THE GARDEN OF EDEN BY EARNEST HEMINGWAY:
A sensational bestseller when it appeared in 1986, The Garden of Eden is the last uncompleted novel of Ernest Hemingway, which he worked on intermittently from 1946 until his death in 1961. It is a highly readable story,if not possibly
the book he envisioned. As published it is composed of 30 short chapters running to about 70,000 words. A publisher’s note advises that ‘’some cuts” have been made in the manuscript, but according to Mr. Baker’s biography, at one point a revised manuscript of the work ran to 48 chapters and 200,000 words, so the publisher’s note is disingenuous. In an interview with The New York Times last December, a Scribners editor admitted to taking out a subplot in rough draft that he felt had not been integrated into the ”main body” of the text, but this cut reduced the book’s length by two-thirds.
Set on the C te d’Azur in the 1920s, it is the story of a young American writer, David Bourne, his glamorous wife, Catherine, and the dangerous, erotic game they play when they fall in love with the same woman.
Set in the 1920’s on the Cote d’Azur, it chronicles the honeymoon of David Bourne, a writer, and his lovely, impulsive wife Catherine. As her strange compulsions take her on a slide toward either freedom or insanity, David struggles to follow her and still practice his chosen craft. Soon after another woman enters their relationship, the struggle becomes one for control of David’s art through his love for both Catherine & Marita, the newcomer. This is a love-triangle with three complete sides (as they pair & repair), and how each of these characters chooses to resolve their struggle belies the more prurient aspects of the book: this is less erotica than a story of how the dark & bright
sides of desire inform lives, how they empower & weaken us, and how love may not be enough — even ‘true’ love. Newly married David and Catherine have pioneered their own Club Med. on the Riviera. It is the perfect place for a sea
The rate of exchange is very favorable.
The trouble in paradise is that David is on the threshold of literary fame while the beautiful and rich Catherine is jealous of her husband’s reviews. She is also sexually unsettled. In bed with David, she wants to be a boy. She then persuades her husband to join her in getting matching short haircuts and a platinum – blond dye job. (Hemingway fans may recall that the Catherine of A Farewell to Arms also suggests twin coiffures but without the bleach.) Eventually, Catherine comes out of the closet on the arm of the dark,lovely and rich Marita. ”All things truly wicked start from innocence,” Hemingway once wrote. Adam and Eve got the message late, and so do David and Catherine. Her kittenish antics turn savage. She thrusts Marita and her husband together with predictable consequences and then strikes out at both of them. The situation is somewhat similar to the time Hemingway and his first wife Hadley spent a summer
living with Pauline Pfeiffer, a Paris Vogue editor who was to become the second Mrs. Hemingway.Yet Catherine shares some of her most unbecoming characteristics with Zelda Fitzgerald, the envious and unbalanced wife of Hemingway’s pal F. Scott. If Hemingway had completed this romance, perhaps Catherine would have had more than two dimensions. The first is what Edmund Wilson called ”the all-
too-perfect felicity of a youthful erotic dream.’ The second hinges on the age-old view of woman as the cause of original sin. Catherine is a spoiler whose taste in forbidden fruit threatens the private Eden of David’s art. It is the place where he struggles with his own lost innocence. Despite some tender pillow talk and David’s willingness to follow Catherine to the hairdresser, The Garden of Eden is not the work of a secret quiche eater. Catherine’s urges do not come naturally to David.
His women are part of the external world, like the baking Mediterranean sun and the bracing sea. As always in Hemingway, those externals are observed with a meticulous objectivity that conveys loneliness. There are also many
self-conscious passages on the writer’s solitary struggle. For example: it is all very well for you to write simply and the simpler the better. But do not start to think so damned simply. Know how complicated it is and then state it
simply.” Since he did not finish this difficult task, Hemingway cannot be blamed if there is less than meets the eye in The Garden of Eden. What does meet the eye is often enough. The novel, presents a “new, sensitive Hemingway,”
writing with “tenderness and vulnerability” about “strange and disturbing” sexual gamesmanship, including male-female role reversals and a menage a trois. It also contains a short story — “written” in the course of the book by its
protagonist — with a negative view of elephant hunting. (”It may come as a surprise, but Hemingway never shot an elephant,” says Patrick Hemingway, Ernest’s second son. “He thought it wrong — he felt that elephants are our equals.”)
