Ernest Hemingway was a born writer, as seen in a newly rediscovered work by the iconic 20th-century scribe. As Atlas Obscura reports, Hemingway’s earliest-known short story—a 14-page tale he wrote when he was just 10 years old—was recently found in the possession of family friends in Key West, Florida, where the author lived in the 1930s.
Written in a stained brown notebook—which was stored inside a Ziploc freezer bag and safeguarded inside an ammunition box—the untitled story from 1909 recounts a fictional trip to Ireland and Scotland, complete with descriptions of Hemingway’s journey to Europe by train and the ocean liner RMS Mauretania.
The narrative is established through a series of diary entries and letters to Hemingway’s parents. The author's precise attention to detail—ranging from the number of propellers on his ship to local landmarks, like Blarney Castle, that he encounters during his stay—initially makes the work appear to be a true-life tale. (The freezer bag the notebook was stored in was also labeled “September 8, 1909, EH diary to Europe.”)
But according to Sandra Spanier, a Penn State professor and general editor of the Hemingway Letters Project, Hemingway didn’t make it to Europe for the first time until he was much older. Plus, he never made the exact journey through Ireland and Scotland that he describes in the notebook.
"It’s a fascinating find, showing the young Hemingway’s interest in getting the details of place exactly right (even as he makes up the characters and incidents)," Spanier tells Mental Floss.
The short story was found among the collection of Telly Otto “Toby” Bruce, Hemingway’s friend and former employee, who inherited a portion of the prolific author’s personal archive from the writer's fourth wife and widow, Mary Welsh Hemingway. The collection of manuscripts, photos, and memorabilia is today managed by Bruce’s son, Benjamin “Dink” Bruce, and is occasionally used for local exhibits and scholarly research.
In May 2017, Spanier and historian Brewster Chamberlin were combing through Bruce’s papers in Key West in preparation for the publication of volume four of the 17 total volumes that will comprise The Letters of Ernest Hemingway. While their eyes were peeled for missing letters from 1929 to 1931, they ended up finding the notebook, which also contains snippets of poetry and grammar notes.
It’s unclear whether Hemingway was writing the short story as a school English assignment, a literary contest submission, or simply for his own pleasure. Still, Spanier says that the find is “amazing; a real landmark piece of writing,” she told The New York Times. “It’s the first time we see Hemingway writing a sustained, imaginative narrative.”
[h/t Atlas Obscura]