Readers are notorious grave robbers. When it comes to our favorite authors, many of us posses a compulsion to read and learn everything. We cheer when manuscript fragments are uncovered, private correspondence tracked down, diaries published for all to read. The authors, long dead, can no longer insist on privacy, and it is often their loved ones and descendants who betray them by leaving items unburned and handing over love letters to publishers.

The Secret Lives of Somerset Maugham by Selina Hastings. 624 pages. John Murray. £14.99 (U.S. May 2010).

If you look at the fall publishing list or read literary news you might think the dead have come back to walk the Earth. Vladimir Nabokov’s The Original of Laura — not so much a book as a series of detailed note cards about a book — is being… More…