July 21, 2021
Hello Gorgeous Readers!
I am here to share with you that today would have been Ernest Hemingway’s 122nd birthday. Just to refresh your memory, Hemingway was born in 1899 and died at the age of 61 years of age. He is considered one of America’s greatest novelists and short story writers of all time. This past spring, filmmaker extraordinaires Ken Burns and Lynn Novick made a three part series on Ernest Hemingway for PBS. Because of this, there has been a renewed interest in this literary genius! To celebrate Hemingway on this day, I am sharing with you one of his most controversial novels, The Garden of Eden.
The Garden of Eden was published posthumously in 1986 by Scribner. The story takes place in the 1920s in the French Riviera and Spain and follows American writer David Bourne and his wife Catherine on their honeymoon. Catherine announces to David that she has a big surprise for him and that she will be “changed”. She runs off to the local coiffeur (French barber) and has her hair cut short in a masculine style. She insists that David not refer to her as a girl during certain times and that he too, will be changed to… “her girl”.
If you are familiar with Hemingway’s other work you might be saying, hmmmmm. However, just when you think there is enough unexpected drama to work with here, Hemingway brings a woman named Marita into their lives and a new menage a trois develops. Through all of this, David continues on with his writing. He abandons his original piece documenting his and Catherine’s extended honeymoon and moves on to writing about Africa. Catherine does not like this one bit and they argue about his disloyalty to her.
So here is the scoop. I am an everyday reader and not an English scholar who can provide you with a deep analysis of this book. I can assure you, there are TONS of qualified people who have done that already. What I can tell you is that Hemingway worked on this book sporadically from around 1946 until he died. Because this book was published after he died, it was edited immensely. Literary scholars argue how much of this writing is actually his and how much was slashed or rearranged before publishing. With that said, I will tell you my thoughts.
The Garden of Eden opens up with a classic fishing scene and scrumptious descriptions of food and drink. My mind immediately went to The Old Man and the Sea and of course, A Moveable Feast. It felt very much like the Hemingway I was familiar with… straightforward dialogue, and an undemanding prose. What was different about this novel was its contemporary vibe. Hemingway was clearly exploring gender roles, transgenderism, and sexuality between the pages of his book. Catherine appeared uncomfortable in her own skin and was desperately trying to examine her gender and how she fit into the world around her. She had no guidance in this arena and instead not only leaned on David, but tried to incorporate him into her journey for validation and acceptance.
My thoughts on David are still all over the place. Yes he loves Catherine and accommodates many of her wishes, but I am trying to determine where he stands with all of this change. His own feelings on gender roles, love and even marriage are confusing in my opinion. His nickname for Catherine is Devil, which in all honesty, can be discussed for days on end.
The Garden of Eden is a tremendous read. Though it was a huge success in 1986, I wonder how it would have been received if it was published in the 1940s. I love how it was ahead of its time and fits so well into present day literature. I enjoyed how this wasn’t a plot driven story, but more of an exploration into the main characters. This is a book I plan on reading again and again and again. There is so much to unpack that I imagine each re-read will bring more clarity and perhaps even more questions to dissect.
If you are a Hemingway fan or just an inquisitive reader, I highly recommend checking this one out! An excellent book club choice!
All my best to you!