Better Late Than Never for Novels Published Long After They’re Written

For a variety of reasons, some novels are published years or decades or even more than a century after they’re written.

Take (Ms.) Lionel Shriver’s The New Republic, which wasn’t so new by the time it was released. That vividly satirical novel, about an American journalist in a fictional European region populated by supposed terrorists, was completed in 1998.

“At that time, my sales record was poisonous,” Shriver wrote in an author’s note. “Perhaps more importantly, my American compatriots largely dismissed terrorism as Foreigners’ Boring Problem. I was unable to interest an American publisher in the manuscript.”

Then 9/11 happened, and Shriver also became a best-selling author with other books. Still, she said treating terrorism “with a light touch would have been perceived as in poor taste” in the years immediately after 2001, so The New Republic wasn’t published until 2012. I read and enjoyed it last week.

A novel I haven’t read yet, Harper Lee’s Go Set a Watchman, is a much more prominent example of a book released long after it was written — in its case, nearly 60 years. What may have been an early draft of To Kill a Mockingbird was penned during the second half of the 1950s, and finally came out in 2015 after decades of supposedly being lost. Why was Go Set a Watchman released, not necessarily with the informed consent of an aged Ms. Lee, who died several months later? Well, one major reason was that any novel by that author — and especially a novel with a number of To Kill a Mockingbird characters — was sure to make tons of money.

There’s also Maurice by E.M. Forster, who wrote that novel in 1913-14 but didn’t want it published because of its then-controversial depiction of same-sex love. It finally came out in 1971, a year after Forster died.

Going further back in time, we have Billy Budd — a novella not quite finished by Herman Melville when he died in 1891. The 1888-started manuscript was discovered in 1919, and published five years later to wide acclaim. The quality of Billy Budd was especially amazing given that Melville’s previous “final” novel was published way back in 1857, after which the Moby-Dick author fell into obscurity for the rest of his life.

Then there’s The Last Cavalier by Alexandre Dumas, whose lengthy novel was serialized in a periodical in 1869 without ever appearing in book form — until 2005, after the serialization was rediscovered. Dumas died in 1870.

Jules Verne wrote the futuristic novel Paris in the Twentieth Century in 1863, but it wasn’t published until the 20th century — and very late in that century at that, in 1994, after the book was found by Verne’s great-grandson. The dystopian novel, set in the early 1960s, was not originally released because Verne’s publisher thought it was too pessimistic and not believable, yet Verne (as usual) made some pretty accurate predictions — such as weapons of mass destruction, electric lights, skyscrapers, primitive computers, elevated and underground trains, internal-combustion cars, synthetic foods, and technology being much more societally dominant than literature and other forms of culture.

And, in the 1790s, we have Jane Austen penning early versions of what would become Sense and Sensibility and Pride and Prejudice. Those two novels would not be published until 1811 and 1813, respectively. A timeline that was a two-centuries-earlier version of what happened with Lionel Shriver and The New Republic.

What are your favorite delayed-publication novels — including those I mentioned or ones I didn’t?

My 2017 literary-trivia book is described and can be purchased here: Fascinating Facts About Famous Fiction Authors and the Greatest Novels of All Time.

In addition to this weekly blog, I write the award-winning “Montclairvoyant” topical-humor column for Baristanet.com. The latest weekly piece — which stars “Mr. Variance” — is here.

81 thoughts on “Better Late Than Never for Novels Published Long After They’re Written

  1. Don`t we with Mr. Kurt Vonnegut was alive today Dave !

    ” We Are What We Pretend To Be”: The First and Last Works, aptly titled after his famous phrase, We Are What We Pretend To Be..
    Basic Training was never published in Vonnegut’s lifetime , but what a wonderful Novella Dave !

    . It appears to have been written in the late 1940s and is therefore Vonnegut’s first ever novella. It is a bitter, profoundly disenchanted story that satirizes the military, authoritarianism, gender relationships, parenthood and most of the assumed mid-century myths of the family.

    The general reminds me of someone not worth mentioning !!!
    Myth of his family we do know, don`t we ?

    Mr. Vonnegut left his last novel unfinished. Entitled ” If God Were Alive Today .”, and the ending was so abrupt.

    Liked by 1 person

      • Thank you, bebe! Yes, someone as good at satire as Vonnegut was — and someone as (mostly) progressive as Vonnegut was — would have a lot of interestingly scathing things to say about Trump.

        The posthumous collection of those two Vonnegut works — which I’m very glad you recommended to me two or three years (?) ago — indirectly does have much to say about people like Trump. And it’s an excellent example of delayed publication of an author’s writing.

