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Poor Papa

To the Editors:

In the October 21, 1999, issue of the NYR Thomas Flanagan says of The Garden of Eden, both the novel and by extension the 2,400-page manuscript:

At the end [of Tom Jenks’s edited version], Marita and Bourne are deeply in love, and Bourne is writing steadily and well, like Ernest Hemingway. Whether or not this is an ending dictated by Jenks’s wish to tidy things up is an open question.

Hemingway was dealing here with psychologically explosive material upon which he could never have imposed aesthetic closure…. He had reached the edge of something dangerous and puzzling to him in this unfinishable manuscript.

In fact Hemingway did bring closure to the manuscript, sort of and twice. In Folder 3 of the copy of the manuscript at the Kennedy Library, on what appears to be the back of a large envelope, Hemingway lists the contents. Among them is the following: “Also provisional final Chapter written May 1958 when thought something might happen—.” Rose Marie Burwell, among others, and mistakenly I would say, in her study Hemingway: The Postwar Years and the Posthumous Novels, puts the date of the provisional ending in May of 1950. Regardless, in the provisional ending David and Catharine are reunited on a beach near the Estoril. At first they lightheartedly recall their conjugal experiences, but with the recollection of the suicide of their mutual friend Barbara their thoughts darken into remembrance of Catharine’s insanity and her time spent in a Swiss sanitarium. No mention is made of Marita, and Catharine proposes a suicide pact if she should mentally break down again.

Between November 16, 1958, and November 29, 1959, in Ketchum, Idaho, Hemingway rewrote Chapters 20 through 36 of the manuscript, and from the evidence of the internal dating found in the holograph he wrote between December 18, 1950, and February 24, 1959, what some scholars have considered a second ending to the manuscript, viz. Chapters 39 through 46. In this second ending David has rewritten the African stories, Catharine is gone, and Marita is his lover and muse, and David has grown introspective about reconciling living with writing.

All in all, a prodigious literary feat of writing and rewriting for an author late in his life, and one who was besieged by severe hypertension, kidney and liver ailments, and debilitating depression and paranoia. But as Mr. Flanagan significantly points out, Hemingway at this late date is writing “steadily and well” in Eden.

Aesthetic closure was not the problem with Eden. Hemingway could and did bring closure to the manuscript. What seems to have deserted him in the Eden manuscript was the art of omission that had served him so well in his early works.

John Leonard
San Francisco, California

Thomas Flanagan replies:

It is too bad that the word “closure” has leaked into literary discourse from the lexicon of grief therapy used by embalmers and funeral directors. As I wrote, and as he quotes, Hemingway “was dealing here with psychologically explosive material upon which he never could have imposed aesthetic [italics added here] closure.” It is well known that Hemingway wrote two endings, at separate times, but neither of them satisfactory in view of the material with which the body of the text or rather texts deal. I have not myself read the 2,400 page manuscript—oxen and wainwrights could not drag me to the task—but the summaries of various scholars make the matter clear. It is true, certainly, that the task of reconciling living and writing is a theme which runs through much of late Hemingway, and has been ignored by many readers. Although hanging around with ladies like Catharine and Marita is apt to make a fellow introspective indeed. He was better off with jolly, outdoors girls, like the nurse in A Farewell to Arms, although she too had her downside. Poor Papa.

Seriously, I’ve come to think that Barbara Solomon [Letters, NYR, December 16, 1999] was right to suggest, and myself lightheartedly to second, that the keepers of Hemingway’s flame should publish the whole thing.

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