Not every work by a great author ends up topping bestseller lists. Some never make it onto the shelves to begin with, because they've either been stolen, destroyed, or locked inside a literary time capsule. Here are some unpublished manuscripts that never reached the same level of fame as the authors who wrote them.
1. THE ISLE OF THE CROSS // HERMAN MELVILLE
Following the commercial failures of Moby Dick and Pierre; or, The Ambiguities, Herman Melville was due for a stroke of luck. Unfortunately, his next novel, The Isle of the Cross, didn’t deliver it. The book reportedly drew from a true story Melville had heard on a trip to Nantucket about Agatha Hatch, the daughter of a Massachusetts lighthouse keeper who married a sailor only to be abandoned by him while she was pregnant—and have him return 17 years later. Melville encouraged his literary friend Nathaniel Hawthorne to turn the tale into a novel, but he turned down the offer, prompting Melville to write it himself. Harper’s, his publisher, rejected the work, though the motive remains unclear. Some have suggested that the publishers wanted to avoid any potential legal blowback from relatives of Hatch who may have recognized themselves in the work. Any copies of the manuscript have been lost to time.
2. OUR MARRIED LIFE, JOHNSON, THE MYSTERY OF BONITA, AND MOLLY OODLE // L. FRANK BAUM
The fiction of L. Frank Baum wasn’t confined to the wonderful world of Oz. He penned several books aimed at mature audiences during his lifetime. If you're unfamiliar with this section of his work, there’s a good reason: Four of his adult novels—Our Married Life (1912), Johnson (1912), The Mystery of Bonita (1914), and Molly Oodle (1915)—were never published. Baum’s oldest son Frank alleged in his memoir that his mother had set the manuscripts on fire, though many suspect he lied about this to get back at her for bumping him from her will.
3. DOUBLE EXPOSURE (OR DOUBLETAKE) // SYLVIA PLATH
Sylvia Plath died of suicide at the early age of 30, leaving the world with her first and only novel, The Bell Jar. At least, that’s how it appeared until her widower Ted Hughes (also a writer) revealed in his 1977 memoir that Plath had been working on a second book. In the year leading up to her death, Plath was writing an autobiographical novel titled Double Exposure or Doubletake. Supposedly, the book dealt with the disintegration of Plath’s marriage to Hughes. Hughes gives a cursory mention of the piece in his book, writing that Plath had “typed some 130 pages of another novel” (he later changed the number to 60 or 70 pages), and that the manuscript “disappeared somewhere around 1970.” The exact fate of the novel, or even whether or not it was completed, is still unknown. Given that it likely painted an unflattering picture of the adulterous Hughes, there are those who suspect the “disappearance” wasn’t a complete accident.
4. THE POOR MAN AND THE LADY // THOMAS HARDY
In 1868-69, Thomas Hardy submitted his first novel to a couple London publishing houses. While the publishers apparently expressed interest, their reader George Meredith suggested it be withdrawn it from consideration for fear that it would hurt Hardy’s young career. Meredith allegedly went so far as to meet with Hardy to deliver his advice in person—though according to the 1921 biography Thomas Hardy, Poet & Novelist, it’s also possible that the book was rejected right off the bat.
Hardy recalled years later that Meredith had derided the book for being overly philosophical and satirical. Though he held on to the manuscript throughout his career as a successful poet and novelist, he ultimately destroyed it years before his death.
5. UNFINISHED WORLD WAR I NOVEL // ERNEST HEMINGWAY
The theft of a suitcase filled with early Hemingway work was one of the most infamous events in the history of literature. The crime occurred after Hadley, Ernest’s first wife, brought all of her husband’s writings from their Paris home to Switzerland—where he was covering the Lausanne Peace Conference—to show fellow author Lincoln Steffens. But the package never reached its destination; the bag of papers was stolen from Hadley’s seat on the train before she arrived. The lost work included the carbon copies and originals of all his short stories, as well as an in-progress World War I novel. Hemingway never attempted a rewrite of those works; he went on to author The Sun Also Rises instead.
6. PRINCE JELLYFISH // HUNTER S. THOMPSON
Before Hunter S. Thompson pioneered his Gonzo style of journalism, he attempted to launch a career as a novelist. His first book, Prince Jellyfish, was an autobiographical tale that followed a boy from Louisville trying to make it in the big city. The manuscript was rejected by publishers, and Thompson later admitted that it had been forgettable. His next fiction project was The Rum Diaries, a story inspired by his time as a journalist living in Puerto Rico. That book also went unpublished until his friend Johnny Depp rediscovered it at his home in 1998. The actor was the one who encouraged Thompson to finally get the book in print.
7. SCRIBBLER MOON // MARGARET ATWOOD
Unlike many works on this list, Margaret Atwood’s Scribbler Moon isn’t lost. The story is safe inside a special room at the Deichmanske Public Library in Norway, but it won’t be read until 2114.
Atwood’s manuscript marked the first entry into the Future Library. Conceived by Scottish artist Katie Paterson, the literary time capsule will gain one original piece from a prominent author every year for the next 100 years. As the century trickles down, a forest of saplings planted outside Oslo in 2014 will flourish. When the contents of the library are ready to be seen, the trees will be chopped down and made into paper for the stories to be printed on. Most of Atwood’s present-day fans likely won’t be around to read her contribution, but if you’re feeling optimistic about your chances of living well into the next century, or if you want to do something nice for your offspring, you can reserve a copy of the Future Library collection in its entirety for $1000.