EDITING TRUE AT FIRST LIGHT.
Wilson put people who write to authors into these categories: "Insane people and cranks," the lonely and "persons in provincial isolation" "Young people who want the author to read their manuscripts" and "People who want the author's autograph." He then grudgingly acknowledged that an author "will receive a few letters" from interested people with "something to say.... But, in general, it may be assumed that the letters written to authors mean nothing."
I had also forgotten that Hemingway was present in Wilson's "Polonius" explicitly as one of several American authors who were first "discovered" and praised in early reviews and then later disparaged as some of the same reviewers satisfied their "special psychology" and asserted their own egos. Something of a similar nature has already taken place among many of the now published reviews of True at First Light, and I was tempted to write a review of the reviews for my review here. Even in prestigious if sometimes meretricious publications like The New York Times, comments were written that made me Wonder if I and the reviewer had read the same book: Hemingway without a sense of humor? Hemingway had shot a tiger in Africa?
And Wilson confirms in his section on reviewers the several problems inherent in those who range from "People who want work" to "Literary columnists" who have such a tight publishing schedule that they have little time to read carefully; they gulp and skip and miss and blunder (and Wilson again uses Hemingway as an example of a misread author). Two other types of reviewers are the "People who want to write about something else" (as Wilson himself illustrated in his New Yorker review of Morley Callaghan's That Summer in Paris--23 February 1963) and "Reviewer experts" who may be biased for or against the book in hand depending on the school or literary clique to which the expert belongs. Either group will "produce ... a misleading impression of the book" (Me again? Does the Hemingway Society constitute a school or clique? I think of it as like the United Mine Workers with Hemingway and "Hemingway," gold and fool's gold, as their mines.)
Wilson concludes this section with the "Reviewer critic" an "extremely rare" breed but the ideal reviewer. I would number Bob Shacochis in that group, but his review in the Kansas City Star will likely not have the prominence it should, ironically coming from a Hemingway place and not from his disdained New York or Washington. If you can get a copy of the Star's 27 June 1999 supplement, "Hemingway at 100," it contains a number of interesting features besides Shacochis's review, among them articles on Hemingway's sojourns in Kansas City, a reminiscence by Patrick Hemingway of World War II days, a review of Michael Reynolds's Hemingway: The Final Years, an article by Susan Beegel, a personal response from Susan Whitmore, and a delightful and to me surprising article about Hemingway bibliographer Audre Hanneman, another K.C. connection. Shacochis's review does include what Wilson says is the "absolutely essential part" of an adequate review: he clearly tells readers what True at First Light is about. Which brings me to my responsibility and back to my problem originating in editor Susan Beegel's request that my part of this multi-author review address the editing (based I assume on my own editorial experience and my having read Hemingway's 850-page manuscript). Presumably my colleagues involved in this unusual combination of reviews will provide Wilson's "absolutely essential part," if you haven't already done that for yourself by reading the book itself.
I am snaking about, as editors are wont to do, with Wilson's wisdom as a center, but the center holds no guide to this particular case. How do author, editor, reviewer, and public interact when the reviewer is an editor, the author is dead, and the author's son is the editor of the book? (Wilson himself was to be similarly involved when he edited for publication Scott Fitzgerald's The Crack-Up and The Last Tycoon, left unfinished at Fitzgerald's death.)
At this point Wilson's Polonius has no more useful advice, but before we leave him behind the arras, he points us to a judgment by Wilson of a parallel case, the posthumous publication of Islands in the Stream:
... with all its preposterous elements, this imperfect work, Islands in the Stream, makes one feel the intensify of a crucial game played against vincible odds as one has not quite been able to do in connection with any of his last three finished novels--For Whom the Bell Tolls, Across the River and into the Trees, The Old Man and the Sea. It has never been pulled tight or polished, as Hemingway would undoubtedly have done, for his sense of form was exacting. Everything goes on too long, even the most effective episodes.... These would all--if Hemingway had taken time to treat them with his characteristic technique--have surely been condensed to far fewer pages.... This book contains some of the best of Hemingway's descriptions of nature.... I do not agree with those who have thought it a disservice to Hemingway's memory to publish this uncompleted book.... I imagine that this book, in the long run, will appear to be more important than seems to be the case at present, and I believe that Mrs. Hemingway is to be encouraged to go on to publish further manuscripts." (In The Devils and Canon Barham, New York, 1973, 105-111.)
If the whole of the manuscript of True at First Light had been published, and if Wilson were alive to review it, he might have used words very similar to those to describe this later book. And I bet he would have largely agreed with Joan Didion that absent the author himself a "tight or polished" version edited by another would be an unlikely result. This Same problem confronted the Hemingway heirs with The Garden of Eden for which they chose a similar solution: Edit it severely. Thus for both books they created a similar dilemma for readers: Whom am I reading? Probably most readers of True at First Light don't much care, but I do.
