CBC News recently reported on the death of Miep Gies, a woman who never wrote or published a single book, but whose impact on 20th-century literature cannot be overstated. Her simple act of altruism helped save the book that became one of the most powerful stories of the 20th century, sold over 30 million copies and was translated into more than 70 languages.
That book is The Diary of Anne Frank and Miep Gies is the woman who helped hide the Frank family, then took Anne's diary for safekeeping after the family was arrested and shipped to Nazi concentration camps. Anne's father, Otto, the only family member to survive the war, retrieved Anne's diary and arranged for its publication in 1947.
How lucky for all of us that the S.S. officers who arrested the Franks didn't bother to take it with them. And then that Gies saved the diary, hoping against all odds that Anne would return to claim it after the war. And, finally, that Anne's father recognized the power of the book and consented to its publication.
This is probably the best-known story of a great book that defied the odds to reach the reading public, but it's definitely not the only one. So, on that note, here's a selected history of printed works that almost never made it.
Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov
Thank (or blame) Vera Nabokov for this one. After writing this iconic and controversial novel, Vladimir Nabokov built a fire in his backyard and tossed the manuscript in. His wife Vera rushed from the house, grabbed the burning pages and stamped out the flames, saying, "We'll not be throwing this away. We are keeping this." The book quickly became a bestseller, created a scandal and made Nabokov famous.
A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole
There may be no other Pulitzer Prize winner that faced greater odds. Toole was an unknown novelist when he committed suicide in 1969, but he left behind the manuscript that would make his name. After his death, Toole's mother found the ink-smudged manuscript in his house and spent the next seven years flogging her son's book to publishers. Faced with her determined harassment, writer Walker Percy reluctantly agreed to read the book. He loved it and arranged for its publication by Louisiana State University Press. Despite an initial print run of just 800 copies, the book gained critical acclaim and won the Pulitzer Prize in 1981.
The Trial by Franz Kafka
Like much of Kafka's work, this absurdist masterwork was published after his death -- and against his wishes. Before his death, Kafka wrote to his friend and literary executor Max Brod, saying, "Dearest Max, my last request: Everything I leave behind me...in the way of diaries, manuscripts, letters (my own and others'), sketches, and so on, [is] to be burned unread." Brod ignored the request, preserving Kafka's manuscripts and later submitting many of them for publication. Other notable posthumous publications of Kakfa's include The Castle and Amerika.
99 per cent of Emily Dickinson's poetry
During her lifetime, Dickinson published fewer than a dozen poems. Imagine her sister Lavinia's surprise, then, on discovering nearly 1,800 unpublished poems among other papers after Dickinson's death. The troubled poet had asked her sister to destroy all her personal correspondence, but left no specific instructions as to her other writing. Lavinia decided the poems were worth publishing and saved them. The first published collection of Dickinson's work came off the presses in 1890, fours years after Emily's death, but even then, publishers edited the poems to "fix" her unconventional style. An edition of her unaltered verse did not appear until 1955. There is still debate over whether Dickinson wanted her works published or not.
Whether you've read them or not, love them or hate them, all these works have made their mark on modern literature. For better or for worse, they survived and have flourished.
What do you think? Would we be better off if some (or all) of these had never made it? Know a good survival story that's not on the list? Tell us!