Dateline: Toronto/The Complete Toronto Star Dispatches, 19201924
Hemingway: A Biography
Along With Youth: Hemingway, The Early Years
Hemingway by now is like some old man who’s been sitting at the end of the bar for years. A fellow comes in and says, “Hey, that guy seems awfully tough; do you think he’s just showing off?” Yes, both. “I mean people who brag that much often turn out to be sissies, right?” To which one can only say, “You must be a stranger around here.”
We know Hemingway by now all right, if we’ve been paying the least attention. And as with old friends in general, any further analysis of him is likely to tell us less about him than we already know. All that biography can do in such a case is either introduce the man once again for newcomers, as Mr. Burgess has done, or add some fresh details and corroborations as have the Messrs. Meyers, Griffin, and Reynolds, or simply make up stories about him, as Hemingway did very nicely for himself.
Of these Hemingway stories, one of the tallest, even after being reputedly cut down to size by Scribner’s, may be his latest posthumous novel, The Garden of Eden. Up to now, it has been generally assumed that this book wasn’t published in the Fifties because it was so bad. This is possible—although the book isn’t so much plain bad as what the kids would call “weird.” But there are at least a couple of other perfectly good reasons for Hemingway’s reticence in the matter.
The first might be simple decency, or caution. The story is, superficially at least, a heavily mythologized version of the breakup of his first marriage, and both women involved, Hadley and Pauline, were not only still alive, but attempting to mother his children. In A Moveable Feast, Ernest inadvertently summarizes the plot thus: “An unmarried woman becomes the temporary best friend of another young woman who is married, goes to live with the husband and wife and then unknowingly, innocently and unrelentingly sets out to marry the husband.” And there, if you throw in Martha Gellhorn, Lady Brett, Jane Mason, and the rest of the menagerie, you have it.
In The Garden of Eden, the husband’s seduction is entirely artificial, and way beyond libel: it is turned into a sort of erotic charade, until nothing remains but a bitter taste, the essence of the affair. Even by the late Forties, Hemingway was long past doing this as well as he wanted to, and at times the dialogue is so remorselessly kittenish that one imagines a person at the next table sorely tempted to empty a pitcher of ice water over all three (fortunately there is no person at the next table—this being the Garden of Eden), but the book does do something, and becomes more intense and disquieting than anything in the novels Hemingway didn’t consider too bad to publish after the war.
In fact, Eden has haunting links with his prewar work, links which he snapped smartly …