The Greatest Books Lost to History

How could such an important manuscript disappear? Some suspect Hughes was involved. Certainly he destroyed some papers because he didn’t want their children to read them. Plath wrote that her novel is “about a woman whose husband turns out to be a deserter and womanizer” (she was deeply hurt by Hughes’ affair with Assia Wevill).

There are rumors of a secret copy being hidden at Plath’s alma mater, Smith College in Massachusetts. Hughes claimed Plath’s mother stole it.

Memoirs of Lord Byron

English poet George Lord Byron's allegedly salacious memoirs were burned by his executors.

English poet George Lord Byron’s allegedly salacious memoirs were burned by his executors.Credit:The Art Archives / Musée Fabre Montpellier / Gianni Dagli Orti

Oh, what a juicy read that would be. The romantic poet was literature’s most outrageous bad boy. He had one child with his half-sister and had affairs with many married ladies and young men. He loved gambling, alcohol and opium. At Eton he kept a tame bear. He drank from skulls and kept a coffin in his dining room. His ghost story gatherings inspired those of Mary Shelley Frankenstein. What’s not to love?

Many, according to his executors, who decided in 1824 to burn his two volumes of memoirs because they would ruin his reputation. What reputation? This decision has been called the greatest crime in literary history, worse than anything Byron has done in his daring career.

Early Stories by Ernest Hemingway

Hemingway's short stories and a novel were lost in one train.

Hemingway’s short stories and a novel were lost in one train.

I always felt sorry for Hadley, Hemingway’s first wife. In 1922 she packed several of his short stories and part of a World War I novel into a suitcase and left Paris by train for Switzerland to meet her husband. But the trunk was stolen, and no copies of the manuscripts survive. Hemingway was hit very hard. He once said he chose to have surgery to erase the memory, and he sometimes claimed it was the reason he divorced Hadley.

Any Hemingway story would be worth reading. And this lost WWI novel may have been a prototype for it A farewell to guns.

sand tone by Jane Austen

Jane Austen had only 11 chapters of when she died <i>Sanditon</i> written.” loading=”lazy” src=”$zoom_0.252%2C$multiply_0.7725%2C$ratio_1.5%2C$width_756%2C$x_0%2C$ y_160/t_crop_custom/q_86%2Cf_auto/4a5bf3f9871e6d62e19ea44dac6c4055cea39b0f” height=”390″ width=”584″ srcset=”$zoom_0.252%2C$multiply_0.7725%2C$ratio_1. 5%2C$width_756%2C$x_0%2C$y_160/t_crop_custom/q_86%2Cf_auto/4a5bf3f9871e6d62e19ea44dac6c4055cea39b0f,$zoom_0.252%2C$multiply_1.545%2C$ratio_1.5.5.ratio_1.5 %2C$width_756%2C$x_0%2C$y_160/t_crop_custom/q_62%2Cf_auto/4a5bf3f9871e6d62e19ea44dac6c4055cea39b0f 2x”/></picture></div><figcaption class=

Jane Austen had only written 11 chapters sand tone when she diesCredit:Getty Images

If you’ve seen Andrew Davis’ recent television adaptation, you might think that this was a complete novel. Not so: Only the first episode is real Jane, and Davis made up the rest.

Austen began writing the novel in 1817 and got 11 chapters before she gave it up, probably due to illness. She died the same year. But she had set the stage: the coastal town of Sanditon, transformed from a quiet fishing village into a modern commercial town.

A full cast of characters, including a West Indian heiress, already promises a clash between old and new ways and a possible love interest for the heroine.

Abraham Lincoln’s Lost Speech

A rousing speech delivered by Lincoln in 1856 has never been recorded.

A rousing speech delivered by Lincoln in 1856 has never been recorded.Credit:Courtesy of Swann Auction Galleries

Everyone knows the Gettysburg Speech, but another speech, a passionate rebuttal of slavery, wowed his audience far more. The problem is that there are no reliable records.

Lincoln existed in Bloomingdale, Illinois in 1856. His friend William Herndon recalled: “It was logical; it was pathos; it was enthusiasm; it was justice, equity, truth and justice kindled by the divine fires of a soul maddened by injustice; it was hard, heavy, gnarled, gnarled, lined with anger”.

Apparently, the reporters were so excited they forgot to take notes.

The Gospel of Eve through anonymous

How can I not be curious about this lost text from the New Testament Apocrypha that supposedly documents the most sexually perverted acts out there? This is according to Saint Epiphanius, a 4th-century bishop of Salamis, who forbade, burned, and exiled his followers, a subset of Gnostics who were labeled heretics for practicing coitus interruptus, free love and eat sperm. However, Gnostic texts were mystical and had multiple meanings, so perhaps Epiphanius got it all wrong.

Poems by Sappho

Little is known about the poet Sappho.

Little is known about the poet Sappho.Credit:Getty

Of all the countless ancient texts that have disappeared, this is the one I would like to read the most – more than Homer’s lost comic poem The Margaretmore than the lost prose and poetry of Julius Caesar.

Sappho wrote nine volumes of poetry, but only 650 lines survive and only one poem, Ode to Aphrodite, is available in complete form. Little is known about her, but she was greatly admired by her contemporaries. Her poems celebrate love, including homoerotic feelings, and explore desire and jealousy. Today she is an icon for feminists and the LGBTQ community (her name and her homeland, the island of Lesvos, have passed into our language).

The poor man and the lady by Thomas Hardy

On the advice of a friend, Hardy burned his first novel.

On the advice of a friend, Hardy burned his first novel.Credit:Getty

I was once a huge Hardy fan and devoured nearly all of his novels and poetry. This is his first novel, completed in 1867, and many years later he considered it the most original thing he had written. But he could not find a publisher.

His friend, George Meredith, felt the story’s politics were too controversial, so Hardy took his advice and burned the manuscript. It was about the relationship between a farmer’s son and the daughter of a local landlord, and Hardy said it was “socialist, not to say revolutionary”. Maybe he was a premonition Lady Chatterley’s loverwithout sex scenes.

Diaries of Philip Larkin

Poet Philip Larkin's diaries, here with his muse and lover Monica Jones, have been shredded.

Poet Philip Larkin’s diaries, here with his muse and lover Monica Jones, have been shredded.Credit:Hulton Archives/Getty Images

It was a monstrous thing, 30 volumes, and perhaps Betty Mackereth, the secretary and mistress of the great English poet, found it too monstrous. After his death in 1985, she fed it into a shredder and burned the remains. She said it was what he wanted, but that’s debatable.


Those diaries wouldn’t be fun reading — Larkin’s biographer Andrew Motion said he used the diaries as sexual logs and “a gigantic repository of bile, envy, and misanthropy.” But what a wonderful light that shines on his poetry. We may have figured out exactly how “they’re kidding you, your parents.” The Greatest Books Lost to History

Jaclyn Diaz

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