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Saturday, August 20, 2005

Books You'll Never Read -- And Not Simply Because You're Too Busy Making A Living

Stuart Kelly has just written and published a book on great works that were written and never published. This isn't a Borgesian exploration of fictional works of fiction, but actual manuscripts that were lost or destroyed. The Independent has an extract:

"Since it has a material dimension, literature partakes of the vulnerability of its substance. Every element conspires against it: flame and flood, the desiccating air that corrupts, the loamy earth that decays. Paper is particularly defenceless: it can be shredded and ripped, stained and scrubbed away. Countless living things, from parasites and fungi to insects and rodents, can eat it: it even eats itself, burning in its own acids.

"Some writings are absent, presumed destroyed: Socrates, while in prison, wrote versifications of Aesop's Fables. None of these has survived...The nineteenth-century poet Gerard Manley Hopkins burned all of his early poetry, as he dedicated his life to the beauty of God...Is becoming lost the worst that can happen to a book? Not necessarily. The lost book, like the person you never dared ask to the dance, becomes infinitely more alluring simply because it can be perfect only in the imagination."

Here's a list of his favourite "lost" works:

Margites, Homer
Book of Music, Confucious
'First War Novel', Ernest Hemingway
Love's Labour Won, William Shakespeare
Memoirs, Lord Byron
Flaubert's 'Letters'
Aeschylus' lost plays
Rimbaud's Notebook
Dead Souls, Part II, Nikolai Gogol
Double Take, Sylvia Plath


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