Who owns a writer's legacy?
Once a writer is no longer with us, who owns his or her creation? A bereaved spouse? A child? A publisher? The readers? The critics? Or none of the above?It's a question that crops up again and again, including twice in the headlines today.
In France, Sylvie, daughter of French illustrator Albert Uderzo, creator of Gallic hero Asterix, is accusing her father of selling out by ceding control of his comic series to a big publisher.
"Because Asterix is my paper brother," she wrote in French newspaper Le Monde. "I find myself entering into battle against, perhaps, Asterix's worst enemies – the men of industry and finance."
At the same time, the widow of Chilean novelist Roberto Bolaño, is fighting what she sees as an inaccurate representation of her husband being perpetuated by American critics and book reviewers. She says they are confusing myth – myth perhaps deliberately nurtured by Bolaño himself – with reality.
When writers are no longer here, is it the right of family members to speak for them? And even when they are here, do they have the sole right to shape their own legacies – or, in some sense, do their creations belong to all of us?
Was Vladimir Nabokov's son acting within or beyond his rights when he decided that he will publish his father's posthumous novel this spring (a novel his father was said to have wished destroyed?)
Of course, we wouldn't have "The Trial" and "The Castle" if lifelong friend Max Brod had kept his promise to Franz Kafka and burned his unpublished writings as the dying Kafka asked him to. It turns out to have been an excellent decision for Kafka's legacy – but was it fair to the man himself?
Lord Byron's literary executors burned Bryon's unpublished memoirs as soon as the famously misbehaved poet was dead. It was done to protect his legacy and probably seemed a sound decision at the time. But how does it look now?
You can bet that all these questions will surface again come April when Nabokov's novel hits the bookshelves. And we will be no closer to having the answers.