The Top 10 Books Lost to Time

Great written works from authors such as Shakespeare and Jane Austen that you'll never have a chance to read

Some of the greatest writers in history have had works lost over time. (Guntmar Fritz / Corbis)

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What happened next is up for debate. One version of the story is that Stevenson, not taking the criticism so well, tossed his manuscript into a fireplace. But in 2000, some 115 years after The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde was written, a letter from Fanny Stevenson to W. E. Henley (a peg-legged poet, who inspired Treasure Island’s Long John Silver character), turned up in the attic of one of Henley’s descendants. In the letter, dated 1885, Fanny called the first draft “a quire full of utter nonsense,” and said, “I shall burn it after I show it to you.” Whether she actually did or not is unknown. Either way, the first draft no longer exists. Stevenson rewrote the story, and readers will never know the differences between his original vision and the now classic tale.

9. Ernest Hemingway’s World War I novel

In 1922, Hadley Hemingway, the first of Ernest Hemingway’s four wives, put the longhand originals of several of her husband’s short stories and a partial novel in a suitcase. She left Paris on a train and met Ernest in Lausanne, Switzerland. But, en route, the suitcase and its priceless cargo were stolen.

It was not until later that Hemingway would comment on the gravity of the loss. He once said that he would have opted for surgery if he knew it could erase the memory. And according to Stuart Kelly, author of The Book of Lost Books, Hemingway was known to claim, usually after a drink or two, that the debacle led to his divorcing Hadley.

He never attempted to rewrite the lost works, including the novel, which was based upon his own experiences in World War I. But Kelly argues that was for the better: “Had he spent the next ten years trying to perfect his immature jottings, we might never have seen the novels of which he was capable.”

10. Sylvia Plath’s Double Exposure

In 1962, Sylvia Plath started work on a new novel that she planned to title either Double Exposure or Double Take. She had 130 pages written, but the book was incomplete when she committed suicide on February 11, 1963.

After her death, her estranged husband, poet Ted Hughes, gained control of her estate and unpublished works. When asked about the novel in a 1995 interview with the Paris Review, Hughes said, “Well, what I was aware of was a fragment of a novel about seventy pages. Her mother said she saw a whole novel, but I never knew about it. What I was aware of was sixty, seventy pages, which disappeared. And to tell you the truth, I always assumed her mother took them all, on one of her visits.”

Only one literary critic, Judith Kroll, saw an outline for Double Exposure, and she claimed that it had to do with a husband, wife and mistress. Hughes and Plath had a troubled relationship, and so it is thought that it might have been partly autobiographical. Hughes did burn one of Plath’s journals, written in her last months, saying, in the Paris Review interview, that it was too sad for her children to see.


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