Things lost had a way of upending the life of American Nobel laureate Ernest Hemingway. In December 1922, during his Paris years, his first wife Hadley Richardson had inadvertently lost a suitcase full of manuscripts at the Gare de Lyon railway station. Towards the end of his life, in the 1950s, when US’s relationship with Cuba was fast deteriorating, Hemingway was known to have worried about the cache of manuscripts he had left behind in a bank vault in Cuba and could no longer access because of the political crisis. Years later, they would be retrieved and form a part of the Ernest Hemingway Collection at Boston’s John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum.
Now, over six decades after his death, another trove of Hemingway memorabilia has been made available to scholars as the Toby and Betty Bruce Collection of Ernest Hemingway at Penn State University. In 1939, when his second marriage to Pauline Pfeiffer was falling apart, Hemingway had left some of his belongings in the storeroom of Sloppy Joe’s Bar, a watering hole in Key West, Florida, that the writer frequented. It would only be after his death by suicide in 1961 that his fourth wife Mary Welsh would retrieve them and give them to friends, the Bruces, after keeping a small selection for herself. That cache, now in the public domain, holds a trove of Hemingway effects — unpublished short stories, manuscript drafts, letters, diary entries, personal belongings and photographs of and by the writer.
By its very nature, memorabilia initiates a deeper engagement with the life and times of its owner. The personal loss of one of 20th century’s key writers, known for reshaping the short story with his sparse prose, has turned out to be a fortuitous lodestone for scholars to look back upon from the vantage point of history and glean new insights about the modernist’s scholarship and personality.