Unfinished Work

15 Posthumous Books, From Kafka to Stieg Larsson

The late J.D. Salinger reportedly instructed his estate to release at least five more books starting in 2015, potentially joining the ranks of these stellar works posthumously published.

San Diego Historical Society/Hulton Archive, via Getty

The world never saw a new J.D. Salinger story after he stopped publishing in 1965, but the famously reclusive author was said to have continued writing until his death at the age of 91 in 2010. So, where are they? Salinger biographers David Shields and Shane Salerno claim to have solved the mystery, and says that at least five unpublished Salinger books could be released starting in 2015, including more stories about the Glass and the Caulfield families. This is certainly one of the most highly anticipated posthumous releases in literary history, but hardly the only. From Kafka to Stieg Larsson, here are 15 great books posthumously published.

The Trialby Franz Kafka

Almost all of Kafka’s strange and surreal stories, including The Trial, The Castle, and Amerika, were published by his friend Max Brod, who ignored Kafka’s wish to burn all his manuscripts after his death from tuberculosis at the age of 40.

Northanger Abbeyby Jane Austen

Both Northanger Abbey and Persuasion were published after Austen died at the age of 41 from a mysterious illness. Northanger Abbey was actually the first of Austen’s novels to be completed, and Persuasion was the last, while Emma, Sense and Sensibility, Mansfield Park, and Pride and Prejudice were released anonymously, and Sandition was unfinished.

Juneteenth by Ralph Ellison

After completing The Invisible Man, Ellison never finished another novel. He was working on his second when a fire at his Plainfield, Mass. home destroyed some 300 pages of the original manuscript, and he claimed to have been devastated. But according to biographer Arnold Rampersad, Ellison actually had a full copy of his work after the fire, but was frustrated with his lack of progress. He had written over 2,000 pages of it at his death in 1994, and five years later the manuscript was controversially abridged and released by his editor John Callahan as Juneteenth. In 2010, the entire edited manuscript was published as Three Days Before the Shooting

The Pale Kingby David Foster Wallace

Something very similar happened to the author of Infinite Jest. Wallace never finished another novel after the success of his second one, and editor Michael Pietsch pieced together what eventually became the 500-odd pages of The Pale King from manuscripts and computer files found after Wallace’s suicide in 2008. It was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in 2011, but questions over who the author was—Wallace or Pietsch?—and whether it can even be considered a finished “novel” likely contributed to the fiction prize not being awarded that year.

Hadji Muratby Leo Tolstoy

Tolstoy’s final work was famously praised by critic Harold Bloom as “the best story in the world.” The novella wasn’t published in full until 1917, seven years after Tolstoy’s death.

2666 by Roberto Bolaño

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Bolaño died in 2003 from liver disease at the age of 50 shortly after presenting the first draft of this sprawling work to his publisher. The Spanish edition was released in 2004 and the English translation arrived in 2008, cementing Bolaño’s acclaim and winning the National Book Critics Circle Award for him posthumously.

The Master and Margaritaby Mikhail Bulgakov

Life as a writer in the Soviet Union was so tough that Bulgakov saw no future in it and burned the first manuscript of the novel in 1930, though he returned to it and wrote a number of versions before stopping four weeks before his death in 1940. It was not published until 1967.

A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole

The novel was rejected by publishers—including famed editor Robert Gottlieb—during Toole’s life, but in 1980, 11 years after Toole’s suicide at the age of 31, A Confederacy of Dunces was ushered into print by novelist Walker Percy, and the book earned Toole a posthumous Pulitzer Prize for Fiction.

Austerlitz by W.G. Sebald

The German writer was widely considered a possible future Nobel winner when he died in 2001 at the age of 57, and the publication of the genre-defying Austerlitz, which won the National Book Critics Circle Award, confirmed his legacy.

The Original of Lauraby Vladimir Nabokov

Nabokov was working on the novel when he died in 1977. He had requested that the work be destroyed, but in 2009 his son Dmitri published the unfinished work to much debate. Many thought the book was a massive failure and never should have been published.

The Mystery of Edwin Droodby Charles Dickens

Not even the prolific Boz could finish this final novel, and his ending for it remains unknown. He suffered a stroke on June 8, 1870, after working on the book, and died the next day.

Diary of a Young Girlby Anne Frank

The saddest and ultimately most triumphant story in publishing, Frank died from typhus in 1945 at the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp, and her diary was kept safe until her father returned from Auschwitz that year, the lone survivor in the family, and published in 1947.

A Death in the Familyby James Agee

When Agee died from a heart attack in 1955, the novel was not quite finished. It was edited and published two years later, and won Agee a posthumous Pulitzer Prize in 1958.

A Moveable Feastby Ernest Hemingway

This set of memoirs about Paris in the ’20s was edited from Hemingway’s manuscripts and notes by his fourth wife, Mary, and published in 1964, three years after Papa’s death. It was perhaps wise for him to have kept it private during his lifetime, as his scandalous and scathing opinions about many of his friends might have greatly alienated him.

The Millennium Trilogyby Stieg Larsson

Larsson’s The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo was accepted for publication shortly before his death from a heart attack in 2004, at the age of 50. Since then, his trilogy has sold millions of copies, and his partner Eva Gabrielsson claims to have a laptop with some 200 pages of a fourth novel written. Will it see the light of day?