In short, the macho man of letters celebrated hunter and frequent husband, used this late novel “to take on everything people had pinned on him, his work, and his image. If all this were not intriguing enough, there were rumors that the book had gone long unpublished because Mary, Hemingway’s fourth wife and widow objected to its sexual revelations. In her memoir, How It Was Mary reports that she and her husband were “androgynous” in bed; in The Garden of
Eden, there are several nocturnal scenes — anatomically vague but emotionally precise — in which the lovers swap sexual identities. Scribner’s denies that Mary, now suffering from long illness, ever barred publication. Set in the 1920s, it’s the hedonistic tale of newlyweds Catherine and David Bourne, a 28-year-old writer enjoying early success. The novel opens in the French seaport village of Le Grau-du-Roi, where Hemingway and his second wife, Pauline, spent their honeymoon in 1927. A fashion editor at Paris Vogue, Pauline had befriended Ernest and his first wife, Hadley, two years before and lived with them on the French Riviera in the summer of 1926. “The arrangement has
advantages until you know how it works out,” Hemingway later wrote about the summer that ended his first marriage and launched his second. “The husband has two attractive girls around when he has finished work. One is new and strange and if he has bad luck he gets to love them both…. First it is stimulating and fun. All things truly wicked start from innocence.” He could have been talking about The Garden of Eden. Like all Hemingway heroes, David Bourne resembles his creator: Cool and laconic, he’s thinking about fishing, safari, and his next book. Catherine, seven years younger, is jealous of his work, obsessed with fashion and her tan, experimenting with androgyny (she and David clip and color their hair to match). “Catherine seems to encourage David’s
writing,” “but she really can’t stand the idea. To undermine him, she promotes another woman in the relationship. It becomes a m+nage ? Trois. And dark forces are let loose.” She can’t prevent her husband from writing, and as David
The story is broken up throughout the book, starting with quick sentences and ending with long gripping passages, so the reader feels the writer’s dislocation — drawn into Africa, thrown back into France, with two women waiting. The climax of the novel has to do with Catherine’s reaction to this story, which David has written by hand in the simple cahiers used by French schoolchildren. A disaster then occurs which is the worst that can befall a writer as a writer, and the menage breaks up forever, two to stay together and one to leave. AT first reading this is a surprising story to receive from the great outdoor athlete of American literature. He has not previously presented
himself as a clinician of bedroom practices. Even more interesting is the passivity of his writer hero who, on the evidence, hates big-game hunting, and who is portrayed as totally subject to the powers of women, hapless before
temptation and unable to take action in the face of adversity. The story is told from David Bourne’s masculine point of view, in the intimate or pseudo-third person Hemingway preferred, but its major achievement is Catherine
Bourne. There has not before been a female character who dominates a Hemingway narrative. Catherine in fact may be the most impressive of any woman character in Hemingway’s work, more substantive and dimensional than Pilar in ”For
Whom the Bell Tolls,” or Brett Ashley in ”The Sun Also Rises.” Even though she is launched from the naive premise that sexual fantasizing is a form of madness, she takes on the stature of the self-tortured Faustian, and is portrayed as a brilliant woman trapped into a vicarious participation in someone else’s creativity. She represents the most informed and deli-cate reading Hemingway has given to any woman. At one point he conceived of it as one of a trilogy of books in which the sea figured. Certainly its title
suggests a governing theme o f his creative life, the loss of paradise, the expulsion from the garden, which controls ”The Sun also rises” and ”A Farewell to Arms,” among other books and stories. As for David Bourne, he is
unmistakably the younger literary brother of Jake Barnes,the newspaperman wounded to impotence in that first expatriate novel. But David’s passivity is not physical and therefore more difficult to put across. He reminds us a bit,
actually, of Robert Cohn, whom Jake Barnes despised for suffering quietly the belittling remarks of women in public.Perhaps Hemingway is learning to dispense his judgments more thoughtfully.
1) Clifford, Stephen P., and Reading Hemingway: The Facts in
06-01-1997, pp 172(11).
The Southern Review, 04-01-1999, pp 330.