His best. Time may show it to be the best single piece of any of us, I mean his and my contemporaries. This time, he discovered God, a Creator. Until now, his men and women had made themselves, shaped themselves out of their own clay; their victories and defeats were at the hands of each other, just to prove to themselves or one another how tough they could be. But this time, he wrote about pity: about something somewhere that made them all: the old man who had to catch the fish and then lose it, the fish that had to be caught and then lost, the sharks which had to rob the old man of his fish; made them all and loved them all and pitied them all. It’s all right. Praise God that whatever made and loves and pities Hemingway and me kept him from touching it any further.
William Faulkner’s review of Ernest Hemingway’s The Old Man and The Sea was first published in the Autumn 1952 issue of Shenandoah. The review is collected in Faulkner’s Essays, Speeches & Public Letters.
Hadn’t heard of Dwight Macdonald or his cranky essay “Masscult and Midcult” until I saw the NYRB edition in my local bookshop. Picked it up, didn’t put it down. The title essay here is on middlebrow culture, on how mass culture is not culture at all but a manufactured, predigested product. It was written in a prepostmodern era (if such a thing exists)—no Warhol, no reckoning with Pop Art, etc. Despite its elitist tone, it’s fantastic stuff, very insightful, and if I disagree with a lot of Macdonald’s criticism (his picking on Norman Rockwell is especially mean), I love his methods.
Haven’t gotten to any of the other essays yet, with the exception of his short skewering of Ernest Hemingway. It begins with a parody (below), and ends with a thoughtful rebuttal by George Plimpton. Macdonald doing Hemingway:
At the lake shore there was another rowboat drawn up. The two Indians stood waiting.
Nick and his father got in the stern of the boat and the Indians shoved it off and one of them got in to row. Uncle George sat in the stern of the camp rowboat. The young Indian shoved the camp boat off and got in to row Uncle George.
The two boats started off in the dark. Nick heard the oarlocks of the other boat quite a way ahead of them in the mist. The Indians rowed with quick choppy strokes. Nick lay back with his father’s arm around him. It was cold on the water. The Indian who was rowing them was working very hard, but the other boat moved further ahead in the mist all the time.
“Where are we going, Dad?” Nick asked.
“Over to the Indian camp. There is an Indian lady very sick.”
“Oh,” said Nick.
Across the bay they found the other boat beached. Uncle George was smoking a cigar in the dark. The young Indian pulled the boat way up on the beach. Uncle George gave both the Indians cigars.
“Cat in the Rain”
by Ernest Hemingway
There were only two Americans stopping at the hotel. They did not know any of the people they passed on the stairs on their way to and from their room. Their room was on the second floor facing the sea. It also faced the public garden and the war monument. There were big palms and green benches in the public garden. In the good weather there was always an artist with his easel. Artists liked the way the palms grew and the bright colors of the hotels facing the gardens and the sea. Italians came from a long way off to look up at the war monument. It was made of bronze and glistened in the rain. It was raining. The rain dripped from the palm trees. Water stood in pools on the gravel paths. The sea broke in a long line in the rain and slipped back down the beach to come up and break again in a long line in the rain. The motor cars were gone from the square by the war monument. Across the square in the doorway of the cafe a waiter stood looking out of the empty square.
The American wife stood at the window looking out. Outside right under their window a cat was crouched under one of the dripping green tables. The cat was trying to make herself so compact that she would not be dripped on.
“I’m. going down and get that kitty,” the American wife said.
“I’ll do it,” her husband offered from the bed.
“No, I’ll get it. The poor kitty out trying to keep dry under a table.”
The husband went on reading, lying propped up with the two pillows at the foot of the bed.
“Don’t get wet,” he said.
The wife went downstairs and the hotel owner stood up and bowed to her as she passed the office. His desk was at the far end of the office. He was an old man and very tall.
“Il piove,” the wife said. She liked the hotel-keeper.
“Si, si, Signora, brutto tempo. It is very bad weather.”
He stood behind his desk in the far end of the dim room. The wife liked him. She liked the deadly serious way he received any complaints. She liked the way he wanted to serve her. She liked the way he felt about being a hotel-keeper. She liked his old, heavy face and big hands.
