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Hemingway as Craftsman: Revising "Big Two-Hearted River".

In a letter to Ernest Walsh and Ethel Moorhead dated 12 January 1925, Ernest Hemingway wrote that "The Big Two Hearted River... is the best thing I've done by a long shot" (Letters vol. 2, 202). On 20 March 1925, he wrote to his father that he had "written a number of stories about the country--the country is always true"--singling out his "Big Two Hearted River" as "a story I think you will like" (285). Hemingway even explained the geographical location of the story as if his father would recognize the fiction of a two-hearted river: "The river in it is really the Fox about Seney" (285). This pride, expressed to the first publishers of "River" in the first issue of This Quarter, and to his father, suggests the importance of the story to Hemingway. He placed "River" at the end of In Our Time, as Joyce had put "The Dead" at the end of Dubliners.

Most of the critical attention to Hemingway's revision of "Big Two-Hearted River" has focused, understandably, on his replacing the original ending of part two, posthumously published as "On Writing" in The Nick Adams Stories, with his final ending published in In Our Time. Not fully discussed is that Hemingway went through several stages of revising his "best thing"--from an original draft with at least two companions joining Nick, to a handwritten three-page addition to the story, to a projected ending that involves Nick and his camp rained out in a flood. (1) Hemingway's revisions show a young writer rising to the height of his artistry--beginning a beautiful tale, becoming derailed, sticking at first to his original ending, and then letting go and rewriting his fishing story as a narrative of accommodation, persistence, and renewal.

In the Hemingway papers at the Kennedy Library is an intriguing manuscript where Hemingway sketched out his initial idea for "Big Two-Hearted River." In this draft, written in Hemingway's hand on four pages, the story begins initially in the first person plural ("We") and then shifts to the third person "They," when Jack and Al join Nick getting off the train in Seney. "This was the toughest town in Michigan," Al said, framing the story as a trip near a domestic war zone, akin to the diner with a hired killer named Al in Hemingway's later story, "The Killers." In these first pages, the extent of Hemingway's cross-outs and additions (at least ten, by my count) suggests that he had started this story intently. In evoking a scene of ruin resembling the opening of "The End of Something" Hemingway described the dilapidated Mansion Hotel as a battlefield of twisted iron, gun barrels, melted cartridges, and "a bulge of lead and copper." (2) In some ways, this draft points ahead to the story Hemingway wrote: the blasted foundations of the Mansion House Hotel, for instance. However, the draft more clearly shows that Hemingway decided to excise any explicit references to munitions or guns or bullets. Initially, he also composed the scene as if a shell had exploded. Perhaps at one point Hemingway thought of echoing his description of the barricade in chapter IV of In Our Time. If so, the "big old wrought-iron grating" (IOT 37) at Mons becomes the "twisted iron" of the early draft of "Big Two-Hearted River." In his revision, Hemingway erased virtually all signs of a war zone from his evocation of the landscape as Nick approaches the river.

Moreover, as he started the story anew, he decided to portray Nick in solitude on his fishing trip. On the fourth page of the manuscript is a single sentence that Hemingway crossed out by hand with a big X, referring to a plural "they" who looked around after leaving the train. On the back of the tenth page of the manuscript are the same sentences referring to "they" in Hemingway's hand (Folder 274: Oldsey 219). Thus, on two separate pages of the initial manuscript are identical beginnings involving companions who accompany Nick on his fishing trip. At some point, the manuscript evidence shows that Hemingway decided to focus the story on Nick, alone with the trees, river, fish, swamp, and his own camp--no encounters with anyone. In Folder 274 are forty-seven pages of handwritten manuscript of part one, labeled simply "Big Two Hearted River." These forty-seven pages contain most of the first part: Nick's dropping off from a train, hiking to his camp site, setting up camp, cooking dinner, and falling asleep. Then come pages forty-eight to ninety-seven, a section Hemingway originally labeled chapter two (crossed out and then labeled part two): cooking breakfast the next morning, fishing that second day, and cleaning the fish he caught. This shift from a party of fishermen to a story with Nick, alone, is the first of two fundamental changes in Hemingway's fashioning his story. The second is his decision to revise the original ending, when the story veers off into a digression about Hadley (renamed Helen), bullfighters, Joyce, Pound, Cezanne, and friends from Horton's Bay.

