A most memorable quote from Philip Larkin, and very appropriate, since I was listening to a radio programme about authors and their estates the other day. One of the authors discussed was Larkin, and by his biographer and executor, Andrew Motion. I found it fascinating, and I threw up so many issues that had me thinking about how much (if any) an author – any author – owns of their work and their life.
This isn’t personal: I’m realistic enough to recognise that my own life isn’t of any interest to anyone but friends and family, although I hope my writing is of wider interest. But authors such as Hardy, Eliot, Joyce and Larkin, who achieved great fame within their own lifetimes, must have had to anticipate the demands for knowledge from future generations, and to set their literary estates in order.
Those prominent writers who keep diaries must, while they live, decide on preservation and future access. They must must decide who to appoint as gatekeepers for access to published and unpublished papers, how their work may be quoted. I thought John Banville made some good points, suggesting that it his right to decide now what will be kept, and what will be burned. Fair play to him, but the case of Franz Kafka, whose executor refused to comply with the explicitly stated wish that his manuscripts should be burned, shows the other side of the argument.