Just Discovered: Ernest Hemingway's Earliest Known Short Story, Written at Age 10

Courtesy of Sandra Spanier
Courtesy of Sandra Spanier

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.

A notebook containing an early short story by Ernest Hemingway, written when he was 10 years old, discovered among the collection of Telly Otto “Toby” Bruce.
Courtesy of Sandra Spanier

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.

A notebook containing an early short story by Ernest Hemingway, written when he was 10 years old, discovered among the collection of Telly Otto “Toby” Bruce.
Courtesy of Sandra Spanier

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]

Tune in Tonight: Mental Floss on Jeopardy!

All that time you've spent on here is about to pay off.

Tune in tonight for Jeopardy! and you'll catch the debut of the "I Learned It From Mental Floss" category. Big bucket list moment for us.

We've been working closely with the Jeopardy! team over on Instagram, sharing amazing facts on both @jeopardy and @mental_floss. Study up!

Check your local listings for stations and show times.

Millennials Get Blamed for a Lot, But They Could Help to Save the U.S. Postal Service

iStock
iStock

Millennials get a bad rap for destroying everything from homeownership rates to fabric softener sales, but there's one important traditional industry they're enthusiastic about: the U.S. Postal Service. According to CityLab, a new USPS report [PDF] finds that young people's appreciation for snail mail could help boost the often-struggling agency's fortunes in the future.

Probing for insights into the minds of young people ages 18 to 34 (a little off from the Pew Research Center's definition of Millennials as being people ages 22 to 37), the USPS conducted surveys and hosted live chats online to figure out what Millennials think of the agency, and how the Postal Service can ignite their love of snail mail.

That's vital, because as it is, technological innovations like email and online bill payments are putting the USPS out of business. It lost money for the 11th year in a row in 2017, and while shipping packages is getting more popular (thank you, online shopping habits), it hasn't been enough to offset the decline of mail during that year—mail rates declined by 50 billion pieces in 2017. Young people ages 18 to 34 received an average of 17 pieces of mail each week in 2001, while they only receive 10 now.

But Millennials, it turns out, love mail, even if they don't want to pay their bills with it. As the report observes, "many Millennials still delight in receiving personalized notes or cards around holidays, birthdays, and other special occasions." Three-quarters of respondents said that getting personalized mail from friends and family "makes them feel special." According to the report, around 80 percent of Millennials say they're satisfied with the USPS, around the same rate as older, stamp-loving generations. More Millennials than Boomers, meanwhile, have a USPS.com account, and 59 percent say that the USPS is an innovative organization.

Millennials mentioned several ideas for USPS improvements that already basically exist, like self-service kiosks, at-home package pickup, and Informed Delivery emails, meaning the Postal Service isn't always the best at getting the word out about the cool things it already does. The report also shows that the Postal Service is still working on an augmented reality service that could give you a look at what's inside a package before you open it. (The idea debuted in 2016, but the app was largely limited to showing animated messages.)

The surveys and discussions did come up with a new idea to endear the post office to Millennials: a rewards program. The young people surveyed suggested that members could earn points by buying stamps or mailing packages and use them to redeem discounts or enter contests.

Millennials: They may be ruining vacations, but at least they're ready to save the mail.

[h/t CityLab]

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