Thursday, August 2, 2012

The Garden of Eden

Hemingway’s The Garden of Eden: Twenty Five Years of Criticism is a finely edited volume exploring Ernest Hemingway's  posthumously published novel The Garden of Eden, in 1986.

This book handles many aspects of the publication and reception of the novel.  There are essays about the state of the manuscript and the radical trimming done by a Scribner’s editor.  The problem of publishing posthumous (and in the case of Eden, unfinished) books is given much needed detail.  Feminist, post-colonial, and various other “post-modern” perspectives of the book are provided.  Some are well written and clear, other rich in the comic jargon that post-modernism churns out in abundance.

All these explorations lead to the most important aspect of this book, and The Garden of Eden.  The novel was an attempt by Hemingway to transcend both himself and his art as previously rendered.  He worked to create a novel which raised difficult questions about sex, art and identity that are only explored obliquely in his other works.  How difficult this was is seen in the sprawling, 200,000 word manuscript (toned down to 70,000 for publication) housed at the Kennedy Library in Boston.

That Hemingway did not succeed by finishing this novel is a tribute to the enormity of the task, and the many physical and mental challenges he faced in the post-war period.  But he left much work for scholars; and scholarship demands that a critical  edition of The Garden of Eden be published so interested readers can see what the complete vision of Hemingway might have been.  Then we can judge for ourselves. We can see, perhaps, how a great artist can always extent the reach of his or her vision.

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