7 Famous Lost Literary Works


On this day in 1956, while visiting the Ritz Hotel in Paris, Ernest Hemingway was alerted by the staff that he’d had two trunks stored there since the 1920s, and if he didn’t claim them, they’d be tossed in the trash. Hemingway was surprised when he claimed the luggage and found lost manuscripts and notes, some of which would eventually make up A Moveable Feast, one of the most famous literary memoirs ever.

Remembering the unlikely rescue of Hemingway’s work gives us a moment to pause and think about all the work by all the greats that didn’t actually make it. Whether tossed into the fire, stolen, or just plain lost in a box somewhere, here are a few storied pieces of writing that we’ll probably never get to read.

Parts two and three of Dead Souls, Nikolai Gogol

It’s hard to believe that one of the pillars of Russian literature is actually an unfinished masterpiece, but that’s the case with Gogol’s classic, which he tossed into the fireplace at the suggestion of Father Matthew Konstantinovskii.

Herman Melville’s Isle of the Cross

Melville’s publishers were idiots, because they rejected this novel by the Moby-Dick author. What exactly happened to the lost work by one of America’s greatest writers isn’t exactly clear, but over 150 years later, we’re still pissed off about it.

Marquis de Sade’s unpublished manuscripts

The son of literature’s most famous creep had all of his unfinished works tossed into the fire upon his father’s death.

Arthur Rimbaud’s “La Chasse spirituelle”

Verlaine claimed that “La Chasse spirituelle” was Rimbaud’s greatest work, and that’s probably why a librarian and an actor tried, and almost succeeded, in convincing us that they had discovered it. Sadly, as part of a notebook full of work supposedly misplaced by one of Rimbaud’s schoolmates, it is lost to time.

James Joyce’s Stephen Hero

The first half of Joyce’s autobiographical novel was lost, so if you’re tempted to read what was basically a first draft for A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man today, keep in mind that it’s an incomplete work.

Walter Benjamin’s mysterious manuscript

One of the 20th century’s greatest minds supposedly had a completed manuscript with him in a suitcase when he fled from the Nazis. Benjamin committed suicide a few weeks later, and nobody knows what happened to the suitcase.

Sylvia Plath’s second novel

Double Exposure, or Double Take, unfinished at the time of her death in 1963, was lost sometime around 1970.