Before he died, Vladimir Nabokov left explicit instructions that his final, unfinished, work–called Laura–be destroyed. That hasn’t happened yet, and Dmitri Nabokov, Vladimir’s heir and the man with a key to the lock-box, hasn’t decided whether he’ll honor his father’s wishes or not. On Slate (“Dmitri’s Choice“), Nabokovian Ron Rosenbaum (should be the name of a pickpocket in a Robert Coover novel, don’t you think?) airs his own “deeply divided feelings” on the matter, and asks you to weigh in, too.
Dmitri’s predicament goes beyond Laura. It’s one that raises the difficult issue of who “owns” a work of art, particularly an unfinished work of art by a dead author who did not want anything but his finished work to become public. Who controls its fate? The dead hand from the grave? Or the eager, perhaps overeager, readers, scholars, and biographers who want to get their hands on it no matter what state it’s in?
Personally, I think this would make a great reality-TV show, one that would probably get around the writers’ strike even though a writer’s work offers the central dilemma. The burning–or dousing–would take place live, natch.
My own vote: burn it! Even after death, a writer deserves a voice in whether his work is published or not. And what’s wrong with a little mystery in life? It’s probably just as much fun to speculate about the manuscript (if you read the article, you’ll learn that there isn’t even that much of it) as it is to read the real thing.