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Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Edwin Drood and Famous Unfinished Novels

Written by Kyle Slagley

The Mystery of Edwin Drood is one of the most famous unfinished murder mysteries of all time. Charles Dickens died at age 58, leaving the novel close enough to completion that it would be a source of speculation for the next 150 years since Dickens didn’t live long enough to tell us all whodunit.

Other authors pounced on the opportunity to continue the Dickens story immediately, with the first continuation published less than a year after Dickens’s death. More recently, Leon Garfield and Charles Forsyte have each tried their hand at finishing the story, both publishing their works in 1980.

The story has regained attention this year as PBS released it on DVD as part of the Masterpiece Collection. Also, just last month on November 13, the revival of the Tony Award-winning production premiered on Broadway at Studio 54 – a show that takes full advantage of the cliffhanger ending.

Although popular, Edwin Drood is not the only unfinished novel to be published after the author’s death. Here are a few other prominent works left unfinished.

Lady Susan, The Watsons, and Sandition by Jane Austen – Austen died at age 41, leaving behind three novels. The most complete of the three is Lady Susan, but Sandition offers a glimpse into what would have likely been a wonderful satire at a seaside resort.

The Mysterious Stranger by Mark Twain – This novel was written at irregular intervals during Twain’s life and, at the time of his death in 1910, existed in at least three different forms. Twain was an ardent opponent of organized religion, which is evident in this book. Following the failed initial publishing six years after Twain’s death, the book lay dormant until 1982.

The Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer – There are 27 pilgrims listed in the prologue of this collection of poems. Each pilgrim was supposed to share two tales on the way to Canterbury and two on the way home, yet Chaucer only got 24 tales finished. Having read the entirety of the Canterbury Tales in the original Middle English, I can only imagine how long it would have taken to read had he reached his goal.

The Garden of Eden by Ernest Hemingway – Hemingway started writing this one a full 15 years prior to his death in 1961, and yet even at 800 pages it was still unfinished. It wouldn’t be published until the mid ‘80s after heavy edits that angered devoted fans.

The Trial by Franz Kafka – This story of protagonist Josef K’s arrest, “trial,” conviction, and execution is rarely thought of as unfinished – considering the final chapter is arguably one of the most famous in classical fiction, that’s not exactly surprising. In fact, the book is a collection of manuscripts that were unfinished and that Kafka had ordered to be destroyed after he died.

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