The Garden of Eden at Twenty-Five

In the quarter century since its publication, The Garden of Eden has been a worldwide bestseller and the subject of innumerable articles, reviews, and essays both praising and critical. Hemingway started the novel in 1946 and never completed it, and the trade edition, which I edited and Scribners published in 1986, was formed from manuscripts that only approximately indicated what the author had in mind. It’s not clear that Hemingway completely knew what he was doing in The Garden of Eden, or that he had a vision he could fully achieve, or that if achieved, it would have been, by his own measure, good. The published edition can best be termed, to use John Updike’s smart phrase, a rounded fragment; and though I doubt that Updike ever saw The Garden of Eden manuscripts, I’m certain that his instinct and experience told him exactly what he was looking at—a semipolished portion of a rough and indeterminate work in progress. Observers have pointed out that the book could have been edited in many ways, and it’s enticing to speculate about what Hemingway might have done had he finished the work. There are, in effect, as many imaginable versions of The Garden of Eden as there are individuals with points of view on it, but the most definitive version exists only in the entirety of the voluminous drafts themselves. One imagines an eventual scholarly edition, with annotations and essays appended. A step in that direction has been made by Frederic Svoboda and Suzanne del Gizzo in drawing together a collection of contemporary reviews and criticism for Kent State University Press to mark the twenty-fifth anniversary of the trade publication.

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