It started with a cigarette. Well, a cigarette and a man with a story. The identity of the author isn’t clear at present, but it may become so in the future. He is certainly one of the characters, set apart from the rest only because he is also the storyteller. If authorship may indeed be gleaned, then it is for another to deduce. To this end and others, I’ve recorded the story as faithfully and accurately as was possible, under the circumstances of course…

Adam lifted his weathered copy of A Farewell to Arms out of the messenger bag resting on the adjacent seat and began to read casually. The train hissed to a momentary stop. A well-dressed man juggling a leather briefcase, a large cup of coffee, and a lit cigarette entered the car and less-than-deftly ducked into the seat across from Adam, presumably seeking to avoid a lecture on passenger etiquette. After observing the novel’s language and title from the cover, the man extinguished his cigarette and let out a brief chuckle. Adam looked up from his reading and raised his eyebrows towards this stranger with a quizzical expression. The middle-aged, bespectacled man quickly seemed to realize and regret this momentary impropriety. He apologized with a wave of his hand and addressed Adam with a smile,

“I’m sorry. I must apologize for my laughter, and my bad habits. I didn’t intend to mock you or poke fun in any way. It’s just that your particular choice of reading is…well…really quite ironic under the circumstances.”

Adam hated talking to strangers the train. He hated the half-hearted, shallow discussions on broad topics of mutual interest that seemed to repeat themselves with each new passenger. He hated the endless affirmatives, polite smiles, and practical impossibility of disagreement. He hated asking questions to which he did not really care to know the answers. He hated talking about himself. But most of all, Adam hated listening to other people talk about their work.

All he wanted to do was read in peace—well, that and come up with a good idea for a story. Adam was rapidly nearing the end of his semester abroad at La Sorbonne in Paris and had not yet started the term paper for his advanced Fiction Composition seminar, an original short story of at least thirty pages. In one last-ditch effort at inspiration and total focus before the Monday deadline Adam had booked a small hotel room in Montmartre for the upcoming weekend, a district made famous by its current and former artistic and literary residents. With him he carried only his laptop, a change of clothes, assorted toiletries, and a few of his favorite books for moral support. Already suffering from severe writer’s block by the time he boarded the train, he had decided to search the old, familiar pages of his favorite Hemingway novel for new ideas.

Sensing the eagerness in the man’s eyes and the tone of his voice, Adam reluctantly acquiesced to ask the inevitable next question demanded by the stranger’s choice of words.

“How do you mean?”

Permission granted, the stranger’s smile widened as he prepared himself for a long-winded monologue which he had most likely delivered several times already, if not explicitly rehearsed. He cleared his throat and leaned forward to place the padded elbows of his corduroy blazer on the table between the two men and folded his hands together.

“Well, are you familiar with the famous Lost Hemingway Papers?”

“Yes…well, vaguely. I think I remember reading that his wife lost a manuscript, one of his short stories, on some train. Is that right?”

“Not just one manuscript, and not just anywhere. As the legend goes, in November of 1921 Hemingway was living with his first wife Hadley Richardson in Paris, earning a living as a foreign correspondent for the Toronto Star. While he was away on assignment in Switzerland, Hadley decided to pay him a surprise visit and bring along his writing so he could work on it. So, she gathered together all the carbons, original typescripts, and handwritten manuscripts she could find into a single valise and boarded a train bound for Switzerland leaving from the Gar De Lyon station here in Paris. Leaving her luggage with a porter before boarding the train, she later discovered the particular suitcase missing from her cabin without a trace. Neither the valise nor the invaluable writing it contained are known to have been recovered, a serious setback to Hemingway’s nascent writing career indeed! One of Hemingway’s most difficult losses was an early draft of A Farewell to Arms. So, I simply could not contain myself after seeing you reading the published version of that very same novel on a train leaving from the very same station in Paris where the first draft was lost over 80 years ago!”

Despite exceedingly low expectations and a few diligent attempts to daze out, Adam could not help finding himself drawn in by this rather strange man’s story. After quietly debating what to say next, Adam decided to further plumb his own curiosity and indulge the man’s obvious exuberance: he risked asking another question.

“That is ironic. How do you come to know so much about the subject?”

“I teach English Literature at the University of Chicago. I’ve been using my sabbatical leave over the last six months to finally finish a pet project I’ve been working on sporadically since I started at the university: a detailed biography of Ernest Hemingway. My work has led me here to Paris this past month. I’m just now finishing up an interesting chapter on Hemingway’s Lost Papers.”

