a Hemingway Novel
“Getting very big,” writes Ernest Hemingway from his Cuban estate. The year is 1947, and Hemingway, surrounded by packs of beloved old cats and sycophants, isn’t referring to his belly or his ego, but to The Garden of Eden—a 1,000 page novel that’s nowhere near finished after a full year’s work. “I cut the hell out of it periodically,” he claims, but over the next twelve years he edits far less than he adds: Hemingway’s last novel grows to 1,500 pages, his instinct for omission fails, he runs out of time, and in the end, 25 years after his death, someone else has to do the cutting for him.
“Here’s the big one,” says Tom Jenks, dropping a 1, 500-page typescript onto his desk in the Charles Scribner’s Sons offices. The year is 1986, and Jenks, surrounded by stacks of beloved new novels and short stories, is also talking about The Garden of Eden, which he’s just edited down from Hemingway’s bloated original to a tight—and highly salable—247-page novel.
“I did only what I thought Hemingway would have done,” says Jenks, eager to talk but afraid the book will be seen as his rather than Hemingway’s. “The book is full of tremendous writing, and a damned good story, and everything in here is his. I cut and rearranged, but added nothing, rewrote nothing.”
Jenks will do a lot more talking when The Garden of Eden is published, next month. He’ll make a promotional trip to the Midwest, pitching the product on radio and television and fielding questions from reporters and critics who wonder about the ethics of trotting out still more Hemingway—this is the writer’s tenth posthumous book, and some don’t believe it’s the last. But one thing Jenks won’t have to do is manufacture interest. The Garden of Eden, only the second posthumous novel (the first, Islands in the Stream, was on the New York Times bestseller list for 23 weeks in 1970 and 1971), just might be Hemingway’s most surprising book of all.
The novel, as Jenks told reporters, presents a “new, sensitive Hemingway,” writing with “tenderness and vulnerability” about “strange and disturbing” sexual gamesmanship, including male-female role reversals and a menage à trois. It also contains a short story—“written” in the course of the book by its protagonist—with a negative view of elephant hunting. (“It may come as a surprise, but Hemingway never shot an elephant,” says Patrick Hemingway, Ernest’s second son. “He thought it wrong—he felt that elephants are our equals.”)
In short, the macho man of letters, celebrated hunter and frequent husband used this late novel “to take on everything people had pinned on him, his work, and his image,” says Jenks. “The book seems so modern—the characters’ haircuts, their clothes, their style. It’s 1986’s obsession with androgyny. Not Michael Jackson, but almost. ”
If all this were not intriguing enough, there were rumors that the book had gone long unpublished because Mary, Hemingway’s fourth wife and widow, objected to its sexual revelations. In her memoir, How It Was, Mary reports that she and her husband were “androgynous” in bed; in The Garden of Eden, there are several nocturnal scenes—anatomically vague but emotionally precise—in which the lovers swap sexual identities. Scribner’s denies that Mary, now suffering from a long illness, ever barred publication.
Good Morning America and Cable News Network have already asked Jenks for interviews.
Scribner’s sold excerpts to Life, Sports Illustrated, and the Times Book Review (whose excerpt will appear first, on April 27, 1986) for a total of nearly $75, 000and free ads worth $400,000. The first print run was 100,000 copies. The Book-of-the-Month Club paid six figures for the right to publish the book as a main selection. Foreign-rights reps of two British publishers showed up at Scribner’s begging for fiercely guarded galleys.
It’s a classic success story in the making: A young fiction editor leaves a glossy magazine to join a once-great publishing house that’s fallen on hard times. Though he’s never edited a novel before, he takes on a flawed Hemingway manuscript and transforms it into a good read and an even better business proposition.
With so much money at stake, the house protected serial rights by printing few galleys and sending them to reviewers late, with orders not to quote a line before publication. Dismissing the novel, Kirkus Reviews, an influential book-trade journal, responded by printing long blank spaces instead of quotations. Jenks’s nightmare, of course, is that the Kirkus pan will be the first of many; Publishers Weekly also scorched the book. But then again, Islands in the Stream was roasted by many critics—and it sold more than a million copies anyway.
Bestsellers are seldom seen at Scribner’s these days. One of the oldest publishers in the country, Scribner’s—the book company that defined American fiction in the days when Maxwell Perkins edited Hemingway, Scott Fitzgerald, and Thomas Wolfe—has lost its luster. In recent years, the company has been unable to compete with prestigious houses like Knopf or blockbuster houses like Simon & Schuster. It has survived on its crime novels, its reference books, and its backlist.
