Hemingway’s Suitcase

As the literary-minded will no doubt recall, on the cusp of Hemingway’s early fame virtually all of his finished but as yet unpublished work was lost in a bizarre twist of fate. The incident, which occurred in late December, 1922, is noted by Hemingway in A Moveable Feast and receives half a paragraph in Carlos Baker’s biography of Hemingway. As Baker reports, Hemingway’s first wife, Hadley, before catching a train from Paris to Switzerland to meet her husband, had packed all his manuscripts (except for Up in Michigan and My Old Man) “in a separate small valise so that he (Hemingway) could get on with his writing during the Christmas season.” However, at the Gare de Lyon someone purloined the bag holding Hemingway’s pages — which contained poems and short stories and the beginning of a novel never again seen.

Though the tale of what happened to the suitcase and its contents has been the subject of apocryphal rumors for the last eight decades, several years ago two interesting takes on the tale appeared in popular literature. The first, The Hemingway Papers, takes this episode and embellishes it in a winning action-adventure novel. The second, MacDonald Harris’ Hemingway’s Suitcase, takes the tale a step further and purports — within the confines of a story about finding the suitcase — to reproduce five of the missing Hemingway short stories.

Hemingway’s immediate reaction to the loss was just as once might expect — continued melancholia and a lingering sense of bitterness over the loss, which some critics have pointed to as the cause of his breakup with Hadley. In a 1923 letter to Ezra Pound, Hemingway wrote:

I suppose you heard about the loss of my Juvenalia? I went up to Paris last week to see what was left and found that Hadley had made the job complete by including all carbons, duplicates, etc. All that remains of my complete works are three pencil drafts of a bum poem which was later scrapped, some correspondence between John McClure and me, and some journalistic carbons. You, naturally, would say, “Good” etc. But don’t say it to me. I ain’t yet reached that mood.

Though it is unlikely that they would turn up at this late date, works by Hemingway have a strange way of appearing out of thin air every decade or so. In 2009 a “restored” edition of A Moveable Feast was released which includes additional material that was cut from previous versions;  in 1998 the novel True At First Light — which had been under seal since the early 1970’s — was edited and released by Hemingway’s son Patrick; and in 1986 a much-abridged version of Garden of Eden (which had run to 800-pages in manuscript) was released by Scribner’s to mixed reviews.  Perhaps 2011 will see the discovery of the suitcase in a ramshackle Paris attic that is being converted by a French Legionnaire’s grandson into condos for the new generation of American expats. To be true, the tale would have to be so over-the-top that it would make bad fiction cringe.

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