If Ernest Hemingway had any notion of what would happen to his first drafts, miscellanea, letters received and sent, and unfinished manuscripts after his death, it’s likely he would have set fire to his study and all its contents before priming his shotgun and blowing his brains out on the second of July, 1961. For no sooner was he in his grave than did the supposed guardians of his legacy ransack Hemingway’s literary remains, ostensibly in the lofty interests of American literary history, more transparently for the continuing royalties the remaining manuscripts would add to the trove earned by the sales of work published in Hemingway’s lifetime.
From those looted papers soon came the grabbag reminiscence A Moveable Feast, a book assembled by Hemingway’s widow, Mary. Using various drafts, she transposed passages and chapters and rewrote substantial portions of the text, claiming all the while that her husband had himself finished the book in 1960 before leaving Cuba. Although she edited the book well, Mary did not treat her husband’s legacy with anything like restraint.
Six years later, in 1970, Islands in the Stream was issued, patched together out of drafts of a huge, unfinished cycle of stories Hemingway once had planned to call Harry Morgan. Instead, he abandoned the project. Knowing that the work was not up to his standards—and that the published books of his last years were plainly inferior to his early masterpieces—he presciently destroyed most of his rough versions. (That unfinished cycle had produced, over the years, the tedious novel To Have and Have Not and the fine novella The Old Man and the Sea; Hemingway made such use of his discarded drafts as he thought appropriate, sometimes successfully.) There followed Hemingway’s Selected Letters, drawing on private correspondence (which he had always regarded as privileged), along with a string of biographies and memoirs written despite Hemingway’s having, asked that no such book be issued for a hundred years after his death, and despite his having steadfastly refused to supply material or submit to interviews for proposed critical and life studies.
Fifteen years of silence passed before the assault on Hemingway’s legacy was renewed. Then, in 1985, Scribner’s released The Dangerous Summer, a piece of occasional journalism that Hemingway did not intend to publish as a book, although it came packaged as if Papa had wanted it that way. In 1959, Life magazine, the original publisher of The Old Man and the Sea, sent Hemingway to Spain to cover a round of bullfights by two rival matadors, the twenty-seven-year-old Antonio Ordoñez, whose father Cayetano had been immortalized in The Sun Also Rises, and Antonio’s brother-in-law Luis Miguel Dominguín. Hemingway quickly sided with Ordoñez, and during his stay he acted more as a rum-soaked publicity agent than as a journalist. Ignoring the fact that Dominguín was technically the better bullfighter of the two, Hemingway described him as a coward and hailed Ordoñez as the crowning glory of Spanish tauromachy. Hemingway went home to file his story, while Ordoñez soon became famous throughout Spain for his despicable tactics—hiding behind his cape, killing from the side,’ running away from the tiny mediotoros he chose to fight. He was eventually booed the bullfighting circuit.
Life had asked Hemingway for ten thousand words, or about 40 typescript pages. Its editors received a rambling manuscript of one hundred and twenty thousand words, approaching the size of Hemingway’s classic account of bullfighting, Death in the Afternoon. It was less a study of the Ordoñez-Dominguín rivalry than, as James Michener put it in his glancing introduction to the book, “a confused farewell from a great and legendary figure.” Confused it is. The reader arrives at ringside almost accidentally, for the bullfights stand as anticlimaxes to Hemingway’s real story: a foggy odyssey from barroom to barroom, where tired literary conversations and drunken anecdotes of the Spanish Civil War are the daily pastime; from sickbed to sickbed, where the matadors spend most of their hours recovering from carelessly earned wounds and where Hemingway spent most of his hours nursing hangovers and a rotting liver; from party to party, from town to town.
It was not one of Hemingway’s shining moments. Indeed, The Dangerous Summer approaches Hemingway at his worst. Swimming in the old man’s well-worn rhetorical tricks, the hard underpunctuated flourishes and tough-guyisms of 30 years’ practice, the book reaches the point of unwitting self-parody:
We inspected the animals, the poultry and stables and the gun room and I went into the cage of a wolf which had been recently trapped on the place and stayed with him which pleased Antonio. The wolf looked healthy and the odds were all against his having hydrophobia so I figured all he can do is bite you, so why not go in and see if you can work with him. The wolf was very nice and recognized someone who liked wolves.
In the remaining two years of his life, Hemingway came to see that he had misjudged both Dominguín and Ordoñez, and he increasingly regarded the Life essay—which the magazine’s editors had meanwhile chopped to their original specifications—as an embarrassment for all concerned. Hence, unlike some of his other occasional journalism, he did not shape the piece for later publication as a book. That it took a quarter of a century to appear between hard covers is evidence enough that Hemingway and, for a time, his literary executors did not wish to see it included in his canon. But even Hemingway’s assessment of his work would not matter, in the end, to the publishers.