Liking him she opened the door and looked out. It was raining harder. A man in a rubber cape was crossing the empty square to the cafe. The cat would be around to the right. Perhaps she could go along under the eaves. As she stood in the door-way an umbrella opened behind her. It was the maid who looked after their room.
“You must not get wet,” she smiled, speaking Italian. Of course, the hotel-keeper had sent her.
With the maid holding the umbrella over her, she walked along the gravel path until she was under their window. The table was there, washed bright green in the rain, but the cat was gone. She was suddenly disappointed. The maid looked up at her.
“Ha perduto qualque cosa, Signora?”
“There was a cat,” said the American girl.
“Si, il gatto.”
“A cat?” the maid laughed. “A cat in the rain?”
“Yes,” she said, “under the table.” Then, “Oh, I wanted it so much. I wanted a kitty.”
When she talked English the maid’s face tightened.
“Come, Signira,” she said. “We must get back inside. You will be wet.”
“I suppose so”, said the American girl.
They went back along the gravel path and passed in the door. The maid stayed outside to close the umbrella. As the American girl passed the office, the padrone bowed from his desk. Something felt very small and tight inside the girl. The padrone made her feel very small and at the same time really important. She had a momentary feeling of being of supreme importance. She went on up the stairs. She opened the door of the room. George was on the bed, reading.
“Did you get the cat?” he asked, putting the book down.
“It was gone.”
“Wonder where it went to,” he said, resting his eyes from reading.
She sat down on the bed.
“I wanted it so much,” she said. “I don’t know why I wanted it so much. I wanted that poor kitty. It isn’t any fun to be a poor kitty out in the rain.”
George was reading again.
She went over and sat in front of the mirror of the dressing table looking at herself with the hand glass. She studied her profile, first one side and then the other. Then she studied the back of her head and her neck.
“Don’t you think it would be a good idea if I let my hair grow out?” she asked, looking at her profile again.
George looked up and saw the back of her neck, clipped close like a boy’s.
“I like it the way it is.”
“I get so tired of it,” she said. “I get so tired of looking like a boy.”
George shifted his position in the bed. He hadn’t looked away from her since she started to speak.
“You look pretty darn nice,” he said.
She laid the mirror down on the dresser and went over to the window and looked out. It was getting dark.
“I want to pull my hair back tight and smooth and make a big knot at the back that I can feel,” she said. “I want to have a kitty to sit on my lap and purr when I stroke her.”
“Yeah?” George said from the bed.
“And I want to eat at a table with my own silver and I want candles. And I want it to be spring and I want to brush my hair out in front of a mirror and I want a kitty and I want some new clothes.”
“Oh, shut up and get something to read.,” George said. He was reading again.
His wife was looking out of the window. It was quite dark now and still raining in the palm trees.
“Anyway, I want a cat,” she said, “I want a cat. I want a cat now. If I can’t have long hair or any fun, I can have a cat.”
George was not listening. He was reading his book. His wife looked out of the window where the light had come on in the square.
Someone knocked at the door.
“Avanti,” George said. He looked up from his book.
In the doorway stood the maid. She held a big tortoise-shell cat pressed tight against her and swung down against her body.
“Excuse me,” she said, “the padrone asked me to bring this for the Signora.”
Enjoy Thanksgiving with our menu of literary recipes:
Christmas Bonus: George Orwell’s Recipes for Plum Cake and Christmas Pudding
In general, I dislike reviews that frontload context—get to the book, right? So here’s a short review of Ernest Hemingway’s The Garden of Eden: it is stranger than most of what Hemingway wrote, by turns pleasant, uncomfortable, bewildering, and beautiful. And readable. It’s very, very readable. Young people (or older folks; let’s not be prejudiced) working their way through Hemingway shouldn’t put The Garden of Eden on the back-burner in favor of his more famous works, and anyone who might have written off Hemingway as unreflective macho bravado should take a look at some of the strange gender games this novel has to offer. So, that’s a recommendation, okay?
