The ethics of posthumous publishing
This week, Cambridge University Press published the first volume of The Letters of Ernest Hemingway, a series which will eventually contain at least sixteen (!) volumes.
Part of me would love to read them.
But the rest of me wouldn’t feel right doing so.
Because Hemingway made it clear that he did not want his letters to be published after his death, and posthumous publishing that ignores an author’s wishes makes me extremely uncomfortable. Reading such works (particularly correspondence) makes me feel like a sleazy voyeur who is violating the author’s privacy.
Yes, I know: the author is dead, so there’s no rational or logical reason to worry about such things. Still, reading them makes me feels icky and disrespectful. In general, I just can’t bring myself to do it (I’ve certainly made exceptions, though (two favorites: A Literate Passion: Letters of Anaïs Nin & Henry Miller and The Letters of Kingsley Amis)).
I find my response to such works to be a bit strange and frustratingly irrational. As is almost always the case, I want to find a rational explanation for my response. I feel a bit odd making a literary choice based on a feeling that I can’t properly explain.
What do you think? Do you feel uncomfortable reading a posthumously published work that ignores an author’s stated wishes? I think that the ethics of posthumous publishing is a tricky and complex issue, and I’d love to hear your take on it.