The author wrote the 14-page story back in 1909, when he was only ten.
Photo by Lloyd Arnold/Hulton Archive/Getty Images
A 100-year-old notebook containing Ernest Hemingway's first short story was just unearthed in Key West, stashed inside an old ammunition box and forgotten for years, the New York Times reports. Hemingway wrote the previously unknown story in 1909, when he was just ten years old.
Hemingway scholars Sandra Spanier and Brewster Chamberlin found the story earlier this year, scrawled in the childhood notebook and stashed among an archive that once belonged to Hemingway's friend and chauffeur, Toby Bruce. Bruce's archive also includes letters and photos of The Sun Also Rises author, along with a lock of Hemingway's hair.
The 14-page story is written in the form of fictional letters and fake diary entries telling the story of a trip from America to Ireland and Scotland, so it was originally mistaken for Hemingway's childhood journal. But when Spanier and Chamberlin realized that Hemingway had never actually made the transatlantic trip, the truth behind the story came out.
"I thought this was really amazing; a real landmark piece of writing," Spanier said, according to the Times. "It's the first time we see Hemingway writing a sustained, imaginative narrative."
The short story is the oldest known fiction by the author, whose early work was famously lost on a train in Paris in 1922 by his first wife, Hadley. That suitcase full of writings may be rotting in the depths of some train depot lost-and-found or sinking into a Parisian dump by now, but the newly uncovered short story gives a fascinating look at Hemingway's development as an author. One of the story's most evocative passages talks about visiting a poor family in Ireland and meeting a pig who "runs under [their] table."
"The people call him 'The little fellow that pays the rent,'" Hemingway wrote.
Another imagines a ghost who haunts Ross Castle in Scotland and attempts to rebuild the castle's remnants. "When daylight comes the castle falls in ruins," the story says, "and O'Donahue returns to his grave."
"He clearly had done his homework about the geography of this account," Spanier said. "It is quite an intelligent piece of work, but clearly he was making it up... I find it very interesting that at the age of ten he is already checking his maps and finding these local landmarks."
The Hemingway scholars believe the story to either be a homework assignment or an attempt by a young Ernest to write a story that could be published in St. Nicholas, a children's magazine.
Toby Bruce's son, who goes by the name "Dink," is currently in control of the archive, and is considering selling the lot so it can be better preserved. If he does, we may soon see a published version of the childhood story—or an army of Hemingway clones, if the lock of hair is more what the buyers are after.