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Misplacing Masterpieces at Railway Stations April 29, 2011

Author: Beach Combing | in : Contemporary , trackback

Beachcombing heard today that his father – pater Beachcombing – will soon be coming for a visit to the Beachcombing house in Little Snoring – the first time in a couple of years, so a cause of celebration.

Beachcombing’s favourite story about his father is that once while travelling by train to his publisher in London Beachcombing Senior visited the urinal at a tube station.

He placed (as you do…) his briefcase with his newly-written book on the floor besides him and a moment later he noticed a hand reach out to take said briefcase. One of the metropolis’ notorious railway thieves had almost stolen his only copy – decades before usb drives and photocopiers – of three years sweat and toil.

Beachcombing senior got off with a scare but the truth is that railway stations are vortexes of evil and particularly dangerous places for writers.

Beachcombing remembers T.E.Lawrence’s famous train change at Reading in December 1919. Lawrence of Arabia – a curious personality who Beachcombing has offered up for scrutiny on another occasion – went to have something to eat in the café there and left without his bag.

In the bag was a manuscript of the war in the desert that was something like a quarter of a million words long.

If that wasn’t bad enough the manuscript was in a bank messenger’s bag, the kind that normally would hold sovereigns and that screams ‘STEAL ME’.

Once in Oxford, realising his error, the Sandman telephoned back to Reading, but there was no sign of the first draft of the Seven Pillars of Wisdom, a draft that was ‘shorter, snappier and more truthful than the present version’.

Rewards were offered, stories appeared in the press but ‘nothing doing’, his manuscript with several of Lawrence’s original notebooks had vanished into the ether.

From there Lawrence rapidly wrote a second draft that did not please him and that he would burn with a blow-torch in 1922.

The third draft became, of course, an instant classic when it was published in the same year.

Hemingway or, what is worse, Hemingway’s wife, Hadley, lost some of her husband’s unpublished works on a train at Paris, while travelling to Lausanne, also in 1922.

She had asked a guard to keep an eye on a suitcase full of EH’s characteristic manila folders packed with his terse prose.

This, however, proved a mistake.

When she returned the valise had vanished.

Beachcombing hasn’t generally got much time for EH being a partisan of F. Scott. But he would have certainly like to have been there – a WIBT moment – when poor old Hadley confessed that she had ‘misplaced’ various self-proclaimed master works.

EH was capable of the most curious histrionics over a caught fish or a bad review: God knows what he was capable of if you lost a couple of years of his life…

In A Moveable Feast, Hemingway writes that he associated the Lausanne area with the beginning of the end of his marriage to Hadley…

‘No other writer or even painter—no one who makes something with all their soul could ever have left that valise on the train. Because they’d have known what it meant.’

Any other literary casualties of train stations and trains: drbeachcombing AT yahoo DOT com