The Garden of Eden

The Garden of Eden

"The Garden of Eden" is the second posthumously released novel of Ernest Hemingway, published in 1986. Begun in 1946, Hemingway worked on the manuscript for the next fifteen years, during which time he also wrote The Old Man and the Sea, The Dangerous Summer, A Moveable Feast, and Islands in the Stream.

Plot summary

The novel is fundamentally the story of five months in the lives of David Bourne, an American writer, and his wife, Catherine. It is set mainly in the French Riviera, specifically in the Côte d'Azur, and in Spain. The story begins with their honeymoon in The Camargue. The Bournes meet a young woman named Marita, with whom they both fall in love, but only one can ultimately have her. The story continues until the apparent separation of David and Catherine.

Major themes

Due to his death, certainty in determining Hemingway's intent, particularly in issues related to the novel's form, is significantly diminished.

The novel has received much attention for its sexual content, especially in the context of Hemingway's canon. Some scholars have suggested that the novel effects a more tender, effeminate, "new Hemingway." In this vein, it has been interpreted as an exuberant celebration of free sexuality.

Yet while these notions are central to the novel's apparent plot, major analysis rests in noting that the story is a much more somber evocation of the modern condition. Here it depicts the lonely, fluctuating modern hero—one deeply dependent on exterior reification—in David, and his inevitable entrance into an understanding of betrayal, fragmentation, and destruction. A critical image in this respect is the story of the elephant, which poignantly draws a parallel between the loss of innocence that came in his youth and the present degeneration of his shortly blissful marriage. Such imagery is also symbiotically strengthened in the context of the novel's title.

Another motif that is played out dramatically throughout the novel is the portrait of the artist—particularly, the artist that is Hemingway. Hemingway often slips into passages that attempt to convey the process of writing or creating powerful works of art. And at one point, he has David telling himself, " [b] e careful [. . .] , it is all very well for you to write simply and the simpler the better. But do not start to think so damned simply. Know how complicated it is and then state it simply." Any reader even vaguely familiar with Hemingway's literary style will recognize how reflective this line is of his own doctrine of writing.


How the literary community embraced this last work written by Hemingway—not including "True at First Light" (1999), which was edited heavily by his son Patrick—was varied. Scribner points to "success all over the world" and "many positive responses of leading critics." This is somewhat true. Many readers flocked to buy Hemingway's latest, catapulting it to bestseller lists upon its initial appearance in 1986.

But "The Garden of Eden" remains one of the most controversial works ever put forth bearing Hemingway's name. Part of the problem is the fact that so much of the apparent manuscript is not included in the published edition. Dialogue that Hemingway had attributed to one character appears to be attributed to another in this version. Facts like these distress serious scholars of Hemingway's literature and make Scribner's "Publisher's Note", that the work is all the author's " [b] eyond a very small number of minor interpolations for clarity and consistency," disingenuous but technically true. Adherents of this view would suggest that the novel in its published form is useless; students can find value only in the original, unedited manuscript.

Film Adaptation

Production is due to begin in June 2007, in Alicante, Spain, on a film adaptation of "The Garden of Eden". Screen International has dubbed the film “a boundaries-breaking erotic drama.” The ensemble cast features Jack Huston (grandson of filmmaker John, and great grandson of Oscar-winning actor Walter), Mena Suvari ("American Beauty"), Caterina Murino ("Casino Royale"), Richard E. Grant ("Withnail and I"), and Carmen Maura (star of Pedro Almodovar’s "Volver", "Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown", "Dark Habits", "Law of Desire"). John Irvin ("Hamburger Hill", "A Month by the Lake", and "Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy") will direct for Berwick Street Productions. The adaptation is by James Scott Linville, former editor of "The Paris Review".

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