The Garden of Eden

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

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 craft, though largely drawn from his other works, ring true.

Obviously, though, the work is unfinished. For example, Colonel John Boyle was clearly designed to be another of Hemingway’s “code” heroes, a man who knows how to live and tries to educate others. He remains undeveloped here, appearing in only one brief scene. The style, too, is unpolished, in many places almost a parody of the Hemingway trademark: the simple, declarative sentence with its “good” and “fine” and “true".

Still, the publication of this book does let readers see a different Hemingway, one who understood the strains of being a woman in a male-dominated world, who could present a convincingly happy ending for his hero, who could even express reservations about big-game hunting. Even if it were more flawed than it is, THE GARDEN OF EDEN would be an important book.

The Garden of Eden

(Literary Masterpieces, Volume 9)

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 from his second African safari and his life with Mary Welsh, his fourth wife. Somewhat later he began a third revision, which he never completed.

Faced with these various manuscripts, Tom Jenks, an editor for Scribner’s, has produced a remarkably coherent and nearly excellent novel of some sixty thousand words, about one-third the length of the original. In this version, he has removed the story of the painter Nick Sheldon and his wife, Barbara—apparently intended to parallel the lives of David and Catherine Bourne—and has made other editorial alterations. The book which has resulted is far better than Across the River and into the Trees or Islands in the Stream and hints at the greatness of Hemingway’s earliest, and best, fiction.

The Garden of Eden is a semiautobiographical account based on Hemingway’s honeymoon with his second wife, Pauline Pfeiffer, in May, 1927, at Le Grau-du-Roi, a fishing village in the Carmargue, on the Mediterranean coast of France. Like Hemingway, David Bourne, the novel’s hero, has recently written a successful novel (The Sun Also Rises, 1926, in Hemingway’s case) and has even more recently married.

Life for David and his bride, Catherine, is at first Edenic. They spend their days eating, drinking, and enjoying the beach; their nights they pass in lovemaking and peaceful sleep. As David reflects, “He had many problems when he married but he had thought of none of them here nor of writing nor of anything but being with this girl whom he loved and was married to. . . . It was a very simple world and he had never been truly happy in any other.”

Like the first Eden, though, this paradise is short-lived. Hemingway described the theme of the book as “the happiness of the Garden that a man must lose,” the same message he had developed in A Farewell to Arms and For Whom the Bell Tolls (1940). As early as the third page of the novel Catherine warns David, “I’m the destructive type, . . . and I’m going to destroy you.” In the tradition of Frances Clyne (The Sun Also Rises) and Mrs. Macomber (“The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber”), she becomes an emasculating heroine.

Unlike the...

(The entire section is 1476 words.)

Techniques / Literary Precedents

(Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction)

For the most part, the techniques Hemingway employs in this novel will be familiar to readers of his earlier work. For example, one constant...

(The entire section is 1294 words.)

Related Titles

(Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction)

Given the transformation of the long, complex manuscript of The Garden of Eden into a short posthumously edited novel, it may be too...

(The entire section is 238 words.)


(Literary Masterpieces, Volume 9)

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.