In Praise of Unfinished Novels

I just published an essay over at The Millions about the history and form of unfinished novels. This has been a hobby horse of mine for a long time, and I’m very pleased to have finally found an opportunity to write about it.

For anyone who’s interested in such things, here’s my ongoing list of famously unfinished novels with an approximation of how long an author spent writing a given novel and a reason (in brackets) for that novel’s remaining unfinished (death = an author died during composition; design = an author intended the novel to be unfinished; agony = an author struggled to complete the novel but ultimately couldn’t):

  • Laurence Sterne, The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy (1759 – 1767) [design]
  • Laurence Sterne, A Sentimental Journey (1768 – ) [death]
  • Mary Wollstonecraft, Maria; or the Wrongs of Woman (1792 – 1797), 7 years [death]
  • Jane Austen, Sanditon (1817 – 1817), 1 year [death]
  • Nikolai Gogol, Dead Souls, (1835 – 1852), 17 years [deliberate]
  • Charlotte Bronte, Emma (1853 – 1855), 2 years [death]
  • Nathaniel Hawthorne, The Dolliver Romance (1861? – 1864), 3 years [agony]
  • Elizabeth Gaskell, Wives and Daughters (1864 – 1866), 2 years [death]
  • Charles Dickens, The Mystery of Edwin Drood (1870 – 1870), 1 year [death]
  • Gustave Flaubert, Bouvard et Pecuchet (1872 – 1880), 8 years [death]
  • Wilkie Collins, Blind Love (1887 – 1889), 2 years [death]
  • Herman Melville, Billy Budd (1886? – 1891), 5 years [death]
  • Mark Twain, No. 44, or the Mysterious Stranger (1897 – 1908), 11 years [agony]
  • Franz Kafka, Amerika (1911 – 1914), 3 years [death]
  • Henry James, The Sense of the Past (1898? – 1914), 16 years [agony]
  • Robert Musil, The Man Without Qualities (1930 – 1943), 13 years [death]
  • F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Last Tycoon (1935? – 1940), 5 years [death]
  • Ernest Hemingway, The Garden of Eden (1946 – 1961), 16 years [death]
  • Truman Capote, Answered Prayers (1966 – 1984), 18 years [agony]
  • Vladimir Nabokov, The Original of Laura (1974 – 1977), 3 years [death]
  • Ralph Ellison, Three Days Before the Shooting . . . (1953 – 1994), 41 years [agony]
  • David Foster Wallace, The Pale King (2000 – 2008), 8 years [agony/death]

 

The Weird World of 19th c. Mediums

There’s a new piece of mine up at JSTOR Daily revisiting the profession of mediumship in the wake of the current women’s movements. Drawing from the work of R. Laurence Moore, it details how nineteenth-century women used the professional opportunities afforded by the rise of spiritualism to assume male social roles, to achieve some measure of autonomy, and to access centers of power previously unavailable to them. It’s available here: https://daily.jstor.org/when-women-channeled-the-dead-to-be-heard/

New essay on Jeff Flake in Religion Dispatches

Religion Dispatches just published an essay of mine on the Mormon influences (and imperatives) of Jeff Flake’s recent anti-Trump speeches. This piece digs deeper into how Mormon commitments to empiricism (of a kind) and models of prophecy drawn from the Book of Mormon inflect Flake’s most recent speech on the political and theological importance of truth telling.