The Editing of Hemingway's The Garden of Eden

The Editing of Hemingway's The Garden of Eden

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The Editing of Hemingway's The Garden of Eden


One deceased master author, one 1500 page manuscript, three previously unsuccessful editing attempts. This equation would scare away most editors. At first, it even scared away Tom Jenks. When his bosses at Scribner’s Publishing asked him to revise Hemingway’s 1500 page manuscript, Jenks initially declined. He told the company, “'I don't care if I never see another Hemingway story again’” (http://narrativemagazine.org/html/eden.htm). For Jenks, “Publishing more Hemingway seemed less interesting than publishing new writers, which is what I came to Scribner's to do” (http://narrativemagazine.org/html/eden.htm). Ultimately Jenks did take on the impossible task of editing Hemingway. One would expect a Hemingway expert to do the editing of The Garden of Eden, however for Jenks, editing Hemingway was an entirely new experience. Eric Pooley, a writer for New York Magazine, states, “[Jenks] hadn't read a Hemingway novel in years. He didn't review the Hemingway canon before he started, and he still hasn't read Islands in the Stream. Preparing to edit, he asked no one for advice”( http://narrativemagazine.org/html/eden.htm). Yet Charles Scribner Jr., one of the three editors who tried and failed to edit the book before Jenks, believes that Jenks’ lack of Hemingway “worship” made editing the book easier. He states, “coming to the task fresh, without a long personal association with Hemingway, Tom was less inhibited” (http://narrativemagazine.org/html/eden.htm). Jenks could not afford to be enamored with the work of Hemingway. In front of him lay the task of removing hundreds of pages from one of the world’s most respected authors.

The task of editing The Garden of Eden was two fold. First, Jenks needed to preserve the writing of Hemingway. Yet at the same time, he needed to remove hundreds of pages that he believed to be redundant or insubstantial. Jenks calls “substantial portions [of the manuscript] embarrassingly flimsy” (Jenks 54). As he began the long task of editing, Jenks was lucky enough to have some notes from the original author. Certain parts, especially the first hundred or so pages, had already been edited by Hemingway. Hemingway also left behind dated notes about his work. “He'd say, 'This is good,' or 'This is shit,'” said Jenks. “Sometimes the notes were quite detailed” (http://narrativemagazine.org/html/eden.htm). Jenks used these notes, along with his own gut feelings to cut the book down to the size it is today.

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While editing the book, Jenks dropped all of his other projects. He treated the book almost as though it was his own. Charles Scribner stated, “as far as I could see he committed the entire thing to memory. He made a career out of it” (http://narrativemagazine.org/html/eden.htm). As a result of his love for the book, Jenks had many difficult editing decisions. Later on in the book Hemingway inserted a second couple, the Sheldons, which complimented the Bournes. Most of the cutting Jenks did involved this couple. He found it difficult to remove these characters, but Jenks ultimately believed that the Sheldons “were absolutely not finished characters, or finished ideas. Hemingway had planned to unite the two plot threads at the end, but he never did. So it was up to [him] to take the Sheldons out of the book” (http://narrativemagazine.org/html/eden.htm). As for the completion of the editing process, Jenks stated, “I felt I had a good book. I just didn't know if anyone would agree with me” (Jenks 54).

After years of work, Jenks finally finished the narrative. Hundreds of interviews and bookstore appearances later, readers still debate the validity of Jenks’ work. Some people love The Garden of Eden and believe Jenks brought out a “new” Hemingway. Others despise it and believe that the novel should never have been published. Regardless of your opinion, Tom Jenks put his heart and soul into the editing process.

Reference Websites

http://narrativemagazine.org/html/tom.html

A very good site put out by Tom Jenks and another Author/editor. The site contains everything from Jenks’ opinions on The Garden of Eden to other books edited by Jenks to Jenks’ email address so that you can contact him (he is yet to respond to me though).

http://www.nybooks.com/articles/271

--A letter to the editor of The New York Review on Books. A woman discusses the aspects of Hemingway that are present in the book and those that she feels it lacks. The author of the original article on Hemingway responds as well
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