“Scribner’s has a tremendously distinguished backlist,” says Michael Korda of Simon & Schuster. “Now it has to get to the point where that backlist becomes the cream rather than the milk. ” Acquired by Macmillan in 1984, Scribner’s moved into cheaper offices downtown, sold its renowned Fifth Avenue bookstore, and last year hired Random House subsidiary-rights director Mildred Marmur as publisher and president. Marmur brought in Christine Pevitt of the Literary Guild as editor-in-chief, recruited editors—such as Jenks, who came from Esquire and told them to find hot new writers. (“We thought Tom was heading into publishing oblivion,” says a friend.) In 1985, Scribner’s didn’t have a single book on the Times fiction-best-seller list, and its only nonfiction bestseller was a bullfighting book called The Dangerous Summer. The author of that book, of course, is Ernest Hemingway.
The Hemingway industry, in fact, has never been healthier. (This year, Hemingway even made W’s “In” list. )Hemingway scholars, friends, and aficionados continue to turn out an endless stream of books: Four biographies have appeared in the past year, and more dissertations were written on Hemingway in 1985 than on any other writer. Hemingway’s own books are together selling 650,000 copies a year; he and Fitzgerald remain Scribner’s biggest money-makers.
The Garden of Eden reads at times as if the classic Hemingway man were married to Edie Sedgwick. Set in the 1920s, it’s the hedonistic tale of newlyweds Catherine and David Bourne, a 28-year-old writer enjoyingearly success. The novel opens in the French seaport village of Le Grau-du-Roi, where Hemingway and his second wife, Pauline, spent their honeymoon in 1927. A fashion editor at Paris Vogue, Pauline had befriended Ernest and his first wife, Hadley, two years before and lived with them on the French Riviera in the summer of 1926. “The arrangement has advantages until you know how it works out,” Hemingway later wrote about the summer that ended his first marriage and launched his second. “The husband has two attractive girls around when he has finished work. One is new and strange and if he has bad luck he gets to love them both. . . . First it is stimulating and fun. . . . All things truly wicked start from innocence. ” He could have been talking about The Garden of Eden.
Like all Hemingway heroes, David Bourne resembles his creator: Cool and laconic, he’s thinking about fishing, safari, and his next book. Catherine, seven years younger, is jealous of his work, obsessed with fashion and her tan, experimenting with androgyny (she and David clip and color their hair to match).
“Catherine seems to encourage David’s writing,” says Jenks, “but she really can’t stand the idea. To undermine him, she promotes another woman in the relationship. It becomes a menage à trois. And dark forces are let loose.”
Hemingway is less interested in sex games than in the mental gymnastics that follow. The complexities seem straight out of Fitzgerald (though the prose is typical mannered Hemingway), and Catherine Bourne, with her jealousies and fractured monologues, comes to resemble Zelda. She can’t prevent her husband from writing, and as David falls into his work, Hemingway’s novel melts into the short story David writes—a superb piece about a father and son hunting elephant on an African safari. The story is broken up throughout the book, starting with quick sentences and ending with long gripping passages, so the reader feels the writer’s dislocation—drawn into Africa, thrown back into France, with two women waiting.
“Mr. Jenks, are you a Hemingway expert?” It was an afternoon in January just after The Garden of Eden had been announced, and a scholar concerned about Jenks’s credentials was on the phone. He wanted to know if Jenks, 35, had majored in Hemingway or written a dissertation on him.
Jenks broke the news gently: Not a Hemingway expert. No dissertation. “I’m just a working fiction editor,” he said. “Just a guy interested in storytelling, and in language.” Then he got back to work.
Not only was Jenks no expert—he hadn’t read a Hemingway novel in years. He didn’t review the Hemingway canon before he started, and he still hasn’t read Islands in the Stream. Preparing to edit, he asked no one for advice. “I thought it’d gum me up,” says Jenks, who grew up in Virginia, dropped out of college there, and worked on construction jobs for a decade before finishing school and moving quickly from Columbia to The Paris Review to Esquire to Scribner’s.
In fact, Jenks turned down the offer when it was first made. “I said, ‘I don’t care if I never see another Hemingway story again.’ Publishing more Hemingway,” he says, “seemed less interesting than publishing new writers, which is what I came to Scribner’s to do.”
