By Rob Sharp
The Russian scholar Mikhail Bakhtin believed having two manuscripts of his The Bildungsroman (or Novel of Education, 1936-38) would protect him from life's vicissitudes. Not so. At the beginning of the Second World War one of the copies, the final draft, was with his publisher, and he kept an earlier draft. During the siege of Moscow, the publisher's offices were destroyed. By this point, however, Bakhtin had used his copy for cigarette paper, which was in short supply. His hard graft literally went up in smoke.
Lost in France
Some years after Gustave Flaubert (above) crafted Madame Bovary – the 1857 tome that garnered him worldwide glory – he lost his magic touch in a quite spectacular way. Due to the anxiety provoked by the German army invading France in 1871 during the Franco-Prussian War, the writer frantically interred a box of papers beneath the garden of his house at Croisset, Rouen. Forgetting to recover them, he snuffed it in 1880, and his home was unkindly razed to the Normandy turf to make way for concrete docks. General local consensus is that the author's words still lie buried there, destined to be unread for eternity.
In the early 19th century Scots essayist Thomas Carlyle (above) dispatched the first draft of his history of the French revolution – the imaginatively titled French Revolution, Vol 1 – to John Stuart Mill. The latter accidentally let his housemaid use the papers to kindle a fire. Paradoxically, Carlyle found himself consoling his friend, and later wrote: "Mill ... remained injudiciously enough till almost midnight, and my poor Dame and I had to sit talking of indifferent matters; and could not till then get our lament freely uttered." Carlyle had to reproduce the book from scratch, but it was eventually published in 1837.
The year was 1932. Malcolm Lowry's editor at Chatto & Windus, Ian Parsons, parked his convertible sports car outside his London office in order to make a phone call inside. On his return, the publisher found to his horror that a briefcase containing Lowry's novel Ultramarine had been pilfered. He thought, wrongly, that Lowry would have another copy. Thankfully, the book was saved for posterity by a pal, Martin Case, who had typed up the manuscript. He retrieved a carbon copy that Lowry had thrown in the bin – and Ultramarine was published by Cape (not Chatto) in 1933.
A strange case
In 1922, Ernest Hemingway's first wife, Hadley, was travelling by train to Switzerland, grappling with a suitcase containing all that the great man had written up to that point. According to Murphy's Law – if something can go wrong, it will – the case was stolen. Legend has it that when Hemingway found out, he was rather irate. But when he started writing again, the words came crisper, faster and – some say – better. It's just possible the Swiss crook behind this minor heist made the author into the literary behemoth we now cherish.