World-class byline

March 04, 1992

When Ernest Hemingway landed a job on the Toronto Star in 1920, it was not unusual for aspiring young writers of serious fiction to spend time as ink-stained wretches in the newsrooms of big city dailies. There they learned their craft under the tutelage of experienced editors and indulged their curiosity about people and places. Not every cub reporter who eked out a living pounding the typewriter keys had Hemingway's keen ear or descriptive flair. But not even a Hemingway was exempt from the daily chore of chronicling the multitude of mundane happenings that are the bread and butter of newspaper work.

Thus the Star's announcement last week that it had unearthed a large, previously unknown cache of Hemingway's early writings for the paper is of particular interest to scholars studying how the author developed his sparse prose style. The stories range from an interview with French Premier Georges Clemenceau, written during a year-long stint in Paris in 1922, to unbylined local news articles penned after his return to Toronto.

Interestingly, the future Nobel Prize winner did not entirely please his editors. Though he was a prolific, skillful reporter whose copy bristled with narrative drive and descriptive ingenuity, the Star's editors regarded him as something of a maverick and prima donna. After his return from Paris, they repeatedly tried to show him he was getting "too big for his britches" by withholding his byline or killing his stories.

Disgusted by his treatment at the Star, Hemingway quit in 1924 and moved to Paris where he joined the literary circle around American expatriate Gertrude Stein. He refined the hard-nosed news style he had mastered in Toronto into the laconic prose that would make him the most famous -- and most imitated -- American writer of his generation. A few years later he published his first novel, "The Sun Also Rises."

An earlier compilation of Hemingway stories for the Star appeared in 1985 under the title, "Dateline: Toronto, Hemingway's Complete Toronto Star Dispatches, 1920-24." Scholars believed no more articles existed from that period. The new finds were discovered by William Burrill, a Star reporter working on a project for the paper's 100th anniversary. Were he alive today, Hemingway surely would find delicious irony in the fact that, 70 years later, the paper that once derided him as a newsroom "prima donna" is still basking in the reflected glory of his old bylines.

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