Charles Scribner Jr., one of three editors who tried and failed to edit the book before Jenks, says that Jenks’s lack of regard for the Hemingway cult is part of the reason he got the job. “Coming to the task fresh, without a long personal association with Hemingway, Tom was less inhibited,” says Scribner. “I don’t think someone tied up with Hemingway could have done the job he did.”
Some Hemingway scholars think it wrong to publish work the master deemed unfit. (Hemingway once wrote that he wanted “all my papers and uncompleted mss. burned when I am buried,” but Scribner says Hemingway once said “that there would be more material to publish. He said, ‘I’ve left these books.’ll ”) Others are aching to get a look at the book, either to advance pet theories or—to hear Jenks tell it—to second guess every editing decision he made.
“There are going to be all sorts of disagreements,” says Hemingway biographer Carlos Baker, who read the unedited Garden of Eden, twenty years ago and dismissed it as “repetitious . . . interminable . . . [and] filled with astonishing ineptitudes.” “I didn’t like it much,” he says today, “but I wasn’t looking at it with an editor’s eye. Some will say it shouldn’t be published, but they’re still eager to get a look at it.”
“I don’t want to give them any ammunition before it comes out,” says Jenks, who edited in secrecy; few at Scribner’s even knew about the project. He wrote up a phony title page and hired a succession of temps to put his edited draft into the word processor, changing them frequently “so nobody would see too much.” One day, a typesetter turned to Jenks, smiled, and said, “Hemingway redux.” Soon after, she was gone.
Jenks won’t relax until the book appears. Then, he says, he’ll “just sit back and be amused by the response—the book is good, and Hemingway can take care of himself.”
Some observers have wondered whether Jenks can. “I saw the story [in the Times]” wrote the novelist William Kennedy in a sympathetic note to Jenks, “and suggest you invest in a bulletproof vest.”
The reading public will buy the book for a last glimpse of the master at work, writing well and truly about men and women, food and drink, hunting and fishing, the landscapes of Africa, Spain, and the South of France. But while working on The Garden of Eden, Hemingway was not always writing well and truly.
When he began the book in Cuba in early 1946, Hemingway hadn’t written fiction in four years. His mind had been “cauterized” by months of covering the war in Europe, by “alcohol and ruthlessness” and four concussions sustained in just two years. He’d spent most of 1945 recovering, and by 1946 he’d beaten back the headaches, insomnia, nightmares, and slowness of thought and speech; it was the sporadic ringing and buzzing in his ears that he could not shake, and finally just tried to ignore.
He learned how to write all over again, slicing through his own swollen prose along the way. In March 1947, he surveyed 900 rambling, longhand pages, told Maxwell Perkins he’d “had a hell of a time” getting started on them, and said he’d been forced to go back and write “much of it new where I did not have it right.”
There’s something heroic in a great, damaged writer’s struggle to return to form, and Hemingway finally did write his way back into shape. But he kept this battle to himself while polishing a public image based on other battles—against giant marlin, big game, and German soldiers. He bragged and blustered to magazine writers Malcolm Cowley and Lillian Ross, while at the same time, in The Garden of Eden, he was turning that hypermasculine image inside out.
Hemingway set the book aside and went back to it late in his life, after The Old Man and the Sea and the Nobel Prize, when his mind and body were again failing: He’d had a near-fatal plane crash on safari in Africa, and both his confidence and his “built-in shit detector” were shot. At times the work went well—one burst of revision, in July 1958, led him to predict it would be finished in three weeks. It was not: When Hemingway made final use of his double-barreled Boss shotgun in Idaho in 1961, he had 1, 500 pages but no book.
The galley proofs lie in a neat pile on Jenks’s desk, next to four of Hemingway’s thick typescript—stacks of them, boxed or bound with rubber bands, ranging in length from 400 to 1,500 pages. Eyes bright, Jenks picks up the galleys and, in his soft southern voice, reads a few lines.
David and Catherine Bourne drive in their Bugatti up a French beach road lined with white Basque villas and newly planted mimosas. Catherine tells her husband to pull into a café.
“Right after she says that, there was a bit more dialogue,” says Jenks. “I pulled it out because it was redundant.”
The Bugatti draws up to the curb and parks. The lovers walk to the café and dine alone in the company of strangers.
“That last part came from another place in the manuscript altogether,” says Jenks. “I had to remove the two characters they met in the café, so I healed the gap by taking narrative from a different eating scene that I didn’t have room to use.”
The passage, from the beginning of the fourth chapter, is the first Jenks had to dramatically rework. But while he was editing, Jenks had to make the book his own. He abandoned most of his other projects and worked twelve to fifteen hours a day. “As far as I could see,” says Charles Scribner, “he committed the entire thing to memory. He made a career out of it. ”
“I got very obsessive,” says Jenks.