Now on to that context, which I think is important here. See, The Garden of Eden is one of those unfinished novels that get published posthumously, put together by editors and publishers and other book folk, who play a larger role than we like to admit in the finished books we get from living authors anyway. For various reasons, cultural, historical, etc., we seem to favor the idea of the Singular Artistic Genius who sculpts beauty and truth out of raw Platonic forms that only he or she can access (poor tortured soul). The reality of how our books get to us is a much messier affair, and editors and publishers and even literary studies departments in universities have a large hand in this process, one we tend to ignore in favor of the charms of a Singular Artistic Genius. There’s a fascinating process there, but also a troubling one. Editing issues complicate our ideals of (quite literally) stable authority—is this what the author intended?, we ask (New Critics be damned!). David Foster Wallace and Michael Pietsch, Raymond Carver and Gordon Lish, Franz Kafka and Max Brod, Mary Shelley and Percy Shelley . . . not to mention Shakespeare, Chaucer, Beowulf, The Bible, Homer, etc. etc. etc. But you’re here to read about The Garden of Eden, right gentle reader? Mea culpa. I’ve been blathering away. Let me turn the reins over to the estimable talents of E.L. Doctorow, who offers the following context in his 1986 review of the book in The New York Times—
Since Hemingway’s death in 1961, his estate and his publishers, Charles Scribner’s Sons, have been catching up to him, issuing the work which, for one reason or another, he did not publish during his lifetime. He held back ”A Moveable Feast” out of concern for the feelings of the people in it who might still be alive. But for the novel ”Islands in the Stream” he seems to have had editorial misgivings. Even more deeply in this category is ”The Garden of Eden,” which he began in 1946 and worked on intermittently in the last 15 years of his life and left unfinished. 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.
So, yeah. The version we have of The Garden of Eden is heavily cut, and also likely heavily arranged. But that’s what editors do, and this is the book we have (for now, anyway—it seems like on the year of its 25th anniversary of publication, and the 50th anniversary of Hemingway’s death that Scribner should work toward putting out an unedited scholarly edition) — so I’ll talk about that book a bit.
The Garden of Eden tells the story of a few months in the lives of a young newlywed couple, David Bourne, an emerging novelist, and his wife Catherine, a trust fund baby flitting about Europe. The novel is set primarily on the French Riviera, in the thin sliver of high years between the two big wars. David and Catherine spend most of their days in this Edenic setting eating fine food and making love and swimming and riding bikes and fishing. And drinking. Lots and lots of drinking. Lots of drinking. It all sounds quite beautiful—h0w about a taste?
On this morning there was brioche and red raspberry preserve and the eggs were boiled and there was a pat of butter that melted as they stirred them and salted them lightly and ground pepper over them in the cups. They were big eggs and fresh and the girl’s were not cooked quite as long as the young man’s. He remembered that easily and he he was happy with his which he diced up with the spoon and ate with only the flow of the butter to moisten them and the fresh early morning texture and the bite of the coarsely ground pepper grains and the hot coffee and the chickory-fragrant bowl of café au lait.
Hemingway’s technique throughout the novel is to present the phenomenological contours of a heady world. It’s lovely to ride along with David and Catherine, rich and free and beautiful.
Their new life together is hardly charmed, however. See, Catherine gets a haircut—
Her hair was cropped as short as a boy’s. It was cut with no compromises. It was brushed back, heavy as always, but the sides were cut short and the ears that grew close to her head were clear and the tawny line of her hair was cropped close to her head and smooth and sweeping back. She turned her head and lifted her breasts and said, “Kiss me please.” . . .
“You see, she said. “That’s the surprise. I’m a girl. But now I’m a boy too and I can do anything and anything and anything.”
“Sit here by me,” he said. “What do you want, brother.”
David’s playful response—calling his wife “brother”—covers up some of his shock and fear, but it also points to his underlying curiosity and gender confusion. And indeed, Catherine’s new haircut licenses her to “do anything and anything and anything” — beginning with some strange bed games that night—
He had shut his eyes and he could feel the long light weight of her on him and her breasts pressing against him and her lips on his. He lay there and felt something and then her hand holding him and searching lower and he helped with his hands and then lay back in the dark and did not think at all and only felt the weight and the strangeness inside and she said, “Now you can’t tell who is who can you?”
