The New York Times recently reviewed The Original of Laura, a book assembled by Dmitri Nabokov from index cards left by his late father, Vladimir Nabokov, author of Lolita. Vladimir had left instructions for this unfinished novel to be burned after death, giving his literary work a literal deadline for publication. Now we see his wishes left unfulfilled — but how will it be received?
Thanks to an unprecedented transparency, interested readers can immediately see what parts of Laura are Vladimir's and which are his son's. The publisher chose to provide readers with the author's original notes, reproducing the index cards alongside the final edited work. This is an ingenious alternative to what Christopher Tolkien did with The Silmarillion. JRR Tolkien's unfinished work was published by his son in 1977, followed years later by a twelve-volume set of The History of Middle-Earth, which collected the various works from which Christopher chose the parts that would become The Silmarillion. "Th[e]se materials are now made available… and with them a criticism of the 'constructed' Silmarillion becomes possible," he wrote. With The Original of Laura, no delayed considerations are necessary, with the publisher instead choosing to provide readers with the immediacy of the unfinished work alongside the final work.
The review mentions that Vladimir's wife similarly saved Lolita from destruction, which is a compelling argument for letting the masses be the judges of a work the author may be too critical of. Since Vladimir is long beyond caring about his reputation, and most of his peers are similarly unable to provide judgment of their late friend, perhaps it is time for history to speak for itself.