The Garden of Eden (Magill Book Reviews)
Having recently married Catherine Hill and published a second successful novel, David Bourne and his bride travel along the southern coast of France for their honeymoon. Theirs should be an idyllic life, for they are deeply in love, he is talented and recognized, she beautiful and rich.
Yet she is also jealous of David’s writing, which she regards as his mistress, and she is envious of his being a man. At first her fantasies about being a man are limited to the bedroom. Soon, though, she has her hair cut short so she will look more masculine, she has a tailor make pants for her, and she starts to call David “girl.” Later, she even picks up a girl, Marita. Catherine allows David to sleep with Marita but has a brief lesbian affair with her first.
Marita is more sensitive to David’s needs than the selfish Catherine and more appreciative of his writing. In a fit of jealousy, Catherine burns David’s notebooks, which contain his new stories, then goes off to arrange for the publication of his unfinished autobiographical novel that treats their life together. As the work ends, David is living with Marita and, with her encouragement, is rewriting the lost stories.
In places, Hemingway’s novel works well. The excerpts from David’s fictionalized account of elephant hunting in Africa before World War I are powerful. The detailed description of bicycle riding (chapter 15) is vintage Hemingway. The comments on the writer’s...
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The Garden of Eden (Magill's Literary Annual 1987)
In a letter to Charles A. Fenton, Ernest Hemingway declared, “Writing that I do not wish to publish, you have no right to publish. I would no more do a thing like that to you than I would cheat a man at cards or rifle his desk or wastebasket or read his personal letters.” Despite this objection, and despite his reservations about making certain manuscripts public, a number of these have been published since Hemingway’s death. A Moveable Feast (1964) he had held back not for aesthetic reasons but because of its sometimes harsh assessments of colleagues still living. Islands in the Stream (1970), though, he never finished, nor was he ever able to shape The Garden of Eden to his own satisfaction. Hemingway, however, was not easily contented: He told the Paris Review that he had rewritten the last page of A Farewell to Arms (1929) thirty-nine times before he got the words right.
The Garden of Eden proved even more daunting. Begun in 1946, it grew quickly, though without any plan, as Hemingway wrote against what he suspected was imminent death. By the next year he had some thousand pages of manuscript. He then put the novel aside for a decade, though he did use some of its material for Across the River and into the Trees (1950). In 1958 he again tackled the story, incorporating material...
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Techniques / Literary Precedents
For the most part, the techniques Hemingway employs in this novel will be familiar to readers of his earlier work. For example, one constant in Hemingway's fiction is his precise, carefully disciplined and economical, understated prose, which is far more than a mere matter of reportorial accuracy. The taut complexity of his style is closer to poetry than it is to the reporter's task of "telling it like it is." Attentive readers will see how his prose has "the dignity of movement of an iceberg" which, as Hemingway said, "is due to only one-eighth of it being above water." This controlling theory of writing results in Hemingway's techniques of implication, indirection, the deliberate omission of certain information in order to make the reader feel more than can be understood (Hemingway called this his "theory of omission"), and oblique and deeply buried allusions. Another technique which demonstrates Hemingway's mastery of style is his manner of constructing dialogue. His art of dialogue is at its best in The Garden of Eden, where conversation serves as a primary means of revealing character, carrying the movement of the story, and generating almost unbearable tension—all without the conventional intrusion of the narrator. Hemingway does not tell, he shows; this forces the reader to live through the experience, poised to hear the exact pitch, tonality, and the subtlest nuances.
More than any other Hemingway novel, The Garden of Eden deals...
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Given the transformation of the long, complex manuscript of The Garden of Eden into a short posthumously edited novel, it may be too early, or even beside the point, to discuss the relation of this novel to Hemingway's previous work. However, the novel does develop certain themes which he had treated in earlier work: androgyny, sexual roles, betrayal, the vocation of writing. The Garden of Eden, in whatever form we finally have it, will perhaps stand as Hemingway's most complete, detailed, and compelling treatment of these concerns. Finally, as the only long Hemingway fiction centered on the portrait of the writer at work, it may be his most self-reflexive and "contemporary" novel. This view, currently held by many commentators, may or may not prove in the long run to be accurate and useful, but it does suggest some of the ways in which The Garden of Eden is a radical departure from Hemingway's earlier work.
The relation of The Complete Short Stories to the earlier work can be stated succinctly: the best work in this volume, the enduring achievement in fiction, is found in the earlier work reprinted here. Most of the later work included is of secondary intensity and polish, and of interest mainly to biographers, to students of Hemingway who simply must see everything he wrote, and to the curious who wish to know the lessons that can be learned from reading the work that fails.
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Bibliography (Magill's Literary Annual 1987)
America. CLIV, May 17, 1986, p. 413.
Choice. XXIV, September, 1986, p. 122.
Kirkus Reviews. LIV, March 15, 1986, p. 414.
Los Angeles Times. May 22, 1986, V, p. 1.
National Review. XXXVIII, May 23, 1986, p. 44.
The New York Review of Books. XXXIII, June 12, 1986, p. 5.
The New York Times Book Review. XCI, May 18, 1986, p. 1.
The New Yorker. LXII, June 30, 1986, p. 85.
Newsweek. CVII, May 19, 1986, p. 7.
Publishers Weekly. CCXXIX, April 4, 1986, p. 51.
Time. CXXVII, May 26, 1986, p. 77.
Washington Post Book World. XVI, June 6, 1986, p. 1.
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