In 1922, Ernest Hemingway was working on a temporary newspaper assignment in Lausanne, Switzerland. Journalism was his day job; at night, he wrote fiction, the thing he cared about most in the world. He was 23 years old. None of his fiction had ever been published. He and his then-wife, Elizabeth Hadley Richardson, lived in Paris, as did F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ezra Pound, and many other American expatriate artists hoping to become something big.
Hemingway asked his wife to join him in Switzerland for Christmas. She was sick at the time, and she packed her luggage the way you do when you’re sick: in a haze, forgetting useful things you need and throwing in extra stuff that you don’t. She knew how valuable her husband’s work was to him, and so she packed that, too. Every manuscript, every draft, all the handwritten notes for future novels, even the carbon copies, all went into one suitcase. One single suitcase.
At Gare du Lyon, a porter loaded her bags into her compartment. And then, just before the train left, Richardson—who was still under the weather, and had an eight-hour journey ahead of her—dashed quickly into the station to buy some water for the journey. When she returned, one suitcase, the suitcase containing every piece of fiction Hemingway had by that point produced, was gone.
Hemingway didn’t believe his tear-stained wife when she stepped off the train and told him the news. He left Richardson in Lausanne and took the train back to Paris to see for himself.