It was my second semester of graduate school, and it was Byron's autobiography. You know, the one that we've never read because it was burned. I was a student of literature, and was struck by the tragedy of it - a text, from one of the greats, that would never be read, never be studied. Somehow, the fact that the book had been written, and would never be seen, was worse than if it had never existed at all.
Fast forward to now, and the recent publication of the unfinished work by Nabokov, The Original of Laura. And somehow, this seems like almost as much of a tragedy.
The context is, as always, the clarity. I love Nabokov. I have absolutely no doubt in my mind that the quality of even his unfinished prose is better than the majority of finished prose that is published. But there is a difference between an elegant sentence, a graceful idea, and a finished novel. And whatever else the 138 handwritten index cards that make up The Original of Laura are, they are not a novel.
If I were reading them as a scholar, in the small cathedral of a rare book room, I would be wholly grateful to Nabokov's wife and son for not following his wishes and burning them. But if I were reading them as a scholar, I would not be evaluating them the way those index cards will now be evaluated, now that they have been given to the world in book form. The Original of Laura is not the story he wanted to tell us, and, as a writer, I don't know if I can read it.