Without realizing it, Adam started to fall into the familiar but insincere language of the conversations he’d had with his past single-serving train friends. And before he knew it, he had made a fatal mistake: he let a platitude slip out into the no man’s land above the small plastic table which separated the two men’s seats.

“That’s really interesting. Hemingway’s always been one of my favorite writers. His style is just so…so original, and his voice is so unique.”

At hearing this, the professor let out another small chuckle. Adam replayed these last words in his head and began to blush. He feared that this idiosyncratic but clearly intelligent little man now considered him foolish or trite. An English major and international student, Adam resented being pegged as boring or unsophisticated far more than most. He decided to think carefully before his next foray, and the professor again began to lecture.

“Twice ironic! Through my original research on the subject, I’ve discovered that a fair portion of Hemingway’s writing was neither unique nor original. In fact, I have good reason to believe that on multiple occasions he copied or adapted others’ work and presented it as his own!”

“What? Really? I don’t believe it. I don’t remember the Lost Papers having anything to do with plagiarism. What have you found?”

“A few years ago I was reading a newly-published anthology containing some of Hemingway’s early work. I stumbled across a certain short story which the anthology attributed to Robert McAlmon, a somewhat obscure contemporary author and one of Hemingway’s close personal friends. The story was thought to have been written some time between 1935 and 1938. But after reading it several times, the signs of Hemingway’s writing were unmistakably clear, leading me to doubt the veracity of the listed author. With my biography in mind, I looked into the matter further and discovered that the story had been published posthumously in 1963 by McAlmon’s grandson. He discovered the manuscript after cleaning out a trunk full of what appeared to be his grandfather’s writing while preparing to sell the old family house years after the funeral. As soon as possible, I arranged to meet McAlmon’s grandson who lives here in Paris and examine the original manuscript to test my theory of the story’s authorship.”

“I don’t understand. You make it sound like this McAlmon stole from Hemingway. Did Hemingway attempt to publish one of McAlmon’s stories earlier under his own name? Or is there another Hemingway story a little too similar to one you discovered while reading the anthology?”

“Quite the opposite. Let me explain. When I visited McAlmon’s son last month I discovered that he had kept not only the original typescript and corresponding handwritten drafts of the story in question, but also the full trunk of disorganized and incomplete material which he thought to be his grandfather’s writing. I examined the handwritten manuscript and immediately determined that it was Hemingway, and not McAlmon who had originally penned the story. Excited by this new discovery, I resolved to search through the trunk’s contents in greater detail to see if they contained any more of Hemingway’s unpublished work.”

Now undeniably enthralled by this winding narrative, Adam closed his novel and placed it back on the seat beside him. He beckoned to a passing attendant and asked him in French approximately how long it would be until the train stopped in Montmartre. The attendant informed that it would be at least another ten minutes due to track delays ahead. After thanking him, Adam leaned forward and placed his own hands on the table between seats. Taking great pains not to seem too eager, he urged the professor to please continue.

“Most of the writing did turn out to be McAlmon’s own authentic work. However, at the bottom of the trunk I found a large worn-down file separate from the rest of the looser material. The file contained hundreds of handwritten notes, pages of typed manuscripts, and a re-sealed personal letter dated November 15th, 1921. The letter was addressed to McAlmon and written by Hemingway himself in his own hand. At this discovery, I must admit that my curiosity got the best of me and against my better judgment I opened the letter and began to read its contents.

In rushed handwriting, a flustered Hemingway confides to McAlmon that over the past few months he had he had written multiple short stories which had been based on the ideas of another writer whom Hemingway had not acknowledged. More seriously, Hemingway had shared several manuscripts and drafts with other prominent writers which were in fact not his own work. I don’t know how familiar you are with what’s now known as the Lost Generation, but several expatriate writers like Hemingway, Gertrude Stein, Ezra Pound, and James Joyce would often closely collaborate, sharing and editing each other’s writing. In the letter, the young Hemingway reveals an admiration of these more established writers which, based on his language, bordered on hero worship. He explains to McAlmon that during his first few months in Paris Hemingway had felt immense pressure to prove himself as a writer and gain the respect of his new colleagues and mentors.

