Literary Rediscoveries of 2015

It’s not easy being a classic lit fan: besides having to deal with the rarity of some books, we also miss out on the elation other bookworms feel as they anticipate their favorite author’s next release. Since most of our favorite authors are dead (or just refuse to publish again for years), we’ll never get another book, story, poem, etc.

OR WILL WE?

There was a lot of big news in the book world this year, with works from several iconic authors being published for the first time, often after being “lost” for decades. Below is a list of a few of those “new” works.

1: An interview with Ray Bradbury

Photo by Alan Light.
Photo by Alan Light.

Back in 1972, Bradbury was invited to give a talk at Chapman College in California. Bradbury couldn’t drive (and that by itself is a long and interesting story that I’ll have to tell you someday), so he arranged for two Chapman students, Lisa Potts and Chadd Coates, to drive him there. On the way, Potts and Coates interviewed Bradbury, asking him about everything from writing and art to the car phobia that brought them together. This interview was somehow forgotten,* until 2012 when Potts found the tape of it, of all places, behind her dresser. The folks at PBS were kind enough to release the interview on Youtube for us (along with some sort of strange animation, but what can you do?).

2: Newspaper Articles by a Young Mark Twain

As a young man living in San Francisco in the 1860’s, Mark Twain contributed articles to several western newspapers, including Virginia City’s Territorial Enterprise. Over the years, fires have reduced The Territorial Enterprise‘s archives to almost nothing, leading even experts on Twain’s work to assume that his articles were lost forever. This May, however, researchers at the University of California, Berkeley announced that they have recovered over 100 of those articles from the archives of other newspapers where they had been reprinted. There are plans to publish these articles in a book next year, but for now, you can read them online here.

3: A Naked Tree by Joy Davidman

You may already know Joy Davidman, the Marxist/atheist-turned-born-again-Christian who fell in love with C. S. Lewis and remained so until her death in 1960. You may not know that in the 1930’s, she was a rising star in American poetry. Until just recently, relatively little of her work was available to the public. Then in 2010, while researching her biography of Davidman, author Abigail Santamaria was contacted by Davidman’s son Douglas Gresham who told her that he had found a huge cache of his mother’s papers at the home of one of her friends. These boxes and folders included hundreds of poems, which were published last May in A Naked Tree, along with some of Davidman’s previously published work. These poems ought to be especially interesting for C. S. Lewis/Inklings fans, since many of them are love poems written to or about Lewis. With some of them dating as far back as 1949, during which Davidman was still married to her first husband William Gresham, these poems also help to shed some new light on Davidman and Lewis’s relationship.

4: “Temperature” by F. Scott Fitzgerald

F Scott Fitzgerald
Fitzgerald in 1921, staring moodily into the camera.

Apparently, some people make a hobby out of finding the lost works of great authors and getting them published. One such person is Andrew Gulli, editor of the magazine The Strand. Earlier this year, while combing through Princeton University’s archive of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s papers, Gulli discovered this unpublished short story, written around 1939. At that time, Fitzgerald had lost his job as a screenwriter for MGM and was a struggling freelance writer, in his own words, “living on money from a hocked Ford.” “Temperature,” then, is almost autobiographical, a satire of Hollywood high society as told by a washed-up screenwriter. For now, the only way to read this story is in the July/August issue of The Strand.

5: Go Set a Watchman by Harper Lee

Nothing short of the literary event of the (admittedly young) century. I won’t spend time here recapping how this discovery came to be, partly because you probably know the story already, and because I’ve already written about it here.

6: What Pet Should I Get? by Dr. Seuss

Here’s to disorganized authors who stuff all their old junk into cardboard boxes! It seems this manuscript and the illustrations accompanying it were discovered two years ago by Dr. Seuss’s widow and his former secretary while they were cleaning out his old office. Not only that, but there are also supposedly two more books coming from the papers that were found in that box. So, there’s something for our five-year-old children/siblings/nieces and nephews to look forward to. 🙂

7: The Story of Kullervo by J. R. R. Tolkien

Not to be outdone by his best friend’s wife (See item #3), it appears that Professor Tolkien also had some unpublished works squirreled away. This unfinished novella, written around 1915, is one of Tolkien’s earliest works of fantasy literature and retells a Finnish legend about a man seeking revenge after an evil wizard kills his father, kidnaps his mother, and sells him into slavery. The book was published in the UK last August, however, it won’t be available in the US until April 2016.

