Top 10 Unfinished Works of Literature

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Ever since writing has been known to man, literature as become an extremely important part of everyday life, even for those who aren’t writers. Literature allows people to express their thoughts and feelings, and then have others read them, take it in, and draw their own conclusions and thoughts.

As a writer myself, it’s definitely hard to walk away from something that I am writing that isn’t quite finished. However, from centuries ago on up to today’s society, there are some authors who weren’t able to finish a piece of their literature, whether it be due to death or some other circumstance. Here’s a list of top 10 pieces of literature that were never completed.

10. Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl – Anne Frank

First published by her father, Otto Frank, in June 1947, the Diary of a Young Girl tells the life of a young girl and her family who go into hiding for almost two years in order to avoid capture by the Nazis who were at the time occupying the Netherlands. The diary starts when Anne is just 12, about a month before her family goes into hiding. However, her family is eventually apprehended in 1944 and Anne Frank and her family are sent to Bergen-Belsen, a concentration camp, where she died of typhus about two weeks before British Liberation Troops came. Her father was the only one to survive and found her diary. Her diary ends abruptly with the Nazis breaking into the family’s hiding place. Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl – Anne Frank

9. The Aeneid – Virgil

Much different from other pieces of literature on the list, The Aeneid is a long epic poem written in the late 1st century BC. The epic tells the story of legendary Aeneas, a Trojan warrior who was able to travel to Italy and become an ancestor of the Romans. The poem is divided into 12 books, the first half telling of Aeneas’ journeys and travels, and the other half depicting the Trojan War against the Latins. Through this poem, Virgil was able to take bits and pieces of information given about Aeneas in the Iliad and then tie Rome into the well known legends of Troy. Virgil was set to gather more research for his epic poem when he suddenly died of a fever. Before dying, it is said that Virgil requested his friends burn the manuscript, since it was unfinished. Instead, the manuscript was edited and published. The Aeneid – Virgil

8. Answered Prayers – Truman Capote

Known for his flamboyant personality and the account of some very gruesome murders of a Kansas family in his novel In Cold Blood, Truman Capote had a promising career as an author. Having written Breakfast at Tiffany’s and other novels, Capote was given a $250,000 contract to write Answered Prayers. The book tells of life during his time, a mixing of low and high societies, reflecting on socialites of the time and their husbands. The novel is highly based around Capote’s good friend Denham Fouts, a male prostitute. The novel gives peeks into high-society life that not many knew. In the end, Capote’s novel was never completed after he died in 1984 due to liver disease. Answered Prayers – Truman Capote

7. History of the Peloponnesian War – Thucydides

Now divided into eight books, the History of the Peloponnesian War tells of a first person account of the Peloponnesian War written by Thucydides. Thucydides was a general who served in the war, one fought between the Peloponnesian League of Sparta and the Delian League of Athens. Today, this piece of literature is seen as one of the earliest works that includes descriptive details of history. Today, it is argued whether or not the piece of literature is an objective picture of the past, or if it is just merely a novel that intellectual and full of moral judgments. In the end, it was never completed due to Thucydides’ death. History of the Peloponnesian War – Thucydides

6. The First Man – Albert Camus

The First Man was written to be an autobiographical novel, telling about the life of Albert Camus. He died at the age of 46 in 1960 due to a car accident near Paris, and his novel was never finished nor published until 1995. The manuscripts were found at the accident scene and were eventually published by his daughter. The novel tells of simple things such as childhood, early education, the power of the sea and sun, the quest to find a lost father, and much more. Camus did state that he wanted this novel to be “heavy with things and flesh,” and it was, being able to shape his new ideas of the effects of political revolution. The First Man – Albert Camus

5. Sanditon – Jane Austen

Not only is she a well-known female British author, Jane Austen is also known for being one of the first women to express feminist ideas. Austen set out to write a book titled The Brothers, which was then changed to Sanditon after her death in 1817. The story tells of people in England attempting to create a seaside town named Sanditon, while attempting to grab the interest of others through letters and word of mouth. Authors and critics praise the unfinished novel, expressing that Austen was given only six months to live and was gravely ill, but was still able to create an idea for a novel that was new, innovative, and fresh. Sanditon – Jane Austen

4. The Mysterious Stranger – Mark Twain

A great American author, Mark Twain definitely made his footprint in history with the many novels other pieces of literature he wrote. Mark Twain set out to write The Mysterious Stranger, but decided to create three different versions of the story, none of which were even completed. Each story revolved around Satan as the man character. The version of the book that was the most substantial told of Satan’s youth and adventurous ways in an Austrian village. It also speaks of a sinless nephew of Satan, but the book ends quickly with Satan entertaining an Indian prince. The book ends in the middle of a scene, suggesting that Twain possibly wanted to abandon the novel.The Mysterious Stranger – Mark Twain

3. The Mystery of Edwin Drood – Charles Dickens

Charles Dickens is definitely well known for his literature, most notably Hard Times, A Christmas Carol, and Oliver Twist. However, before his death, Dickens started on another novel called The Mystery of Edwin Drood, which was to depict a tale of mystery and murder that revolved around a man named John Jasper who falls in love with a student of his named Rosa Bud. However, Bud is set to be married to Drood, and on goes the story. However, the novel was never finished, but portions of the text were shown to Queen Victoria, but the ending was never revealed.The Mystery of Edwin Drood

2. Kubla Khan – Samuel Coleridge

Kubla Khan by Samuel Coleridge differs from the others on the list. The poem, named after a well-known Chinese and Mongol emperor, was said to be the vision of an opium-induced dream, hence also being called A Vision in a Dream: A Fragment. The poem tells of the mighty emperor and creates a very suspenseful atmosphere, which is amplified by the fact that the poem has no ending. Many believe that the poem is the result of hallucinations due to taking opium. In any case, the poem was never finished, as Coleridge said that the idea came to him in a vision but he was not able to finish the poem before his vision vanished.Kubla Khan

1. Canterbury Tales – Geoffrey Chaucer

The Canterbury Tales are most definitely a classic piece of British literature. Written in the 14th century by Geoffrey Chaucer, the Canterbury Tales tells of numerous stories and accounts from different pilgrims who set out on a pilgrimage from Southwark in order to arrive at Canterbury Cathedral to visit the shrine of St. Thomas Becket. Told in Middle English, the tales point out likes and flaws of each pilgrim, conclusively showing the problems of society during this time. However, Chaucer was only able to finish 24 out of the 124 tales he planned to write due to his death in 1400. Canterbury Tales

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20 Comments

    • One exclusion does not make this a poor list. Well done, I say, Ash. Thanks for taking the time to write this. Obviously a lot of thought went into it.

      • Thanks Ben 🙂 Like with all lists it's hard to just choose TEN things. People don't seem to understand that, haha. Thanks for reading.

  1. Charles Dickens and Mark Twain both used Spontaneous Human Combustion as cause of death of characters in their writing.In Charles Dickens Bleak Krook dies this way and in Mark Twain's Life On The Mississippi Jimmy Finn dies this way.

  2. WHy would the diary of Anne Frank be unfinished work? It’s mainly a diary of a girl, not a fictional story, altough Anne did some rewrites after she heard that they wanted some recorded stuff for after the war.

  3. Coleridge said that he had awoken from an opium dream and started to pour out the poem, but was interrupted by an insurance salesman at the door. By the time he had gotten rid of him he no longer could remember the dream.

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