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  2. I’m not a Hemingway fan at all and if I ever read any of his works I can’t remember. But I just happened upon this this news snippet this morning, which fits in with the topic. “In a letter written in 1956, American author Ernest Hemingway told his publisher he had written five new short stories. ‘They are probably very dull stories but some are very funny I think,’ he wrote. ‘Anyway you can always publish them after I’m dead.’ Six decades later, a literary magazine is doing just that. One of those long-lost stories, ‘A Room on the Garden Side,’ is being published for the first time in The Strand Magazine with permission from the Hemingway estate.” Interesting no?

    Liked by 1 person

      • Ha! Or maybe “sad.” The toxic Trump does pervade all aspects of our lives.

        I saw an article about that Hemingway story in yesterday’s New York Times. Interesting news indeed, Kat Lib, but I thought its placement on the NYT’s front page was a bit excessive.

        I can take or leave Hemingway and his macho ethos, but I did like “For Whom the Bell Tolls” a lot. “The Sun Also Rises” and “The Old Man and the Sea” — meh.

        Liked by 1 person

          • Well, I obviously couldn’t make my mind up as to whether it was “in” the sea or “and” the sea. I used to be very much better when it came to grammar and spelling (and book titles)!

            Liked by 2 people

            • “…which obviously made a great impression on me” — LOL, Kat Lib! I have a feeling you’re not ranking Hemingway with Jane Austen in your pantheon of favorite authors… 🙂

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              • No, Dave, I’d rather much reread an Austen book for the 7th time rather than read anything by Hemingway. or any other male writer, at least when it comes to the classics. My main exceptions are Henry James, Charles Dickens, Leo Tolstoy and a few others. I just prefer to read feminine centered novels by either men or women, though that doesn’t follow through how I read mysteries/detective stories. I’m not sure exactly what that says about me, but just the idea of reading “Moby Dick” or any other male-centric novels such as “Treasure Island” or anything in that genre makes me feel a bit queasy, to say the least. I must say that I did order from B&N, “The Great Gatsby,” which arrived yesterday, after I said that I must read this book, but it’s fairly short so I think I can make it through!

                Liked by 1 person

                • Ha, Kat Lib! Yes, Jane Austen beats Hemingway for me, too, though I guess Ernest did more Spanish Civil War reporting. 🙂

                  I also tend to most enjoy novels written by women or that are women-centered, with some exceptions. For instance, Herman Melville is indeed a male-centered author, but I love “Moby-Dick” and greatly like some of that author’s other works (such as “Bartleby the Scrivener”). Melville’s prose is incredible — as is F. Scott Fitzgerald’s in “The Great Gatsby.” Which is of course much shorter than “Moby-Dick”…

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  3. That illustration gracing the blog this week, showing J. Verne and a book cover for “Paris in the 20th Century”– boy, that cover looks like something put out in the 19th century– so much so it’s hard for me to believe the novel never came out. Kudos to the designer!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Great observation, jhNY! The designer did indeed capture an old look for the publishing of a book (manuscript) found in 1989 — in a safe of Verne’s that had to be blow-torched open.

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  4. Swiss author Robert Walser wrote “The Assistant”,and I know you’ve read it, Dave, and he was, unsurprisingly, the author of several other works of fiction that were published in his lifetime– a lifetime of diminishing hope for commercial success and increasing mental illness and isolation. His last years, maybe as much of a third of his life, were spent in a mental hospital, where later he remarked, more or less, that his business was to be mad there, and not to write. Before this period, living in Bern,he had begun to write in a tiny penciled script– the letters are as small as a millimeter. Once he had been committed to mental hospital, and recovered from crisis, he began a productive period of creation– but again, he wrote in that tiny script, and most of what he wrote remained undeciphered for decades.

    from wikipedia:
    .”Werner Morlang and Bernhard Echte were the first ones who attempted to decipher these writings. In the 1990s, they published a six-volume edition, Aus dem Bleistiftgebiet (‘From the pencil area’).”

    Prior to their work, an edition of his novel,”The Robber”, written during the time prior to Walser’s hospitalization in Bern, but in that tiny hand, was published in 1978.

    Before that, according to wikipedia “In 1955, Walser’s Der Spaziergang (The Walk) was translated into English by Christopher Middleton; it was the first English translation of his writing and the only one that would appear during his lifetime. Upon learning of Middleton’s translation, Walser, who had fallen out of the public eye, responded by musing “Well, look at that.”

    Walser was found dead in December of 1956. He had frozen to death while out on a solitary walk on hospital grounds.

    From wikipedia:
    “Walser is understood to be the missing link between Kleist and Kafka. “Indeed,” writes Susan Sontag, “At the time [of Walser’s writing], it was more likely to be Kafka [who was understood by posterity] through the prism of Walser. Robert Musil, another admirer among Walser’s contemporaries, when he first read Kafka pronounced [Kafka’s work] as, ‘a peculiar case of the Walser type.'” Walser was admired early on by writers such as Robert Musil, Hermann Hesse, Stefan Zweig, Walter Benjamin and Franz Kafka,and was in fact better known in his lifetime than Franz Kafka or Walter Benjamin, for example, were known in their lifetimes.”

