The Garden of Eden is the last uncompleted novel of Ernest Hemingway. Published on May 1, 1986, Hemingway worked on the manuscript from 1946 until his death in 1961. The original cover features Juan Gris’ 1927 painting “Woman with a Basket.”1
In the Preface, Charles Scribner, Jr. described the nature of the work, stating, “For many readers familiar with Hemingway’s other works, The Garden of Eden may seem to be a departure from his usual themes, in so far as it presents an intensive study of the mental state of an intelligent woman uncontrollably envious of her husband’s success as a writer and yearning to change her gender.”1
The Garden of Eden opens with David Bourne and his wife Catherine on their honeymoon in Le Grau-du-Roi, France. Married for three weeks, they are celebrating both their new union as well as the successful publication of David’s second novel. One day she says she has a surprise for him, that she’s “going to be changed,” but gives no indication what that means. Kissing him goodbye, she rides her bicycle into town. Returning later, she is sporting a boys haircut. “That’s the surprise,” she tells him, “I’m a girl. But now I’m a boy too and I can do anything and anything and anything.” (Pg. 15)
From that day forward, Catherine moves back and forth between seeing herself as male or female, speaking at one point of them as brothers, and at another point saying that she would be female during the day and male at night. The changes initially upset and confuse David but more often than not he goes along with whatever she says. David receives press clippings regarding his novel from his publisher, which make Catherine jealous. She, meanwhile, receives checks in the mail, and makes it clear that she is paying the bills in order that he can write. They agree to travel on her money for upwards of a year, possibly to Africa. At that suggestion she speaks of tanning in order to make her skin darker and darker. While she sleeps he wonders how much she says is serious and how much is nonsense.
They travel to Spain, where he begins to write while she goes out. At a café they have their first quarrel regarding his clippings. She apologizes, saying it was a joke. During breakfast she tells him she’s going to Biarritz and will bring back a surprise. She returns with her hair even shorter. As they make their way through Spain she asks if she should be a boy again or not. She makes love to him “as a girl” then asks if she can be a boy again.
Married for three months and two weeks, he begins questioning the relationship. Upon meeting an old friend of David’s, Catherine declares that she has been a girl for almost a month, something she recants once they’re alone again. Tension grows between them as she swings back and forth between genders. They plan to return to France where they began their trip. She gets her hair dyed very light and cut once again, this time having David’s hair cut and lightened to match hers. After initial reluctance, he comes to like it. She refers to him as “my girl.”
Stopping at a café to read the papers and have a drink, they meet Nina and Marita. Nina soon leaves the story and a ménage à trois develops between David, Catherine, and Marita. While the individual relationships as well as the group relationship among the three grow, the story within the story begins as David continues writing about hunting with his father in Africa. The rest of the book follows the relationship between the three characters, as well as David’s writing.
Hemingway’s widow, Mary, brought the manuscripts that would become The Garden of Eden to Scribners in the 1960s. Editor Tom Jenks worked off of three drafts to shape the book’s final form. These included 400 and 1,200 page versions, the longest running to 48 chapters and over 200,000 words. This degree of work is greatly downplayed in the Publisher’s Note to the book, which says, “In preparing the book for publication we have made some cuts in the manuscript and some routine copy editing corrections.”1
Despite controversy over editing the work posthumously, Jenks assured critics he stayed true to Hemingway’s work stating, “What is important is that there’s nothing in the book that is not Hemingway. The book is absolutely identical to the structure–scene by scene, chapter by chapter, line by line.”2
The book is made up of thirty chapters over four books, which break down as follows:
- Book One – Chapters 1-3
- Book Two – Chapters 4-8
- Book Three – Chapters 9-24
- Book Four – Chapters 25-30
The novel mainly takes place in the following locations:
- Le Grau-du-Roi, France
- Hendaye, France
- Cannes, France
- Madrid, Spain
- East Africa (in David’s flashbacks while writing)
List of characters
The following is a list of all characters who are named in the novel.
- David Bourne – Leading male character, successful writer, recently published his second novel. Raised by father in East Africa.
- Catherine Bourne (née Hill) – Leading female character, 21, wealthy, rebellious. Nicknamed “Devil” by David, parents deceased.
- Marita – Woman the Bournes meet at a cafe in Cannes. Described as “handsome,” they both fall in love with her and her with them.
- Nina – Woman sitting with Marita when the Bournes meet them at the cafe.
- Andre – Waiter at the hotel in the beginning of the novel.
- Col. John Boyle – Old friend of David’s who he runs into in the hotel bar. Knew Catherine’s father before his death.
- Monsieur Jean – Coiffeur, described as looking “more Italian than French,” cuts and lightens David’s and Catherine’s hair.
- Monsieur Aurol – Hotel proprietor.
For quotes from this book see The Garden of Eden quotes
The themes of the book center around cultural concepts of masculinity and femininity, as well as sexual liberation. A major criticism of Hemingway’s work over the years has focused on his portrayal of women and his “hyper-masculinity” – the famous “Hemingway myth” of legend. The Garden of Eden threw a wrench into that myth, as Sam Parker wrote in Esquire, “It sent shockwaves through the world of Hemingway study, and caused many critics to wonder whether his take on sex, masculinity and women were actually far more nuanced and modern than we’ve been taught to think.”3
A film adaptation of The Garden of Eden was released in 2008. It starred Mena Suvari as Catherine, Jack Huston as David, and Caterina Murino as Marita.4