He further relates that years earlier while working with the Toronto Star in Chicago he had befriended a fellow reporter by the name of Thomas Callaghan. Callaghan was himself once an aspiring fiction writer and often sent his ideas and drafts to Hemingway for help and advice. However, Callaghan apparently decided to give up writing fiction in favor of religion and joined the seminary just before Hemingway left for Paris in early 1921. Hemingway confesses to McAlmon that seeing no danger of discovery, he had begun to sporadically use Callaghan’s writing and ideas, passing them off as his own work in addition to presenting his own authentic writing to his literary peers in Paris.”

Adam digested and evaluated these new claims. He remembered the times that he himself had been seriously tempted to borrow a paragraph or two from some obscure article or website—at least he would have been in good company. He tried to fit a chronology of events together in his mind until the professor’s story all made sense. The professor rocked back into his seat, thoroughly satisfied, and took another large sip of his coffee. Something still didn’t fit, and Adam was determined to get to the bottom of the mystery before parting ways. After several seconds of silence he asked,

“Why did Hemingway tell McAlmon he had stolen the stories? Why didn’t he just publish them himself if, like you said, he saw no immediate danger in doing so?”

The professor’s eyes widened as he thrust down his coffee and smiled eagerly. He again leaned forward towards Adam, this time inches closer than before, and slid his padded elbows forward along the small table between the seats.

“Ah, why indeed! The second part of the letter tells us that on November 14th Callaghan arrived in Paris on vacation and decided to pay his old friend a surprise visit. But, at the time Hemingway was still working as a correspondent for the Toronto Star and was on assignment in Switzerland. Callaghan therefore met only Hemingway’s wife Hadley at the couple’s Parisian flat. During the course of the ensuing conversation Hadley revealed details her husband’s recent work that sounded a bit too familiar to Callaghan. Callaghan then asked to see Hemingway’s recent manuscripts and found his suspicions confirmed. He discovered that a large portion of his old writing had been in fact grossly plagiarized by his supposed mentor!”

The professor’s mention of an assignment in Switzerland provided the missing link. Adam began to connect the dots between this new plagiarism theory and the more well-known story about Hemingway’s Lost Papers. He interrupted the professor impulsively.

“Wait. Did this happen before or after Hemingway’s wife lost all his work at the train station? And what did Callaghan do when discovered the stolen stories?”

“Just before. Callaghan was furious when he discovered that his stories had been used by his trusted friend. He telephoned Hemingway in Switzerland later that evening threatening to expose him as a fraud if Hemingway didn’t immediately destroy every last page of writing taken from or influenced by Callaghan’s work and ideas. Hemingway saw his future as a writer flash before his eyes and profusely apologized over the phone. He informed Callaghan that all of his notes, manuscripts, and other work was kept in the Paris flat, and that he would instruct his wife to dispose of it all as soon as possible. The historical record indicates that Callaghan returned to the United States six days later and the two never spoke again.”

Adam began to get a sense of the bigger picture.

“So, the Lost Papers account is a myth. There never was a missing bag at the train station. Hemingway had his wife destroy the papers to prevent her husband from being exposed as a plagiarist…But, then why did she tell that grandiose lie in the first place. Why not just destroy the writing quietly? And you said that Hemingway’s wife lost a copy of A Farewell to Arms on the train. Was that really written by Callaghan? The plot is pretty much a Hemingway autobiography.”

The professor, now visibly giddy with excitement, gesticulated wildly with his arms and continued speaking, raising his voice in crescendo towards the climax of his narrative.

“Not exactly! It’s all in the final section of Hemingway’s letter to McAlmon! Hemingway was apparently so distraught after the telephone call that he couldn’t remember exactly which writings had ties to Callaghan and which were completely original—and he couldn’t leave his post in Switzerland to go back and sort through them all in detail himself. His literary peer group had also recently read some of the stolen stories favorably and would be suspicious if they remained inexplicably unpublished for much longer. Hemingway was in a major conundrum: there was no easy way to abandon or publish the writing without arousing serious suspicion.

Unwilling to lose years of work but deathly afraid of being exposed, he later telephoned Hadley and told her to gather all his writings together and convince Callaghan that she intended to destroy them. At the end of the letter, Hemingway informs McAlmon that he has instructed his wife leave a small blue valise in a certain set of dumpsters outside platform three of the Gar De Lyon train station at 4pm on November 19th before leaving for Switzerland. The valise would contain all his authentic and borrowed work to date. In this way he could assure Callaghan that he had indeed gotten rid of the writing without appearing to have done so on purpose, and at the same time avoid permanently losing the stories. Hemingway ends the letter by instructing McAlmon to keep the writing secret and safe until he has time to sort through it in more detail and reclaim the authentic portion for himself.”

