10 Lost Novels the World Found Again


This past week, Jack Kerouac’s first-ever novel, The Sea is My Brother , was finally published 40 years after his death. The novel, long thought to be lost by experts, was unearthed in Kerouac’s personal archive by his brother-in-law. We are constantly inspired by the way that our over-processed world still hangs on to its secrets, and even more by the way that bits of history can hide in plain sight, so to celebrate this newest development in the literary canon, we decided to take a look at Kerouac’s newest/oldest book and other lost novels that were eventually found again. Click through to see our list of lost and found novels, and if you’ve ever had a literary relative, get ready to go hunting in your attics for your own treasure chests.

The Sea is My Brother , Jack Kerouac

Kerouac’s recently published first novel, written when he was only 20, was based on his experiences as a merchant seaman, and contains correspondence between the author and his best friend of the time, Sebastian Sampas. “It was referred to briefly in letters, but nothing that led anyone to believe that there was this really large volume,” the book’s editor, Dawn Ward, told the BBC. This early work, she says, “is really quite important as it shows how Jack developed his writing process… [he] opens up and shows a side to him that we don’t normally see in his books.”

The Third Reich , Roberto Bolaño

Another previously lost novel to have been finally published last week, the manuscript for The Third Reich was found among the Chilean author’s things after his death in 2003. Though the novel is thought to have been written in the early 1990s, when Bolaño was still working on a typewriter and correcting by hand, neither his original agent nor his Spanish publisher had any knowledge of it. The Paris Review ran the work as a serial over the past year, and now it has finally hit stands in hardcover form.

The Pursued , C.S. Forester

The lost novel from C.S. Forester, the creator of the Horatio Hornblower series, was actually accepted for publication in 1935 by Forester’s publisher, but the release was delayed so as not to come between two Hornblower books. Then, Forester moved and his publisher was sold, and somewhere in there the manuscript completely disappeared. Later, in his autobiography, Forester wrote, “The lost novel was really lost. It is just possible that a typescript still exists, forgotten and gathering dust in a rarely used storeroom in Boston or Bloomsbury.” Indeed, it showed up at Christie’s in 2002 — though the auction house will not reveal where they got it — and was finally published just this month by Penguin Classics UK.

The Watsons , Jane Austen

Only one original copy exists of this unfinished Jane Austen novel — thought to be the most autobiographical of all her works, it was abandoned by the author after the death of her father. Several other people, including Austen’s niece, Catherine Hubback, have finished the novel and published their own versions (whose value can perhaps be measured by the way they keep popping up), but the original has also been printed in fragment form. The manuscript was sold at Sotheby’s this summer by a relative of Austen’s, who had held on to it for many years, and purchased by Oxford University’s Bodleian Library for the whopping price of £993,250 (about $1,327,776.60).

Ah Pook Is Here, William S. Burroughs

Last fall, Fantagraphics Books dug up and acquired the rights to the lost graphic novel written by William S. Burroughs and illustrated by Malcolm McNeill in the 1970s. Ah Pook Is Here/ started as a comic strip, but when the magazine they published in folded, the two decided to develop the project into a a full-length, Word/Image novel (the term “graphic novel” had not yet been coined). Because the form was so new and unprecedented, the pair couldn’t get any publishers interested, and after 7 years of shopping it around, gave up. The book hasn’t been published yet (though the release was slated for this past summer), but we’re waiting on pins and needles. In the meantime, check out some art from the book here.

The Narrative of John Smith , Arthur Conan Doyle

After remaining unpublished for nearly 130 years, Arthur Conan Doyle’s first novel, written when he was just 23, was released in October by the British Library. “As you might expect with the creator of Sherlock Holmes, there’s a bit of a mystery around the manuscript,” the Library’s literary curator Rachel Foss told the Guardian , “He wrote it in 1883 and 1884, when he was starting to try to establish himself in the medical profession and as a writer. He sent it to a publisher, but it got lost in the post, so he decided to try and redo it from memory. The manuscript we have is the novel as reconstructed from memory, and it stops around chapter six.” Foss also noted some premonitions of the Sherlock Holmes stories in the early work, and touted it as “a really fascinating insight into the early stages of [Conan Doyle’s] development as a writer – his apprenticeship period … It represents his first attempt to make the transition from short story writer to novelist.”

The Inheritance, Louisa May Alcott

Louisa May Alcott’s first novel, written when she was just seventeen, in 1849, remained unpublished for almost 150 years, before two scholars working on compiling a book of her letters happened upon a reference to it in Harvard’s Houghton Library card catalog in 1988. When they asked for it, there it was. Never submitted to a publisher, only kept safe in a simple red journal, it had been lent to the Orchard House by Alcott’s heirs in the ’30s, then donated to Harvard in 1974, where it was promptly forgotten about for fourteen years. Thank goodness for intrepid literary scholars.

Paris in the Twentieth Century , Jules Verne

Originally written in 1863, this novel, which presents a grimly imagined version Paris in 1960, was sniffed at by Verne’s publisher, Pierre-Jules Hetzel, because he thought it so far inferior to Verne’s previous work that it would damage his reputation, and suggested he wait 20 years to publish it, writing, “In this piece, there is not a single issue concerning the real future that is properly resolved, no critique that hasn’t already been made and remade before. I am surprised at you … [it is] lacklustre and lifeless.” Verne hid the manuscript away in a safe, where it languished until his great-grandson discovered it in 1989. Finally, it was published in French in 1994, and in English in 1997.

The Cocktail Waitress, James M. Cain

Though The Cocktail Waitress was the last novel written by noir legend James M. Cain (author of The Postman Always Rings Twice and Mildred Pierce) before his death in 1977, it was never published. Charles Ardai, the founder of American publisher Hard Case Crime, who was tipped off to its very existence (Cain had mentioned the novel in several interviews but made no apparent attempt to publish it) by the mystery author Max Allan Collins, spent almost a decade tracking down the manuscript and securing the rights. He characterized his discovery as “like finding a lost manuscript by Hemingway or a lost score by Gershwin – that’s how big a deal this is.”

Mr. Tumpy’s Caravan, Enid Blyton

In February, a 180-page novel from acclaimed British children’s author Enid Blyton was discovered among a collection of several dusty, decaying manuscripts that had been sold following the death of her eldest daughter more than a year ago. Though the script is undated, it is labelled with the address where Blyton resided until 1938, making it one of her very earliest known works. The importance of the find was missed at first because Blyton had published a book of comic strips with a similar name, but a closer look revealed that this was an entirely different Mr. Tumpy and a novel rather than a book of comics. No word yet on when it will be published, but we’re betting it’s a good one.