Deep into the book, Hemingway had inserted another couple—Nick and Barbara Sheldon, young Americans in the Latin Quarter of Paris, based on his early days there with Hadley—as a dramatic foil to the main characters. But the subplot was never completed, and the Sheldons “were absolutely not finished characters, or finished ideas,” says Jenks. “Hemingway had planned to unite the two plot threads at the end, but he never did. So it was up to me to take the Sheldons out of the book.”
Most of the cutting Jenks did involved the Sheldons, and he found it difficult to remove them from the early, polished chapters—but he yanked them out all the same, filling the holes with lines lifted from other sections. Jenks also had to repair breaks in the book’s point of view, where the narrator, who “sees” through David’s eyes, slips inside Catherine’s mind. When he couldn’t make an acceptable change, he did nothing. “I didn’t try to make it clinically perfect,” he says.
Fortunately, Hemingway had left behind a few editing guides to help Jenks along. One was the dated notes that Hemingway had jotted in his margins, telling what to cut and how to fix what remained. “He’d say, ‘This is good,’ or ‘This is shit’ says Jenks. “Sometimes the notes were quite detailed. ”
Another guide was the language itself. “Hemingway worked by extension,” says Jenks. “He’d let two characters talk for twenty pages. In the manuscripts, the same conversation would take different forms, increasingly worked over, so I would know how he made his cutting decisions. I’d also find these wonderful experimental passages, long waves of rhythm—too long, and they had to be cut, but at any point a cut could break the wave, so I had to be careful.”
When he was finished, he says, “I felt I had a good book. I just didn’t know if anyone would agree with me.”
Early in November, Jenks and Scribner began a 36-hourtrip to decide the project’s fate. They flew over the Tetons to Bozeman, Montana, a town on the edge of the Gallatin National Forest. Jenks carried with him Hemingway’s uncut Garden of Eden typescript, his own edited version, and a bad case of nerves.
In Bozeman, they presented both versions of the book to Patrick Hemingway, who would pass judgment on Jenks’s work. “Of course Tom was nervous,” remembers Scribner. “If the family didn’t want to publish it, the whole project would have crashed to the ground.”
Patrick Hemingway knew that Jenks was on the spot.
“But Jenks didn’t show it,” says Patrick. ”I liked that.”
Jenks remembers being surprised by how much Patrick, though slight of build, resembled his father, especially in the thrusting jaw and overpowering grin. After spending most of his adult life as a white hunter in East Africa, Patrick moved to Montana in 1975 and devoted his time and energy to hunting, fishing, skiing, and traveling—the life of action his father had raised him for.
Jenks and Scribner checked into a hotel while Patrick went home to read. When they arrived for dinner at the small wood-frame farmhouse where Patrick lives with his wife, Carol, and assorted springbok and greater kudu heads, Ernest’s son was wearing his father’s broad grin, and Jenks and Scribner could relax.
“I was so pleased with it,” says Patrick. “I’d heard that it was full of these dark sexual secrets, but I found it to be rather a sunny book.”
Patrick especially liked David Bourne’s story about a father and son on safari, since the last time Patrick saw his father was on his final African safari, in 1953. Over a dinner of antelope steak, Patrick reminisced about him.
“I’ll never forget the antelope,” says Jenks.
“I believe in a certain amount of ceremony,” says Patrick.
After dinner, Patrick told Jenks and Scribner that reading the book had put him in mind of Woman with Basket,by the Cubist Juan Gris, Hemingway’s favorite painter. He said that he got the same feeling reading Hemingway’s book that he got looking at the Gris portrait. Then he leapt up, fetched a print of the painting, and his father’s book had its cover. In the morning, Jenks and Scribner returned to New York, narrowly missing the first blizzard of the year. Patrick Hemingway phoned Jenks at home to tell him again how much he liked the book. “It meant a lot,” says Jenks. Having passed this test—and secure in the knowledge that his handiwork has helped earn Hemingway’s estate and Scribner’s around $1 million—he seems inured to whatever criticism may lie ahead.
But there’s still one interested party Scribner and Jenks haven’t heard from. “In the life hereafter I may meet Ernest,” says Scribner. “I’ll be interested to learn how he feels about what we’ve done. If he doesn’t approve, I’m sure to know it.”
“On the day I die, I know he’ll be waiting for me,” says Jenks. “I hope it’s all right.”