The Last Word: Musings on Literary Estates, from Kafka to Kerouac
09/28/2010 - 18:20

Last week I wrote about the ongoing battle over Chaim Grade's literary estate.  Then on Sunday, The New York Times Magazine had a front-pager on Kafka's  estate, which the National Library of Israel wants.  But which the descendants of Max Brod, who Kafka gave his papers to and told him to destroy, remain tied up in a cat-festooned Tel Aviv apartment and Swiss bank vault.

All this got me thinking: why are literary estates so troubled? 

Turns out it's a relatively recent phenomenon, and has a lot to do with the growth of copyright laws, some deft dealings by major publishing houses, and not a small bit of familial infidelity.  Indeed, many of the ongoing literary fueds--in addition to Kafka and Grade, there's a battle raging over Jack Kerouac's papers, James Joyce's, Evelyn Waugh's, Ian Fleming's, Graham Greene's, T.S. Eliot's, and J.R.R. Tolkien's, to name just a few.

For a more detailed explaination, check out this piece in The Times of London, published in 2008.

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