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Penelope Fitzgerald and company: The afterlife of great writers

May 19, 2008 |  4:07 pm

When great authors die, the obituaries and appreciations that follow are too final, too absolute. They usually say something like: How tragic that we'll never hear from them again.

Penelope Which is completely false. You're always hearing from writers after their deaths. The Guardian blog, for instance, praises the late Penelope Fitzgerald's "quiet genius" in a recent post that reminds us of stories found and just published in the Hudson Review and alerts us to a collection of her letters arriving in the U.K. later this year (with the U.S., I'm sure, bound to follow in 2009 — something to look forward to).

And other great authors who are members of the literary afterlife club include:

John Fowles: Check out the description of his papers deposited at the Harry Ransom Center to see what's there. It's amazing. All I can say to the researcher who tackles that mountain is: Good luck, and let me buy you a triple espresso.

Ernest Hemingway: We all know about this one. Already, after his 1961 suicide, his trunks contained a literary trove — "A Moveable Feast," "Islands in the Stream," "The Garden of Eden," "The Dangerous Summer," "True at First Light" and, most recently, "Under Kilimanjaro." All tapped out? Not sure — there are supposedly several file cabinets at Finca Vigia, Papa's Cuban residence, that have yet to be explored. That residence is so run-down, according to the blog One True Sentence, however, that maybe any overlooked manuscripts there have been ruined.

Such writers, who create so much material and then choose not to have it published, stun the rest of us with their abundance.

Hey, readers, who else?

Nick Owchar

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