Friday, February 24, 2012

Hemingway's Lost Manuscripts

In 1922, when Ernest Hemingway was a struggling young writer living in Paris, he traveled to Switzerland on an assignment for the Toronto Daily Star.  He arranged for his wife, Hadley, to come from Paris to meet him there.  As he later explained in his memoir, A Moveable Feast:

"...everything I had written was stolen in Hadley's suitcase that time at the Gare de Lyon when she was bringing the manuscripts down to me to Lausanne as a surprise, so I could work on them on our holidays in the mountains.  She had put in the originals, the typescripts and the carbons, all in manila folders." (p. 73)

This was all of Hemingway's fiction to date.  To this point in his career, he hadn't had a single piece of fiction published.  The only two stories that survived were "My Old Man," which was out to an editor at the time, and "Up in Michigan," which he'd buried in a drawer after Gertrude Stein told him it was unpublishable.

As a writer myself, I can only imagine how devastating this must have been.  He'd even gone to the trouble to use carbon paper to make copies, and those were stolen too!  One can only speculate what treasure might have been contained amongst those pages.  As the story goes, Hadley left the suitcase unattended while she was waiting for the train to depart, so that she could go buy a bottle of water.  No doubt the thief would have thrown these "worthless" sheets of paper into the garbage...

It seems that these days the chances of losing one's work are both greater and less than in those times, depending on how careful you are.  I suppose the bottom line is that this story is a reminder to always back up your work.  Hard drives can crash, and for anyone who doesn't backup regularly, the risk is there.

The reason I find myself thinking about this is that I recently signed up for a cloud backup system (Dropbox).  Now my laptop could fall off a 500 foot cliff and all of my files will still be safe.  If Hemingway lived in our day and age, and used a backup service like this, those stories would never have been lost!

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