“You are changing,” she said. “Oh you are. You are. Yes you are and you’re my girl Catherine. Will you change and be my girl and let me take you?”
“No. I’m Peter. You’re my wonderful Catherine. You’re my beautiful, lovely Catherine. You were so good to change. Oh thank you, Catherine, so much. Please understand. Please know and understand. I’m going to make love to you forever.”
David, partial stand-in for Hemingway, transforms into a girl who feels “something” during sex with Catherine (or, ahem, Peter)—note that that “something” has no clear referent. As their gender inverting games continue (much to David’s horror), Hemingway’s usually concrete language retreats to vague proforms without referents, “it”s without antecedents; his usually precise diction dissolves in these scenes, much as the Bournes’ marriage dissolves each time Catherine escalates the gender inversion. David gives her the nickname “Devil,” as if she were both Eve and Serpent in their Garden. Catherine’s transformations continue as she cuts her hair back even more, and sunbathes all the time so that she can be as dark as possible. She dyes her hair a silver blonde and makes David get his hair cut and dyed the same.
The bizarre behavior (shades of Scott and Zelda?) culminates in Catherine introducing another woman into the marriage. Marita falls in love with both David and Catherine, but her lesbian sex with Catherine only accelerates the latter’s encroaching insanity. David is initially radically ambivalent to the ménage à trois proposed by his wife; he has the good sense to see that a three-way marriage is ultimately untenable and that his wife is going crazy. He vacillates between hostility and love for the two women, but eventually finds a support system in Marita as it becomes increasingly apparent (to all three) that Catherine is depressed and mentally unstable, enraged that David has ceased to write about the pair’s honeymoon adventures on the Riviera. Catherine has been bankrolling David; jealous of good reviews from his last novel, she insists that he write only their story, but David would rather write “the hardest story” he knows—the story of his childhood in East Africa with his father, a big game hunter.
In some of the most extraordinary passages of The Garden of Eden, David writes himself into his boyhood existence, trailing a bull elephant with his father through a jungle trek. David has spotted the elephant by moonlight, prompting his father and his father’s fellow tracker and gun bearer Juma to hunt the old beast. As they trail the animal, David begins to realize how horrible the hunt is, how cruel it is to kill the animal for sport. The passages are somewhat perplexing given Hemingway’s reputation as a hunter. Indeed, this is one of the major features of The Garden of Eden: it repeatedly confounds or complicates our ideas about Hemingway the man’s man, Hemingway the writer, Hemingway the hunter. David describes the wounded, dying elephant—
They found him anchored, in such suffering and despair that he could no longer move. He had crashed through the heavy cover where he had been feeding and crossed a path of open forest and David and his father had run along the heavily splashed blood trail. Then the elephant had gone on into thick forest and David had seen him ahead standing gray and huge against the trunk of a tree. David could only see his stern and then his father moved ahead of him and he followed and they came alongside the elephant as though he was a ship and David saw the blood coming from his flanks and running down his sides and then his father raised his rifle and fired and the elephant turned his head with the great tusks moving heavy and slow and looked at them and when his father fired the second barrel the elephant seemed to sway like a felled tree and came smashing down toward them. But he was not dead. He had been anchored and now he was down with his shoulder broken. He did not move but his eye was alive and looked at David. He had very long eyelashes and his eye was the most alive thing David had ever seen.
David succeeds in writing this “hard” story, and the passages are remarkable in their authenticity—David’s story is a good story, the highlight of the book perhaps; it’s not just Hemingway telling us that David wrote a great story, we actually get to experience the story itself as well as the grueling process by which it was made. Hemingway and his surrogate David show us—make us experience—how difficult writing really is, and then share the fruit of that labor with us. These scenes raise the stakes of The Garden of Eden, revealing how serious David is when he remarks (repeatedly) that the writing is the most important thing—that it outweighs love, it surpasses his marriage. These realizations freight the climax of the novel all the more heavily, but I will avoid anymore spoilers.
