Fathers and Sons

July 7, 2009 at 12:00 am 3 comments

Courtesy of the Hemingway Collection at the JFK Library, via Associated Press and the New York Times

Courtesy of the Hemingway Collection at the JFK Library, via Associated Press and the New York Times

This would have been a much more appropriate post for Father’s Day, I suppose, but this article from The New York Times got me thinking about the sons and grandsons of author fathers.

Apparently Sean Hemingway, grandson of the far more famous Ernest, has released a new edition of A Moveable Feast. As the elder Hemingway didn’t finish the manuscript before his death, there is no definitive text of this work, and so it makes sense that his grandson would try to take over and polish it up a little bit.

Unfortunately, what happened was that Hemingway III did some rather selective editing– painting ol’ Hem’s marriage to his second wife (and Sean’s grandmother) in a more positive light than the previous editor, Hemingway’s fourth wife, had.

A descendent of a famous author taking unfinished or unpublished works, editing or expanding them, and selling them is nothing new in the world of books, . This is how J. R. R. Tolkien’s The Silmarillion and the other later works were published, and how the Dune franchise keeps on growing despite Frank Herbert’s death in 1986. Often, it’s been debated whether these works should be published despite hints that the original author never meant to publish them at all.

This argument is along the same lines as the post about creative ownership; does owning the copyright give someone the ethical right to create derivative works or edit previous works of the original author?

There’s no definitive answer, in my opinion, and naturally either position would be very hard and probably unbeneficial to enforce. But it’s definitely a question worth considering.


Entry filed under: Classics, Musings and Essays. Tags: , .

A Lesson in Contrast Scarred

3 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Corey  |  July 7, 2009 at 2:13 pm

    Well there’s some familial baggage that probably didn’t need to be inserted into A Moveable Feast.

    Anyway, interesting points and questions. It makes me wonder about all things done to an author’s work after his or her death, whether it is completion of a series, editing and publishing unfinished works or writing your own thing on behalf of said dead author.

    Most curiously, I think, is the rare case where an author knows that he or she is dying and designates someone to finish their work, telling this person what to write and what will happen, etc. This then begs the question of how much belongs to either the author or the designated person. Even with the author’s intent fully in tact, can the designated person really hope to create what the original author could have wrote were it not for his or her unfortunate demise?

    Like you said, unanswerable, but definitely worth considering.

  • 2. KT  |  July 8, 2009 at 9:19 am

    I would have to agree with you on it being at least ethically okay if the author knew he or she was dying and hand-picks someone. But yes, writing is such a subjective thing, isn’t it? Even in journalism, you can take a specific topic or event and everyone is going to have a different article on it, with emphasis on different aspects.

    I’m not sure books written by anyone else, even from notes the author left, should be considered to be an ‘official’ part of the rest of the author’s works, though.

  • 3. Corey  |  July 9, 2009 at 6:35 am

    Quite! No matter how many notes the author left, it is still written by someone else and therefore probably shouldn’t be included in any official list.


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