Lost drafts

Robert McCrum recalls famous writers’ lost first drafts in this week’s Observer:

In the days of the typewriter and, before that, the humble pen, novelists would go to extravagant lengths to protect their work from fire, theft and acts of god. One paranoid soul of my acquaintance used to store her manuscripts, wrapped in tin-foil, in the fridge, the one place known to be immune to the fiercest domestic inferno.

We may smile at such measures, but English literature teaches us to be careful. When Thomas Carlyle sent The History of the French Revolution to his friend John Stuart Mill to read, Mill’s housemaid, mistaking it for waste paper, used it to light a fire. Carlyle had not kept a copy but managed to rewrite it in six months.

Carlyle’s case is not remarkable. Both Ernest Hemingway and Malcolm Lowry suffered ‘lost’ manuscripts. John Steinbeck’s dog ate Of Mice and Men in an early draft.


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