A year after The Dangerous Summer appeared came an even worse blow to the writer’s reputation, the sorrowfully bad novel The Garden of Eden, which Hemingway’s biographer Carlos Baker rightly described as “an experimental compound of past and present, filled with astonishing ineptitudes.” Hemingway had set to work on the book in 1946, completing one thousand pages of manuscript in only six months, and had tinkered with it until the year of his death, by which time the much-revised text had ballooned to fifteen hundred pages. Unable to overcome the ultimate mediocrity of his story with even his best techniques, and unable clearly to isolate its many problems, thanks to the quarts of alcohol he was then consuming daily and his growing self-doubt about his abilities as a writer, Hemingway abandoned the manuscript, well aware that it was unpublishable.
Still, 25 years after his suicide, Hemingway’s publishers longed for another addition to the lucrative roster of Hemingway titles, and so Scribner’s commissioned a highly accomplished fiction editor, Tom Jenks, to cut The Garden of Eden to publishable length. The company had a precedent for this, of course, in Maxwell Perkins’s famous cut-and-paste editing of Thomas Wolfe’s half-million-word effusions, but it underplayed Jenks’s thankless surgery: in the publisher’s note at the head of the book, Scribner’s modestly averred that “in preparing the book for publication we have made some cuts in the manuscript.” For all Jenks’s superb editorial work, the story that emerged from the operating theater was still far from matching Hemingway’s talent.
The great distinction of The Garden of Eden is its open exploration of bisexuality, a theme that Hemingway no doubt regarded as being suitably daring at a period when many critics were publicly calling him a has-been who no longer had the courage to take risks. (Hemingway had toyed with the theme of bisexuality and mate-swapping earlier in the prefiguring story “Mr. and Mrs. Smith,” collected in In Our Time, as well as in portions of For Whom the Bell Tolls. And several of the stories in Winner Take Nothing address or hint at male and female homosexuality, usually alongside some intimation of castration.) The Garden of Eden tells the story of David Bourne, a writer, whose bibulous French seaside honeymoon with his wife Catherine—a composite of Hemingway’s first two wives, Hadley and Pauline, with a dollop of Zelda Fitzgerald thrown in for good measure—is punctuated by endless lunches, desultory conversations, ineptly rendered bouts of drunken lovemaking, and a languid affair conducted by both husband and wife with a mystery woman whose character is developed with all the care of a letter to Penthouse magazine. (Catherine: “I brought you a dark girl for a present. Don’t you like your present?” David: “I like my present very much.”)
Perhaps recognizing that what he had was not much of a story, Hemingway complicated the plot with curious elements of autobiography: when in doubt, he seems to have thought, resort to the roman à clef, full of sexual yearning and angst and adventure. David Bourne has just published his second novel, one that is earning him a string of letters from his publisher, each enclosing highly favorable reviews that serve only to depress him, since they remind him that he ought to be writing instead of dallying with wife and playmate—or, in Hemingway’s case, skirt-chasing and guzzling. In later sections of The Garden of Eden Hemingway accordingly inserts what are supposed to be passages from David’s novel-in-progress about an elephant hunt in East Africa. Hemingway probably discarded these passages from the final draft of his book The Green Hills of Africa, although his recent biographer Kenneth Lynn uneasily suggests that he plagiarized them from Beryl Markham’s memoir West With the Night, which he admired.
Whatever their origin, they mark the best writing in the book, certainly as contrasted with the surrounding dialogue between David and Catherine, another typical snippet of which is this:
“Can you publish it [the book of African stories] or would it be too bad to?”
“I’ve only tried to write it.”
“Can I ever read it?”
“If I ever get it right.”
“I’m so proud of it already and we won’t have any copies for sale and none for reviewers and then there’ll never be clippings and you’ll never be self-conscious and we’ll always have it just for us.”
Now Hemingway was guilty, here and there, of publishing second-rate material, but in better times he would not have let such dialogue pass by unchanged. Even To Have and Have Not and Islands in the Stream rarely descend to such banality. Nor would Hemingway have been contented, one hopes, with the listless melodrama that emerged from his mass of manuscript to become Garden of Eden: boy meets girl, boy and girl meet girl, boy and girl lose girl, boy loses girl, boy meets girl again. It is not much of a story, but Hemingway, who did not bring it before the public, is not to blame.