Evidence suggests that Patrick's editing was both rigorous and light--rigorous in that he reduced what his father had written by about half, but light in that what was retained was not much altered. In reading the book, I noted a few places where I wanted to check it against the manuscript, or against the parts of it published in three issues of Sports Illustrated in December and January 1971-72. For instance, Patrick Hemingway begins his version with the same paragraph that begins the Sports Illustrated version, omitting about 500 words of Hemingway's own beginning. But in the third sentence, as I have already noted elsewhere, Sports Illustrated deleted the phrase "as I had never respected my father" that the book version/restores. Such a detail may have been omitted by Sports Illustrated so as not to offend living relatives. One may speculate about why it was restored.
Patrick Hemingway's own words may help to see something of the editorial process. On the Today television program the week of Ernest Hemingway's birthday, Patrick was interviewed by co-anchor Katie Couric, who asked about the rationale for editing and publishing the manuscript. Patrick referred to Joan Didion's New Yorker article (9 November 1998) On Hemingway's writing in general and what to her have been the ill-advised decisions to publish much of it, including the African book, posthumously. He conceded to Couric that Didion's position was idealistic but that he was pragmatic. The book was to him the last viable posthumous publication; when copyright expired someone would publish it; seize the day and the anticipated sales of a still popular author, his father. And although Patrick was neither a writer nor an editor, he himself had spent vastly more time in East Africa (about twenty years) than his father had (less than a year).
The rather curious introduction presents a few other pertinent points. It begins with an East African history lesson that suggests that Patrick doesn't here buy into his father's iceberg theory which demands the reader's imaginative involvement. His middle paragraph On page 9, surprising his father and stepmother in Cuba making love, might Seem odd, but it relates in its sexual topic to the following paragraph in which while he seems to be commenting on biography, he is also commenting on his editing: he consciously chose to make more Of the alleged courtship of his father and the nubile Debba than its relative minor importance in the manuscript would lend it. Sex sells, but here at the cost of the reduced subjects of innocence, truth, tribalism, primitivism, spirituality, language, love, and ecology. They are not absent, but in comparison to the manuscript they are lessened. Patrick's quotation here of Ralph Ellison also makes a perhaps unwitting point about the editing. Ellison was drawn to Hemingway's writing, he said, "because he appreciated the things of this earth which I love.... Because he wrote with such precision about the processes and techniques of daily living.... Because all he wrote--and this is very important--was imbued with a spirit beyond the tragic ... very close to the feeling of the blues ..." (10). "The things of this earth"--African earth--and the quotidian "daily living" (to speed-readers the banal) are largely missing from the edited version, a kind of Moby-Dick in which the lion, leopard, and Debba hunts remain, but the "processes and techniques of daily living"--on a whaler or in a safari camp--are greatly diminished.
Patrick does certainly have an editorial advantage of knowing East Africa at first hand, something of its languages, mores, and especially safari life. He has also claimed in "The Son Also Rises" an interview of him by Blake de Pastino in The Missoula Independent (8-15 July 1999, 12-13), special dispensation in knowing how to edit and to read his father's intentions. He knew, "In my bones, as his son, for goodness sake,' that the manuscript
basically needed my cutting out some of the more descriptive passages, the passages that appeared to be more or less repetitive. Because that's the way Hemingway worked. He wrote a lot more initially than he planned to use. So I think that it was better to cut it down to strengthen the narrative line. Essentially there are three narrative lines in it; one is the lion hunt, one' is the leopard hunt; the other is the sort of romance between himself and this African girl, compared with his relationship with his wife. Remember, this is fiction, not necessarily what happened. But those three narrative lines, for a commercial cut, needed to be as strong as possible and I think that made the work more readable for the average reader. You know, a scholar or somebody knowing a lot about it might prefer the uncut version, which supposedly is going to come out....
It is good that Patrick makes clear that True at First Light was edited and published for "commercial" reasons for "the average reader." It's all within the fine American tradition of going ,after the main chance and patronizing Jane and John Doe. It's also in keeping with the editing of the renowned Maxwell Perkins and the Scribner's tradition of not much caring about niceties of language like spelling and grammar and consistencies of plot and character. For example, is Mthuka deaf or not? What is the pilot's name--two are used? Who says what in some of the confused stichomythic dialogue? In spite of these problems, Scribner's and Patrick have managed to publish a good story that will extend the dialogues about an author whose often poetic prose and sensitivity to and love of life are enough.
ROBERT W. LEWIS University of North Dakota3
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|Author:||LEWIS, ROBERT W.|
|Publication:||The Hemingway Review|
|Date:||Sep 22, 1999|
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