The Garden of Eden by Ernest Hemingway

The year was 1946. In Cuba, Ernest Hemingway – the icon of “American masculinity,” as editor Tom Jenks one day would put it – was working on a novel, and the author reported that it was “Getting very big.” Over the next fifteen years, Hemingway’s instinct for omission would fail him, and the novel would grow to be 1,500 pages long by the time of his death. His widow, Mary Welsh Hemingway, collected the author’s literary remains and eventually she arrived in Charles Scribner Jr.’s office in New York City with a shopping bag full of unpublished material. Twenty-five years later, in 1986, a 247 pages long version of The Garden of Eden was published. The novel was a huge commercial success, and while many academics and professional critics were skeptical, the novel enamored quite a few Hemingway aficionados, partly because it displayed what some perceived to be new aspects of the author. Here was a sensitive Hemingway, far removed from the public legend that he had been busy building for decades, and (to pick just one example) John Updike’s review mentioned an “uncharacteristic ambivalence about hunting.”

However, The Garden of Eden does not really show a never before seen Hemingway. As early as 1935, his former mentor Gertrude Stein shared the following observation with journalists: “When I first met Hemingway he had a truly sensitive capacity for emotion, and that was the stuff of the first stories; but he was shy of himself and he began to develop, as a shield, a big Kansas City-brutality about it, and so he was ‘tough’ because he was really sensitive and ashamed that he was.”

Rather than offering something new, The Garden of Eden is, in a certain sense, a return to Hemingway’s literary beginnings, but this doesn’t mean that the novel is a step backwards. On the contrary. The Garden of Eden is a tremendously brave literary endeavor. It tears down the one-sided legend created by Hemingway and his admirers, and it emphasizes rarely seen aspects of the man and his art – the novel deepens the complexity and ambivalence of both Hemingway’s life and his literary efforts.

Until and well beyond his death Hemingway continued to be the very image of masculinity, but while he polished his public image, The Garden of Eden was the semi-secret, cross-gendering, and multifaceted manuscript he wrote. And neither the public Hemingway nor the Hemingway who wrote The Garden of Eden is a lie – they are both true. Thus, The Garden of Eden is a true and great Hemingway novel.

Find and reserve this book in the catalog.


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