A train attendant interrupted the professor’s monologue letting all passengers know that Montmartre would be the stop after next. Adam acknowledged the attendant briefly with a wave of his hand and immediately shifted his attention back to the professor.

“So, that’s how Hemingway was able to complete A Farewell to Arms…but, if he went back and sorted through all the writing in the valise and separated out his own, how did one of his short stories show up forty years later published in McAlmon’s name?”

“Actually, it’s my personal and professional opinion that Hemingway never saw any of that writing again. In various recorded correspondences, those within his peer circle noted a certain understated bitterness developing between Hemingway and McAlmon in years following the event. The letter I mentioned earlier is the last recorded written communication between the two authors. I believe Hemingway’s admission of plagiarism disgusted McAlmon. In denying Hemingway the writing, McAlmon was able punish him for his sins without completely depriving the world of one of its truly great minds. Or, perhaps McAlmon kept the writing to publish himself in the case that he outlived both Hemingway and Callaghan. What really happened between the two, we’ll probably never know. But to answer your question, it seems to me that Hemingway completely re-wrote A Farewell to Arms from scratch. It was in a way his penance for the whole sordid ordeal.”

“You said that you found Hemingway’s letter in a folder with notes and manuscripts when you went to visit McAlmon’s grandson right? Do you think any of that writing was the same stuff Hemingway’s wife originally packed into the valise?”

“I know it to a near certainty—the dates are an exact match. The folder includes handwritten notes and manuscripts written during a period between 1918 and November 3rd, 1921, the day before the Toronto Star took Hemingway to Switzerland. I was also able to get a sample of Callaghan’s handwriting faxed over from the Star’s archives and it matches just under half the folder’s handwritten material. The rest undoubtedly belonged to Hemingway, further convincing me that he never got a chance to reclaim his lost writing. Over the last two weeks, I’ve been able to piece together and restore the manuscript for one additional short story, aside from the fully-intact one McAlmon’s grandson mistakenly published in his grandfather’s name.

“Unfortunately, the story is typeset and doesn’t clearly list either Hemingway or Callaghan as the original author. Since Callaghan heavily influenced Hemingway’s early work and he himself never published any stories for comparison, I’ve been unable to identify the author with any real degree of confidence. So, I’m taking the story to an old colleague of mine teaching at the University of Paris who specializes in literary forensics. If this ‘track delay’ isn’t too bad, I should reach his stop and be able to show him the manuscript within the hour.”

Adam looked down under the table at a worn leather briefcase which rested at a sharp angle against the bottom of the seat. “Next stop: Montmartre.” Adam barely heard the attendant’s announcement as he continued to stare at the mysterious case at the professor’s feet. Wheels started turning inside his head. After several seconds, he regained his equilibrium and faced the professor.

“That’s an amazing story. I’ve never heard anything like it. Stranger than fiction. I’ll be the first one to buy that biography when you finish it.”

The professor smiled and nodded his head in acknowledgement. He picked up his coffee to take one last sip but after raising it to his lips noticed it was completely empty.

“Just makes you think how many stories might not belong to the people listed on the spine. You’ll have to excuse me now, I’ve had far too much coffee this afternoon and I don’t think this going to wait until I’m off the train, track delays or not.”

The professor unbuckled his seatbelt and awkwardly shuffled out of his seat and into the isle. Passing Adam with a soft grunt, he headed carefully down the isle resting his hands on the seat-tops for support until he disappeared into a vacant lavatory. Adam again stared at the briefcase which remained resting against the vacated seat. He was mesmerized, lost in thought imagining what wondrous writing it might contain—writing that had not yet seen the light of day or the reader’s eye. “Montmartre.” The attendant’s call startled him out of his daze.

Adam stepped down out of the train and into the sunshine of the Montmartre station platform. The train let out a hiss of steam behind him and then slowly accelerated until he watched it pass out of sight. Adam lit a cigarette and smiled. He felt his writer’s block vanish into the warm summer air.

# # #

A Farewell to Authorship by Eric Lundquist
originally published October 5, 2009



Eric Lundquist's story "A Farewell To Authorship" originally appeared in Big Pulp's Fall 2009 issue.

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A Farewell to Authorship


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