As if to add insult to injury, Scribner’s in 1987 issued The Complete Short Stories of Ernest Hemingway: The Finca Vigía Edition, with a perfunctory foreword by the writer’s sons, John, Patrick, and Gregory, and a publisher’s preface suggesting that the new book, a purportedly minor editorial undertaking, stood with the best of Papa’s work. Meant to supplant the earlier Complete Short Stories of Ernest Hemingway, available for a third of the price of its preferred replacement, the Finca Vigía edition (named after Hemingway’s Cuban home) gathers 21 pieces not included in the earlier omnibus. But of these, only a handful are polished stories that Hemingway published on his own account, among them “Get a Seeing Eye Dog,” “A Man of the World,” and “Summer People.” The rest are fragments of the dreadful, ubiquitous Islands in the Stream, or short stories later incorporated into novels—two Harry Morgan stories are given here, both of them chapters from the readily available To Have and Have Not—or pieces written privately, such as “The Good Lion” and “The Faithful Bull,” fables dashed off in a few minutes as gifts for a neighbor’s child.
We know that Hemingway once considered preparing a new edition of his stories, but he never took the chore beyond a casual suggestion to his editor at Scribner’s, Maxwell Perkins. With all its trivia, this is not the collection that Hemingway would himself have prepared. Why he did not is something of a mystery, unless one admits the transparent possibility that in the end he decided to stand by his earlier collection, that he had preserved all of his work that he wanted to.
Serious students of Hemingway, of course, have need to consider fragmentary materials and drafts, but what of the general reader wanting only a good story by an admired writer? The Finca Vigía edition does not improve the earlier edition of Hemingway’s short stories, which sold by the thousands of copies each year. Scribner’s would have done better to issue a small, inexpensive volume of uncollected stories than to aver, as it did in published advertisements for the book, that here now stood the definitive Hemingway. Definitive, that is, until some other fortunate neighbor turns up with a new set of Christmas fables, or some drawer in Key West yields up a discarded fragment from The Garden of Eden, or some enterprising subeditor determines that Hemingway’s endorsements for Ballantine Ale and Parker fountain pens constitute a hitherto neglected aspect of his literary canon.
Commercial publishers can exist, of course, only to the extent that they profit from their work, and there is no end of recent cases in which greed has triumphed over literary integrity. Consider, for example, the “definitive” text of James Joyce’s Ulysses that appeared in 1986 and was meant to lay to rest all earlier versions of the book—especially the student edition used in every university in the Englishspeaking world. By correcting a handful of textual errors (and introducing countless new ones in the bargain), Joyce’s publisher was able to renew copyright for the book, which was due to expire, and thereby could keep the profitable book to itself. The new edition carries, of course, a substantially higher price than the earlier, superior version.
In the case of Ernest Hemingway and Scribner’s, however, something altogether more unpleasant, if equally cynical, is in play. From his middle years on, Hemingway suffered grave doubts about the quality of his work, which declined as he fell victim to his own myth of the blustering, hard-drinking, fearless sportsman and fighter. As a consequence, he labored endlessly over the details of his craft, and he rewrote portions of The Old Man and the Sea, for example, 30 and 40 times in order to achieve what he considered to be rhythmic and narrative perfection. He had to work harder at being good as the years passed, but he often succeeded, and his failings seldom deluded him. Had Hemingway, ever mindful of his well-earned reputation as a great writer and hard at work even under the burden of selfimposed handicaps, truly been confident of Islands in the Stream, The Dangerous Summer, and The Garden of Eden, he would have readied the manuscripts for publication himself, or left explicit instmctions for their handling after his death.
But he was not, and he did not. Instead, he regarded the manuscripts as lost causes, and, adrift in the sorrow that such knowledge and the advancing years visited upon him, he shot himself to death among the green hills of Idaho. And in the end he and that difficult knowledge were betrayed by his publishers, who ignored the clearly stated wishes of one of their most prized writers and contrived to take advantage of his good name, whatever the consequences the unknowing dead might suffer.
In the act, Scribner’s—now for all purposes defunct, swallowed up by a conglomerate takeover—did itself, Hemingway, and American literature a grave disservice, for the day will soon come when the distinction between Hemingway’s willingly published work and the inferior, graverobbed texts is blurred. On that day, in the balance, Ernest Hemingway will come to be regarded as just another writer, with more failures than triumphs to his credit, unable to discern the good work in the bad. No writer should have to suffer such a fate, to have his or her body of work diluted by the addition of material never intended for publication. But—and this is the great lesson the Hemingway affair teaches us, since we know all about greed and broken oaths and disloyalty—now defenseless against literary necrophilia, all writers of whatever stature should think hard, matchbooks in hand, about the disposition of their unpublished manuscripts when the end draws near. The publication of Hemingway’s raw, unfinished, and even ghostwritten work only diminishes his hard-won reputation. It is a shameful betrayal.
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