All he could remember, however, was a poem about "geese and ducks splashing around in a pond".

Missing masterpieces

IN 1922, Hadley Hemingway (the first of Hemingway's four wives) was traveling to Switzerland with her husband's effects. At the time Hemingway had written much, but little had been published. He had managed "six perfect sentences", and was already well advanced in a novel about his experiences in World War I. Among the baggage Hadley was transporting was a case with everything Ernest had written to date. Somehow, it was stolen.

In those days, Hemingway's macho, bullish facade was still under construction. The day after Hadley, distraught, arrived without the significant piece of luggage, Hemingway traveled to confirm that "every sheaf, notebook and carbon copy" was gone. It was.

"I remember what I did in the night after I let myself into the flat and found it was true," he wrote. He never revealed whether rage, or booze, or even tears were his response, but he claimed later that he would have opted for surgery if it would remove the memory of the loss. Hemingway had been developing a theory that even if something was edited out of a work of art, its trace would linger. Now he had to face the full ramifications, the reductio ad absurdum, of this idea.

That Ezra Pound and Gertrude Stein had told him to ditch everything he had written and start again must have been of little comfort. Every author produces juvenilia. Most destroy it.

The theft of Hemingway's manuscripts short-circuited the whole process. Had he spent the next 10 years trying to perfect his immature jottings, we may never have seen the novels of which he was capable.

This article consist of tidbits to be found in The Book of Lost Books by Stuart Kelly, which will be available this coming April.

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