When death keeps you from writing: 4 unfinished works by famous writers

Authors. Writers. Books. Poems. Literature History. Image by Milos Duskic from Pixabay

I can’t tell you how many books, short stories, essays, and gosh knows what else I’ve started and never finished. Thinking about it makes me feel a little queasy. However, it’s not uncommon in the writing world for authors of any stature, from novice to expert, to set aside works because they lack the knowledge, skill, or motivation to complete them. With that being said, what follows is a small collection of famous unfinished works by writers you probably know.

The Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer

I actually didn’t realize this was unfinished as I had read it in high school and truly believed my teacher wouldn’t give me an unfinished work. How terrible! I’m mostly kidding, of course.

As stated by writer John Mullan writing for The Guardian: “There are 27 pilgrims described in the General Prologue, and each is supposed to tell two tales on the way to Canterbury, and two on the way back … Chaucer did not get a quarter of the way to his goal” (Mullan).

Some might argue that this was done intentionally, but I actually like The Canterbury Tales regardless of its dense language, and still wish for more stories to this day.

The Mysterious Strange by Mark Twain

Twain was working on his final novel shortly before his death in 1910. It was a cobbling together of ideas and impressions about the norms and mores of man and religion that Twain might have held his whole life but that he definitely developed over the course of a decade while trying to write this book.

“Between 1897 and 1908, Twain wrote several versions of this book about Satan which addressed Twain’s views regarding the human race and his ideas concerning morals,” states Patricia Truslow. “Various titles were given to these attempts, but the subject was always reflective of Twain’s difficulty with understanding the creation and purpose of man.”

No doubt, Twain wanted to complete the novel, but Halley’s Comet (as we mentioned in a previous post) came too soon, and Twain was whisked away into the afterlife before he ever completed it.

The Mystery of Edwin Drood by Charles Dickens

It wasn’t until I really started digging deeper into Charles Dickens’ work that I realized just how much I love his stories, from his lively characters to his socioeconomic critiques. He just encapsulates that amount of satire and storytelling that I love. That’s why it makes me sad that Dickens has unfinished work out there.

The Mystery of Edwin Drood is just that—a mystery—and Dickens only made it through half the novel before he died. Writing for Mentalfloss, Bess Lovejoy states that the murderer in the story was never revealed, but it very well might have been.

“Three months before his death Dickens sent a letter to the Queen (Victoria) to tell her ‘a little more of it in advance of her subjects,’” Lovejoy writes. “She declined the offer, and now we’ll never know what he might have told her.”

The Love of the Last Tycoon by F. Scott Fitzgerald

As a literary outcast after the Jazz Age came to a close, Fitzgerald spent his time writing Hollywood scripts and believing himself to be a failed writer. In fact, even as he lay dying in his girlfriend’s apartment of another heart attack, he had no idea how influential his novels and short stories would be, which is why future generations may have missed out on another great work that Fitzgerald never finished: The Love of the Last Tycoon.

Author Holly Pyne writes: “A thinly veiled account of movie mogul Irving Thalberg, Fitzgerald completed 17 of his proposed 31 chapters before he died in 1940.”

Fitzgerald’s story is a sad one (though he seemed to have lived in splendor for a time), but I suppose we can at least cherish the wonderful (and complete) work he left with the us after his death.

Works Cited

Lovejoy, Bess. “10 Famous Authors and Their Unfinished Manuscripts.” Mentalfloss. Aug. 25, 2015. Web.

Mullan, John. “Ten of the best unfinished literary works.” The Guardian. Feb. 2010. Web.

Pyne, Holly. “!0 Unfinished Novels.” Shortlist. Feb. 2012. Web.

Truslow, Patricia. “The Mysterious Stranger by Mark Twain.” Bymarkttwain. Nov. 2013. Web.