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    • Thank you, jhNY! Much very interesting information in your comment.

      I did read “The Assistant” on your recommendation several years ago, and found the novel to be compelling and very original. Until seeing what you just wrote, I didn’t know much about Robert Walser’s difficult life — including his being institutionalized. I also didn’t know that some of his works were published (or translated into English) a long time after they were written. Of course, as you know, much of Kafka’s work was published posthumously, against his wishes.

      Bernard Malamud later wrote an excellent, somewhat-more-conventional novel also called “The Assistant.” No publishing delay on that one, as far as I know.

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  5. Isn’t it wonderful how you can now conceive a novel, type it out on your keyboard, press post and — voila — published. Of course, this contributes to a rather peculiar dilemma Oscar Wilde prophetically pronounce years ago.

    “In old days books were written by men of letters and read by the public. Nowadays books are written by the public and read by nobody.”

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, Tony! That’s a terrific point — if today’s kind of self-publishing existed decades or centuries ago, some of the authors mentioned in my post could have released their own books. I’m thinking Jules Verne would have particularly enjoyed that. 🙂

      Of course, self-publishing did exist in a way long ago — for instance, I think Walt Whitman initially put “Leaves of Grass” out himself — but it obviously was a much different process.

      Definitely a prescient quote by Oscar Wilde!

      Liked by 1 person

  6. I hate to wait for something I’ve written to get published. My newspaper experience taught me to expect to see my words in print within hours of writing them. With my books I’ve had to learn patience. With comments on your site here, Dave, I don’t have to wait at all. Ready, set, publish. What a novel idea.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, Bill! A GREAT point about the difference in waiting for publication between a journalist and an author. I had to get used to that, too.

      LOL — yes, blogs are quick! 🙂 Even though that “novel idea” is not a novel, as your funny wordplay has fun playing with.

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  7. Hi Dave,

    I’m surprised to be the first person to mention John Kennedy Toole’s “A Confederacy of Dunces”. The time between writing and publication wasn’t quite as long as the Dumas or Verne works that you mentioned (the Verne novels sounds fascinating and I’ve put it on my list), but sadly, Toole committed suicide more than ten years before the very funny and clever novel saw the light of day. I find it really tragic that he’ll never know just how successful his novel would be. It’s also tragic that we’ll never know if he had any more stories to tell.

    And I must also heap praise on “The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society”. It’s a wonderful and touching and sometimes funny story which I’m sure you’ll love.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, Sue! Very well stated!

      A couple of people mentioned “A Confederacy of Dunces” in Facebook comments about my blog post, but I’m glad you mentioned it here! I can’t believe I forgot to include that novel — which I’ve read — in my post. It IS a tragic delayed-publishing story, and partly an inspiring tale of loyalty from John Kennedy Toole’s mother, who, as you know, found a publisher for the novel with the help of author Walker Percy after a long struggle.

      “The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society” seems to have MANY fans.

      I took Verne’s “Paris in the Twentieth Century” out of the library yesterday (I had heard about that novel but hadn’t read it before writing this week’s post). Can’t wait to start it!

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  8. The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society is a historical novel by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows that was published in 2008. Shaffer set out to write a biography of Kathleen Scott, wife of the English polar explorer Robert Falcon Scott. She was thwarted in her attempts as the subject’s personal papers were unusable. Meanwhile she went to the Channel Islands and while there learned of the German occupation during WWII. She wrote the book and it was accepted for publication in 2006, but required edits that the author couldn’t do because of declining health and eventual death. Annie Barrows, her niece, did the edits and the book was published in 2008. It is a wonderful book – have you read it?

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thank you, Molly! That book is definitely on my soon-to-read list!

      I didn’t realize there was such an interesting story behind it. Great summary. A shame about Mary Ann Shaffer’s bad health and death; it’s heartbreaking when an author can’t enjoy the success she or he earned. 😦

      Liked by 1 person

  9. Coming a bit late to this discussion, but…
    I am always a bit sceptical when publishers ‘discover’ manuscripts long after an author’s death. These are often not lost in any meaningful sense, just part of the author’s estate that were not intended for publication, early drafts that will always disappoint compared to the finished article – Lady Susan being a classic example published fifty or sixty years after Austen’s death. Stella Gibbons’s estate recently allowed two ‘lost’ novels to be published – ‘Pure Juliet’ and one other that I can’t recall the name of – ignoring her explicit decision not to publish these works. Was this anything more than exploiting the author’s reputation for monetary gain?

    Liked by 1 person

    • You’re not late, The Reading Bug. 🙂

      Great points! You’re absolutely right that some manuscripts were not truly lost and/or were not meant to be published and/or WERE published as a money grab. Sometimes against the explicit wishes of a deceased author.

