Bowdlerizing Hemingway?

MovFeast.jpgIn case you haven’t heard, there is a brand new edition of Ernest Hemingway’s fictionalized memoir of his expatriate years in Paris during the 1920s, A Moveable Feast, now arriving in bookstores, nicely spiffed up in a fresh dust jacket and bearing, in bold type, a subtitle unequivocally declaring this to be”The Restored Edition.”

What in the world does that mean, you might reasonably ask: restored to what? Restored to what Hemingway intended when he agreed toward the end of his life to publish a truncated version of the notebooks he had kept while living abroad three decades earlier, and which had been rediscovered in 1956 by him, quite miraculously, in the bottom of a steamer trunk that he had left in storage at the Ritz Hotel in Paris and forgotten all about? Or “restored” to modify what has stood since 1964--the year the work was first published by Charles Scribner’s (now just Scribner)--with ten additional essays that  Hemingway also wrote, and which reflect more kindly on Pauline Pfeiffer, his second wife--and the grandmother of Sean Hemingway, who has edited this new edition for publication?

There’s been a lot of huffing and puffing going on, all of it quite fascinating, all of it quite amusing, if you want to know the truth.  On the one hand you have Sean Hemingway, a 42-year-old curator of ancient art at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York and editor of two earlier collections of Papa’s writings on war and hunting, declaring in the introduction his belief that his re-cobbled version “provides a truer representation of the book my grandfather intended to publish” than the one offered up forty-five years ago by the writer’s fourth wife, Mary Hemingway. And on the other you have the argument for retaining the original text, as articulated by  A. E. Hotchner, 89, a close friend of Hemingway over the final fourteen years of his life, and the author of Papa Hemingway, an affectionate biography published in 1966. Writing in an OpEd piece published this week in the New York Times, Hotchner pointedly recalls discussing the manuscript with Hemingway, and delivering it personally to Charles Scribner Jr. in New York. “The manuscript,” he asserts, “was not left in shards but was ready for publication.”

With Hemingway’s suicide in 1961--we all know the grim details of that depressing story--the book was prepared for publication by others--Mary was his executor--and the portrait painted of Pauline was not pretty at all. Their tempestuous affair had ended Hemingway’s first marriage to Hadley Richardson, a deeply unpleasant turn of events that the writer eloquently bemoaned in what became the final chapter of the published book. The compelling title, A Moveable Feast, was derived by Mary Hemingway from a beautiful sentence her husband had written which seemed to capture the spirit of the writings perfectly: “If you are lucky enough to have lived in Paris as a young man, then wherever you go for the rest of your life it stays with you, for Paris is a moveable feast.”

Given that essential circumstance--the understanding that yes, the 1964 work surely represents Hemingway’s writing, but that it was presented to the world as an unfinished work not only groomed and signed off on by others, but titled by them as well--my take on the matter is this: A Moveable Feast--which is a splendidly evocative memoir of a young writer’s emerging life in 1920s Paris--should stay in print, just the way it was issued, and that the material newly published in the “restored edition” appear under another title of the new editor’s choosing. Why not? We all know that neither distillation is likely to reflect the true “authorial intention” precisely, since the author did not live to see through the press what was ultimately selected from his writings. And the reality of the matter is, there is some great material in the new edition--ten previously unpublished sketches--and it very definitely should appear between hard covers.

Lost in all this, of course, is the role of the publisher, Scribner. Ernest Hemingway has been a cash cow for the imprint for many decades, and what this squabble does more than anything else is to insure more sales; this reality is underscored by the announcement that both versions will remain available to a credulous public for purchase.To this point, in particular, I defer to Hotchner, who has this to say about the matter:

“As an author, I am concerned by Scribner’s involvement in this ‘restored edition.’ With this reworking as a precedent, what will Scribner do, for instance, if a descendant of F. Scott Fitzgerald demands the removal of the chapter in ‘A Moveable Feast’ about the size of Fitzgerald’s penis, or if Ford Maddox Ford’s grandson wants to delete referneces to his ancestor’s body odor...All publishers, Scribner included, are guardians of the books that authors entrust to them. Someone who inherits an author’s copyright is not entitled to amend his work...I hope the Authors Guild is paying attention.”


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