Lost Masterworks We Want Back

Not all literary masterworks survive. War, accident, wills: any number of things can get in the way.

Here are some long lost literary works that I desperately, hopelessly wish would pop up in someone’s garage or chateau or dank library or wherever.

1. Ralph Ellison’s second novel.  I am of the opinion that Invisible Man is the most important work of American literature of the last century, a towering achievement that seemed to intimidate even Ellison himself. After many frustrated years of working on a second novel, Ellison died without completing it, though his editor and estate released his manuscript, with a passable spackle and patch job to fill in gaps, as Juneteenth. And it’s pretty good. Tantalizingly and frustratingly good. So the first wish I’d ask of my literary genie is for a completed, polished, and authorially sanctioned version of whatever Juneteenth never quite managed to be.

2. The Glass Family Trilogy by J.D. Salinger. According to various reports, rumors, and whispers, Salinger died with quite a bit of finished work lying around. The strongest possibility is for at least one, and possibly three, novels about the Glass family, a hint of which was released as a novella called “Hapworth 16, 1924.” This gives a glimmer of the scale and complexity of what he was working on: “Hapworth 16, 1924” takes the form of a long, digressive letter by seven-year-old Simon Glass written while he was at summer camp. If I had to bet, I would guess that the Glass family saga got out of control, a sort of War and Peace for Conneticut WASPs. Who knows when and if and in what form any of this will ever see the light of day, but there is something lurking out there.

3. So much is lost from the ancient world that it’s difficult to pick just one. That said, my choice for hypothetical resurrection would be Sophocles’ play The Gathering of the Achaeans, which is presumably about the mustering of the Greek chieftains before they set out for Troy. Not only would this get the band back together from the Iliad, but it would also give us Sophocles, the most emotionally nuanced Greek playwright, navigating the fraught relationships between Achilles, Agamemnon, Ajax, Odysseus, Menelaus, Tyndareus, and a host of others. I’m am geniunely mad at history that this has been lost.

4. Love Labour’s Won by William Shakespeare. Not only is this lost, but it’s not entirely certain it ever existed. Our evidence for it is scant, but intriguing: the title was included in several early 17th Century catalogs of Shakespeare’s work, but no copy of the play survives. Some argue that is this isn’t a separate play, but a alternate name for one of the other comedies (Much Ado About Nothing and The Taming of the Shrew the main suspects here). In addition to the catalog records, the unusual ending of Love Labour’s Lost gives Bard junkies compelling textual evidence to think there might have been a sequel. Unlike most of Shakespeare’s comedies, Love’s Labours Lost doesn’t end with marriages; the weddings of the main characters are suddenly postponed for a year at the end of the play.

So those are my four,  what else is/isn’t out there that you would sacrifice an appendage for?

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