The Garden of Eden by Ernest Hemingway

The Garden of Eden
Ernest Hemingway
Scribner, 1986
ISBN: 978-0-684-80452-1
Source: bought it

Instead of burning through all of the works of a writer I admire–particularly the dead ones–I try to hold back and let myself come to them here and there because after I read everything that folks like Hemingway, Hawthorne, or Cather wrote, that’s it.  It’s all over.  Sure I can re-read some favorite novels or short stories again (and again), but its never the same as coming to a story for the first time and relishing the experience as it unfolds.

Why The Garden of Eden now?  I picked it up because Patricia Cornwell recently recommended it on her Facebook page.  I don’t remember exactly why the novel came up, but Cornwell specifically mentioned how it depicts the experience of a writer at work.  I was ready for a little Hemingway since I’d recently posted pictures from a visit to his house in Key West.

The Garden of Eden was published posthumously in 1986.  Hemingway started writing it in 1946 when he was living in Cuba.  He worked on it over the years and at one point it was up to 1,500 pages according to one source.  (Another article I read claimed it was 2,400 pages).  It obviously became a bit of a monster for him and for several editors who tried to shape it into a “publishable novel” after his death.  Tom Jenks, an editor who was not a Hemingway aficionado, finally edited it down to the 247 page novel that is available for purchase.

The biographical interpretation of the novel is that it is based on Hemingway’s first marriage and the affair that subsequently broke up that marriage.  The story is about newly weds David and Catherine Bourne who are honeymooning on the coast of France, with some time in Spain. They’ve been married three weeks at the story’s beginning.  He’s 28 and she’s 21.  He’s a writer whose first book is currently getting good reviews and she’s a wealthy heiress with nothing to do, it seems, but be a wife.

Trouble is alive from the get-go when, in their first conversation, David states that he’s the inventive type and Catherine replies that she’s the destructive type.  The style is typical Hemingway, but much of the content is not.  There’s fishing, hunting, and drinking, but there’s also sexual role playing, a male lead who can be a bit of a doormat, and another woman with whom both Catherine and David take turns having sex, swimming, and just hanging out.  There’s also a negative portrayal of hunting presented in the story within the story that David is writing.

You’d think it was the other woman who would be the snake in this Garden of Eden, but at some point David starts calling Catherine “Devil.”   This is one of those novels that an undergrad could have a field day deconstructing.

In regard to the sexual role playing, I was reminded of Gioia Diliberto’s excellent biography of Hadley Richardson, Hemingway’s first wife, titled simply Hadley.  In that biography Diliberto consulted letters between Ernest and Hadley and I believe she also interviewed Hadley.  Young Ernest and Hadley used to take turns being the passive and aggressive partner in bed and they also got their hair cut in the same style.  Hemingway supposedly regretted divorcing Hadley later in life.

I was struck by the preface to the edition I read, written by Charles Scribner, Jr.  It seemed like a bit of an apology for publishing the novel.  There’s often controversy when a writer’s unfinished work is published posthumously, but since Scribner was Hemingway’s personal editor for the last part of his life, you’d think he’d have been able to write a different sort of preface, one not quite so argumentative that he (‘we’) did the right thing in publishing this novel.

My curiosity was piqued, so I looked into it just a little bit and found this interesting article about Tom Jenks’s editing of The Garden of EdenClick here for the article.  It will cast a different light on the publisher’s note found before the preface of the edition that I read which states: “In preparing the book for publication we have made some cuts in the manuscript and some routine copy edition corrections.  Beyond a very small number of minor interpolations for clarity and consistency, nothing has been added.  In every significant respect the work is all the author’s.”

I really enjoyed the novel and plan on picking up a copy for my Mom who is also a Hemingway fan but hasn’t yet read this one.  I’m keeping my marked up copy because I know I’ll read it again to enjoy watching how Hemingway unfolds the conflicts between the various characters.

Below is the cover of the first edition.  The image is Woman with Basket by the Cubist painter Juan Gris. Hemingway’s son Patrick was reminded of this painting after reading Jenks’s edited version of his father’s novel.  I prefer this cover to the one above, which I think glamorizes and cheapens the sexual issues within the novel.

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