Fascinating. A rare window inside the eyes and minds of both a great editor and a great writer.
This is an excellent essay that provides a truly unique view into how one of Ernest Hemingway's novels came into existence. It shows us not only an honest and objective depiction of an often idolized man, but a fascinating glimpse into editorial process and integrity.
A couple of years ago I read A. Scott Berg's Maxwell Perkins: Editor of Genius. Tom Jenks's essay reminded me of reading that book because it too chronicled the special relationship between writer and editor. I loved reading Berg's book because I loved the subject matter, and I must say that Jenks's essay is as eloquently written and as enjoyable to read.
Maxwell Perkins edited Thomas Wolfe, along with Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings, and many others. Wolfe's manuscript was many hundreds of thousands of words long in great piles of rough pages (my first thought was, that would be an automatic rejection today). Perkins sifted through it, found the core of the story, wrangled with Wolfe's beautiful but often obtuse prose, and worked with Wolfe to cut more than a hundred thousand words (longer than a typical novel) from his story. The book was Look Homeward, Angel, which went on to become a major success. Was it the writer? Certainly. Was it the editor? Certainly. In Rawling's The Yearling, Perkin's specific advice and guidance was partly responsible for the enormous success of the book. In the case of Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby benefited immensely from the substantial work and advice of Perkins. In my view, in many cases (although certainly not all) the editor plays a critical role in the development and ultimate success of a story both artistically and commercially. So, it was a pleasure to read an intimate and candid reminiscence of one such moment in literary history.
All I can say is that I wish I could spend more of my day reading stories like this one, but alas there are too few stories like this one to fill my day.
Thank you, Tom. So gentle and self-effacing.
An interesting, well-told story.
Thanks for letting us in on the editing of The Garden of Eden. Writers are fascinating in their process, and so, it turns out, are editors.
Having read The Garden of Eden for the first time last year, I have described it since as an emotionally surprising book, and one that convinced me again that Hemingway was up to much more than many readers give him credit for.
Yes, there's Hemingway on hunting . . . and fishing . . . and war. But Hemingway blurring the lines of boy and girl, the idea of the other's vision of one's self as arousing, the female-male-female friend/lover, and the risk a writer runs by allowing a beloved to have access and co-ownership of manuscripts/creative ideas . . . well, The Garden of Eden is a remarkable book.
You know that already, Mr. Jenks. So, thank you for agreeing to lug home those paper sacks and do the hard, hard work of editing the ms (despite knowing that no matter what your work would fall short in some people's estimation). And thanks also for writing about the experience. Your comments are enlightening, thoughtful, modest, and, as others have already said, fascinating.
I have seldom—okay, never before—wished to be a book editor, and I know that particular role isn't for me, but somewhere in the middle of your piece, if the NYC publishing house recruiters had knocked on my door, I would have signed up.
Whew. Guess I'd better content myself with pouring a cold one, reading some Hemingway, and waiting for that next book from Cuba.
How can you fathom a figure who was bigger than life in his times; and even bigger in death? How can you unravel the enigma that was EH when he didn’t even know his own self? It is the veneration of Ernest Hemingway that lingers in the romance of that lost generation, molders in the humidity of a lost Finca, and continues to fascinate the American psyche. Thanks Mr. Jenks for this informative and enjoyable stroll in Papa’s garden.