitting comments is below already-posted comments, but your new comment will appear at the top of the comments area — unless you’re replying to someone else.

Note: My next column will post Monday, July 20, rather than the evening of Sunday, July 19 — when I’ll be seeing a U2 concert at Madison Square Garden with my adult daughter. I’m sure the band will do better in MSG than pro basketball’s Knicks! 🙂



For three years of my Huffington Post literature blog, click here.

I’m writing a literature-related book, but still selling Comic (and Column) Confessional — my often-funny memoir that recalls 25 years of covering and meeting cartoonists such as Charles Schulz (“Peanuts”) and Bill Watterson (“Calvin and Hobbes”), columnists such as Ann Landers and “Dear Abby,” and other notables such as Hillary Clinton, Coretta Scott King, Walter Cronkite, and various authors. The book also talks about the malpractice death of my first daughter, my remarriage, and life in Montclair, N.J. — where I write the award-winning weekly “Montclairvoyant” humor column for The Montclair Times. You can email me at dastor@earthlink.net to buy a discounted, inscribed copy of the book, which contains a preface by “Hints” columnist Heloise and back-cover blurbs by people such as “The Far Side” cartoonist Gary Larson.

Jealousy Causes Friction and Frisson in Fiction

Literature can be riveting when authors have their characters experience primal emotions such as love, hate, fear, and…jealousy.

This post will be about memorable instances of envy in fiction — a topic I thought about last month while reading Master and Commander, Patrick O’Brian’s first Aubrey-Maturin novel. Jack Aubry is a ship captain, and his first lieutenant James Dillon not surprisingly wishes he had that position.

Edmond Dantes, a sailor promoted to captain at the start of Alexandre Dumas’ The Count of Monte Cristo, is framed by men jealous of his promotion — and of his engagement to Mercedes Herrera. Dantes languishes in prison for many years before escaping and taking his epic revenge against the men who put him there.

The handsome, quietly charismatic title character in Herman Melville’s Billy Budd is liked by his sailor peers but hated by sinister Master-at-Arms John Claggart — and that hate is at least partly caused by jealousy.

Not sure how I ended up discussing three novels in a row with sea elements, but envy of course also appears in many other kinds of books.

Examples include some novels by Indiana authors, who are on my mind because I recently attended a great National Society of Newspaper Columnists conference in Indianapolis — where one of our “field trips” was to the very interesting Kurt Vonnegut Memorial Library.

For instance, Terre Haute-born Theodore Dreiser’s An American Tragedy focuses on Clyde Griffiths and that character’s envy of wealthy people with the seemingly “perfect” life he doesn’t have. Indianapolis resident Booth Tarkington’s The Magnificent Ambersons depicts some jealousy when the unlikable George Amberson Minafer sabotages the relationship between his likable widowed mother and the father of the woman (Lucy Morgan) George loves. Envy also rears its head when the Amberson fortune wanes and the Morgan fortune grows.

Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights is full of all kinds of jealousy — including the envy Edgar Linton feels when his wife Catherine is thrilled to see Heathcliff when he returns after a long absence.

Romantic jealousy in other novels? Three of many examples include the insufferable Rev. Edward Casaubon of George Eliot’s Middlemarch being envious of the interactions between his young, admirable wife Dorothea Brooke and his young, idealistic cousin Will Ladislaw; Miles Coverdale of Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Blithedale Romance being jealous of Hollingsworth’s relationship with Priscilla; and Lady Booby, the employer of the title character in Henry Fielding’s 18th-century comic novel Joseph Andrews, becoming jealous when she can’t seduce Joseph because he wants to stay chaste until marrying Fanny Goodwill.

In modern fiction, a rich criminal’s nasty son is envious of Jack Reacher’s relationship with (female) police officer Roscoe in Lee Child’s debut novel Killing Floor. Then the second Reacher installment, Die Trying, finds Jack feeling a bit jealous of the man with whom FBI agent Holly Johnson is involved.

In Joan Barfoot’s Duet for Three, the widowed Aggie and her divorced daughter June wish they had had better marriages — as well as a better relationship with each other. One poignant scene has June seeing how close Brenda (a fellow teacher) and her husband seem to be, and another scene shows Aggie being envious of her granddaughter Frances’ more fun and less isolated life.

There’s also envy of popularity, looks, success, and riches. For instance, the mischievously immature kid Davy is at times jealous of well-behaved “old soul” kid Paul Irving when he sees how much Anne Shirley admires Paul in L.M. Montgomery’s Anne of Avonlea. Even the stoic, philosophical Santiago feels a bit envious when other fishermen catch more than he does for 84 long days in Ernest Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea. But on the 85th day…

Then there’s academic jealousy, such as Howard Belsey’s envy of more prominent professor/author Monty Kipps in Zadie Smith’s On Beauty.

Envy can arise even over relatively trivial matters — as when Amy March, jealous that she can’t go to a play with her older sisters, burns the only copy of a manuscript Jo March worked on for countless hours in Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women.

In the realm of plays, I would have to say that Iago is a bit envious in Shakespeare’s Othello. 🙂

What are your favorite examples of jealousy in literature?

(The box for submitting comments is below already-posted comments, but your new comment will appear at the top of the comments area — unless you’re replying to someone else.)



For three years of my Huffington Post literature blog, click here.

I’m writing a literature-related book, but still selling Comic (and Column) Confessional — my often-funny memoir that recalls 25 years of covering and meeting cartoonists such as Charles Schulz (“Peanuts”) and Bill Watterson (“Calvin and Hobbes”), columnists such as Ann Landers and “Dear Abby,” and other notables such as Hillary Clinton, Coretta Scott King, Walter Cronkite, and various authors. The book also talks about the malpractice death of my first daughter, my remarriage, and life in Montclair, N.J. — where I write the award-winning weekly “Montclairvoyant” humor column for The Montclair Times. You can email me at dastor@earthlink.net to buy a discounted, inscribed copy of the book, which contains a preface by “Hints” columnist Heloise and back-cover blurbs by people such as “The Far Side” cartoonist Gary Larson.