8: “A Dream of Winter” by Dylan Thomas

There’s a bit of controversy as to how “lost” this poem actually was before a professor at Swansea University found it last year on a page torn out of a magazine. What we know for sure is that the poem was first published in the short-lived literary magazine Lilliput in 1942—long before Thomas became well-known—and that few people outside of academia even knew that it existed until it was recited publicly last October (on Thomas’s 101st birthday) at an event in the Fitzrovia neighborhood of London, where Thomas met his future wife Caitlin Macnamara. So, that’s still cool.

As far as I know, there are no plans yet to publish the text of the poem online or in any print anthologies, but you can listen to a reading of it here.

9: “Poetical Essay on the Existing State of Things” by Percy Bysshe Shelley

This one comes with an interesting history. Shelley published this 172-line poem in 1811, as an eighteen-year-old student at Oxford University. Inspired by the libel trial of an Irish journalist, Shelley crafted his poem as an attack on corruption in the government and the press. Naturally, the powers that were didn’t take kindly to the poem and attempted to have all copies of it destroyed. They very nearly succeeded, but as we are now finding out, Shelley gave one copy of it to his cousin, who later brought it with him to Italy. That copy was thought to be lost until 2006, when it was bought from a member of the Shelley family by a private collector. The collector has since sold it to Oxford University’s Bodleian Library, who made it available online last November.

10: Two untitled works by Charlotte Brontë

Portrait of Brontë by Evert A. Duyckinck. Courtesy of the University of Texas Libraries, The University of Texas at Austin.
Portrait of Brontë by Evert A. Duyckinck. Courtesy of the University of Texas Libraries.

Just last month, the Brontë Society in Great Britain announced that it had acquired a poem and a fragment of a short story that Charlotte Brontë penned when she was seventeen years old. These works were found between the pages of a book that had belonged to her mother Maria, one that had been languishing in a private collection in America for almost one hundred years. I wasn’t able to find out if, where, and when these pieces will be published, but by the sound of it, both the story and the poem smack of the authoress’s later work: they concern, among other things, public floggings, heartsick lovers, and a villainous minister, who is believed to be a caricature of a clergyman with whom Charlotte’s father, Anglican priest Patrick Brontë, had locked horns on occasion. So I’m sure the story and the poem will be interesting to read if we ever do get to see them. 🙂

And then there’s Sherlock Holmes . . . 

I wasn’t sure whether I should mention this or not. I certainly don’t want to get the Holmes fans excited for nothing. But . . .

Last February, a historian named Walter Elliot discovered a lost Sherlock Holmes story in a book in his attic. The book, titled The Book o’ the Brig, had been written specifically to be sold at a 1904 “bazaar” in the Scottish town of Selkirk in an effort to raise money for the building of a new bridge. Elliot believes that this story—called “Sherlock Holmes: Discovering the Border Burghs and, by Deduction, the Brig Bazaar”—was written by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle himself, who attended the bazaar and often visited Selkirk. However, some Holmes experts aren’t so sure. For one thing, as the Swedish Sherlockian Mattias Boström points out, Conan Doyle is not identified as the author of the story anywhere in the book. Another Holmes fan, Jash Sen, claims that the prose style is too ornate and the plot is too weak to be Conan Doyle. There’s also a mix-up of addresses: this story claims that Holmes lives on Sloan Street, when even I—a Sherlockian illiterate—know that Holmes lives on Baker Street. Whoever wrote the story, you can read it here at The Telegraph and make up your own mind.

That’s all for now. If I missed anything, do tell me so in the comments.

UPDATE: Since this post went up, I’ve found out about two more works by classic authors that were published for the first time this year. The first is a collection of short stories written by Truman Capote when the young author was in his teens and twenties. The second is a World War I-era short story by Edith Wharton titled “The Field of Honor.” (HT: HuffPost Arts and Culture.)


* A side note: HOW DO YOU HAVE A CONVERSATION WITH RAY BRADBURY AND FORGET ABOUT IT?

All images from Wikimedia Commons.

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4 thoughts on “Literary Rediscoveries of 2015

  1. A new Holmes story!! I LOVE Sherlock Holmes stories, and have even read Sherlock stories by a couple of authors that I thought were comparable to Doyle. Interestingly, both of them were women and both are books I probably wouldn’t read again, but at the time I thought they had a great knack for matching his style. Going to have to check that one out.

    Liked by 1 person

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