      I haven’t read the Austen and Gibbons works you mentioned, but I’m sure they don’t measure up to those writers’ highest standards.

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    • Great question, Neil! I’ve read rumors of that, too. He certainly had many secluded decades to write, if he had wanted. The publishing of a “lost” novel or bunch of stories by Salinger would make as much news as Harper Lee’s “new” novel did three years ago.

      Liked by 2 people

  10. You’ve mentioned two favorite authors, my very favorite of all, Jane Austen, how I’ve said many times how much I love all of her novels. “Northanger Abbey” and “Persuasion” were both published a year after she died, so don’t really count for this topic, but I always enjoy reading and commenting about her. I also love Lionel Shriver, and have read seven of her novels, but not “The New Republic,” which I’ll have to remedy soon. Thanks for your mention of it!

    What first came to my mind isn’t a novel, but more strictly called a short story or prose poem, Mark Twain’s “The War Prayer.” He wrote it in response to the Spanish-American as well as the Philippine-American War, which I’m ashamed to admit I didn’t even know or forgotten that the latter even happened. It was completed in 1905, with illustrations, but he was persuaded not to publish it, because of it being a quite strong indictment of war. The illustrator asked Twain if he’d publish it and he replied “No, I have told the whole truth in that, and only dead men can tell the truth in this world. It can be published after I am dead.” As it turned out, the family didn’t want to do that even when he died in 1910, and it wasn’t actually published in an anthology in 1923.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, Kat Lib! I’m always happy to mention Jane Austen and/or Lionel Shriver. 🙂

      As you know, Shriver is a REALLY good author. Incredibly smart, inventive, funny, and socially aware. And each of her novels (I’ve read four of them compared to your impressive seven) is quite different.

      Excellent Mark Twain example! Yes, some of Twain’s writing (especially his later writing) was very radical for its time. I’ve heard that his wife had a lot of influence in somewhat toning down what Twain DID publish during his lifetime.

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      • Yes, I heard that his family didn’t want it published because they feared it would be considered sacrilegious, which it might be what people thought at that time. The edition I read wasn’t published until the late 1960s or early 1970s, due to the anti-war movement that I was involved in.

        Liked by 1 person

        • P.S. So I know you’ve read Shriver’s “The New Republic,” “Big Brother,” and “So Much for That,” but I can’t remember you mentioning what was the fourth? Not that it matters in the least, but I’m just curious. 🙂

          Liked by 1 person

          • “The Mandibles”!

            A dystopian novel set a bit in the future, and excellent — like all of Ms. Shriver’s books. Have you read it?

            Great memory for the other three, Kat Lib! 🙂

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            • No, I actually don’t remember her writing that book, so now I have to add another to my list! I do have two unread books on my shelves, “The Female of the Species,” and “Game Control.” I’m over-loaded on the books I want to read, so it becomes difficult to decide which one to read next! Now that things have settled down as far as the move and settling in to the new home, I’m ready to just get back into reading mode.

              Liked by 1 person

              • “The Mandibles” is among Shriver’s more recent works — published in 2016. It actually makes economics interesting. 🙂

                Glad you’re now settled into your new place and finally have more time for reading, Kat Lib!

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          • I’ve read that he was fully cognizant of the fact that he was responsible for ensuring that his family had enough money to live on, and this was a reason he didn’t want to publish “The War Prayer.” I suppose he didn’t want his wife and family to worry about finances, but after living on my own for almost 47 years, I am very grateful that I’ve lived this long on my own.

            Liked by 1 person

            • Makes sense re Twain. He was actually bankrupt, or close to it, in the 1890s after sinking endless money into a printer press that didn’t catch on. He got solvent again with the help of a lengthy, exhausting speaking tour in many countries.

              Impressive when anyone supports themselves for as long as you have!

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  11. Now back to the topic , we did discussed a lot Harper Lee’s Go Set a Watchman . Published by her lawyer after when Ms.Lee was disabled ..
    Obviously Ms. Lee has gone back and dome some editing after TKAM .

    Sadly these day of con don , sad to see a character so beloved by us, turned out to be a racist.. That was one we could go back to proved to be not the man we thought ..

    Only good news the books were Fiction.

    Liked by 1 person

  12. Good Morning Dave, have not been here for a while, lot of personal issues with small things but all is well , also due to all that have not read A book.
    received the book after one the waiting list , Comey book but was disgusted with him so never turned a page. Then received McCain book but perhaps will return that also for the reasons you might guess.

    Now started a book by Walter Mosley, his latest ” Down the River Unto the Sea “. Read four chapters and it is a good read. There is a line…..
    “My maternal grandmother always tells me that every man gets what he deserves”

    That line I give to con don coming to him , be ready for that.donald !

    Liked by 1 person

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