The Garden of Eden has some obvious flaws. Marita is underdeveloped at best for such an important character, and her love for David and Catherine remains unexplored, and in fact barely remarked upon. The biggest problem with the book is its conclusion, which feels too pat, too obvious for such a strange, amorphous book. It is here that the presence of an editorial hand seems clearest, to the extent that I wonder if the short little chapter that concludes the novel wasn’t cobbled together from a few stray sentences throughout the manuscript. But The Garden of Eden, despite some shortcomings, is a book well worth reading. The novel complicates not just Hemingway’s reputation, but also our sense of Hemingway’s sense of himself. Recommended.
[Ed. note: Biblioklept originally published a version of this review in August of 2011]
“The End of Something” by Ernest Hemingway
In the old days Hortons Bay was a lumbering town. No one who lived in it was out of sound of the big saws in the mill by the lake. Then one year there were no more logs to make lumber. The lumber schooners came into the bay and were loaded with the cut of the mill that stood stacked in the yard. All the piles of lumber were carried away. The big mill building had all its machinery that was removable taken out and hoisted on board one of the schooners by the men who had worked in the mill. The schooner moved out of the bay toward the open lake, carrying the two great saws, the travelling carriage that hurled the logs against the revolving, circular saws and all the rollers, wheels, belts and iron piled on a hull-deep load of lumber. Its open hold covered with canvas and lashed tight, the sails of the schooner filled and it moved out into the open lake, carrying with it everything that had made the mill a mill and Hortons Bay a town.
The one-story bunk houses, the eating-house, the company store, the mill offices, and the big mill itself stood deserted in the acres of sawdust that covered the swampy meadow by the shore of the bay.
Ten years later there was nothing of the mill left except the broken white limestone of its foundations showing through the swampy second growth as Nick and Marjorie rowed along the shore. They were trolling along the edge of the channel-bank where the bottom dropped off suddenly from sandy shallows to twelve feet of dark water. They were trolling on their way to set night lines for rainbow trout.
“There’s our old ruin, Nick,” Marjorie said.
Nick, rowing, looked at the white stone in the green trees.
“There it is,” he said.
“Can you remember when it was a mill?” Marjorie asked.
“I can just remember,” Nick said.
“It seems more like a castle,” Marjorie said.
Nick said nothing. They rowed on out of sight of the mill, following the shore line. Then Nick cut across the bay.
“They aren’t striking,” he said.
“No,” Marjorie said. She was intent on the rod all the time they trolled, even when she talked. She loved to fish. She loved to fish with Nick.
It’s a fine novel [For Whom the Bell Tolls], better than anybody else writing could do. Thanks for thinking of me and for your dedication. I read it with intense interest, participating in a lot of the writing problems as they came along and often quite unable to discover how you brought off some of the effects, but you always did. The massacre was magnificent and also the fight on the mountain and the actual dynamiting scene. Of the sideshows I particularly liked the vignette of Karkov and Pilar’s Sonata to death—and I had a personal interest in the Moseby guerilla stuff because of my own father. The scene in which the. father says goodbye to his son is very powerful. I’m going to read the whole thing again.
I never got to tell you how I like To Have and to Have Not either. There is observation and writing in that that the boys will be imitating with a vengeance—paragraphs and pages that are right up with Dostoiefski in their undeflected intensity.
Congratulations too on your new book’s great success. I envy you like hell and there is no irony in this. I always liked Dostoiefski with his wide appeal more than any other European—and I envy you the time it will give you to do what you want.
With Old Affection,
P.S. I came across an old article by John Bishop about how you lay four days under dead bodies at Caporetto and how I flunked out of Princeton (I left on a stretcher in November—you can’t flunk out in November) … What I started to say was that I do know something about you on the Italian front, from a man who was in your unit—how you crawled some hellish distance pulling a wounded man with you and how the doctors stood over you wondering why you were alive with so many perforations. Don’t worry—I won’t tell anybody. Not even Allan Campbell who called me up and gave me news of you the other day.
P.S. (2) I hear you are marrying one of the most beautiful people I have ever seen. Give her my best remembrance.
(November 8, 1940; republished in New Directions’ edition of The Crack Up).