To burn or not to burn?

March 6, 2008 Hull & Hull LLP Ethical Issues, Executors and Trustees Tags: , , , 0 Comments

Yesterday, we read about Franz Kafka’s unfulfilled wishes with respect to his manuscripts, both published and unpublished, at the time of his death in 1924.  Flash forward eight decades or so.  Dmitri Nabokov, the 73 yr old sole surviving heir of Vladimir Nabokov, continues his 30-yr struggle with his father’s deathbed request that his last unpublished work, The Original of Laura, be destroyed.  The stakes are high for Laura; at one point, Dmitri referred to it as "the most concentrated distillation of [my father’s] creativity."  The task of burning the manuscript was originally entrusted to Vladimir’s wife Vera, but when she died in 1991 she had not yet carried out her husband’s last wish.

As discussed in the Business Standard, those in favour of heeding Nabokov’s wishes are not willfully destructive.  It is understood that great writers might work through countless drafts before arriving at a final product that meets their approval.  On the other hand, there’s the argument that writers (including Kafka) seldom can judge their own work.

The long twisted saga may find its fate as a cliffhanger of sorts.  In a dramatic verdict, Dmitri indicated late last month that he had indeed "decided to make a decision" about what to do, but that he would "neither disclose publicly either the decision or the deed."  Apparently (or should I say apparition-ly?), Dmitri reached his decision after an imagined ghostly conversation with his dead father.  Stay tuned for the future unveiling of either a box of Laura‘s ashes or what might be Nabokov’s greatest literary work.

David M. Smith


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