There are at least three types of changes from the dozens of revisions evident in the manuscript and typescript. First, Hemingway renders the language with which he evokes Nick's thoughts in a more colloquial, mid-western American idiom. Second, in one notable case, by adding three handwritten pages to part one of the original manuscript, he slows down the narrative to build a portrait of Nick's deliberative observations and actions while preparing to fish. Third, Hemingway revises the scenes of Nick's fishing to present his working to land the trout by evoking his visual and tactile sensations from his point of view. These changes show Hemingway's painstaking work as a craftsman whose manuscripts and typescripts reflect a constant process of revision to convey Nick's voice, vision, and touch as the focus of the story.

Several of Hemingway's handwritten alterations, with cross-outs and additions, evoke Nick's vernacular voice in "Big-Two Hearted River." One notable example from part one is when Hemingway works to find the right phrase to express Nick's wonder at seeing a mist at dusk rising across the river in the swamp. In his initial manuscript version, Hemingway had Nick exclaiming, almost childishly, "oh Boy," a phrase he later cut when he completed a typescript of part one (Folder 275). In the manuscript, he follows "oh Boy" with "Jesus Christ," twice (Folder 274). By hand, Hemingway struck out the entire sentence, cutting both exclamations that some readers might regard as sacrilegious. By the time Hemingway completed the typescript, he wrote what is close to the print version, where he simply adds commas: "'Chrise,' Nick said, 'Geezus Chrise,' he said happily" (IOT 140). In his revision, Hemingway not only cut the original "oh Boy," but found a folksy version of Nick's oath. Hemingway's revisions capture Nick's exhilaration at seeing what, in other contexts, might seem threatening: a mist rising from a darkening swamp. For instance, in "The Battler," Hemingway depicts Nick's seeing "the swamp ghostly in the rising mist" (IOT 54)--an eerie moment after he was tossed off a train that contrasts with Nick's exhilarating response to the mist rising in "River." As he looks at the mist with his self-made tent and camp in sight, Nick swears with words in an American idiom affirming the comfort of solitude in a home he has made for himself in the woods.

The breakfast scene near the beginning of part two provides another example of Hemingway's revisions to capture an American vernacular. In the manuscript, Hemingway added "buckwheat" before "cake" (IOT 146) to the paragraph about Nick's cooking his pancakes for breakfast. As in the original manuscript, he used "buckwheat" two other times in that cooking scene; the triple repetition of the word drives home Nick's sense that, while the dinner he cooked the night before came from store-bought cans, these "buckwheat" cakes have a more native aroma. Likewise, slightly later, Hemingway crossed out "cake" and replaced it with "flapjack" for the simple clause of the print edition, "It made another big flapjack and one smaller one" (IOT 146). He repeated the change in the very next sentence: "Nick ate a big [crossed out, cake] flapjack and a smaller one" (IOT 146). Hemingway's replacement of "cake" with "flapjack" presents Nick's thoughts in his colloquial voice as he cooks. After breakfast, and after Nick has gathered his fly rod, fly line, and leader box, Hemingway describes Nick's thoughts as he heads to the river: "Nick felt awkward and professionally happy with all his equipment hanging from him" (IOT 147). The simpler word "equipment" replaced the earlier word "paraphernalia," which Hemingway crossed out in the manuscript. Thus, Hemingway's revisions evoke Nick's American vernacular as he prepares to fish. (3)

In addition to helping readers hear Nick's American voice, Hemingway revised his story to dramatize Nick's initial vision of the river, a kingfisher, and the trout. The most substantial revision in part one comes when Hemingway inserted three additional pages between the third and fourth pages of the manuscript (Folder 274). In the original version, which he crossed out, the movement of the trout that Nick sees comes mainly in one complex sentence where Hemingway subordinates his watching the trout to its shooting out of the stream and re-entering:
As he watched a big trout shot up stream in a long angle burst through
the surface of the water and curved in the air to re-enter the water
and then under the surface in the fast water again then seemed to float
back down stream to its post under the bridge. Nick's heart tightened
as the trout moved. (Folder 274; Smith, "Early Manuscripts" 280)

In this original version, just two sentences in a relatively short, unpunctuated, rapid paragraph separate Nick's initial sight of the trout and his emotional reaction, "Nick's heart tightened" and the line, "He felt all the old thrill." [These excerpts from Folder 274 are quoted in full by Paul Smith ("Early Manuscripts" 280-81; "1924" 45)]. Thus, Hemingway's first draft moves Nick quickly from his sight of the first "big trout" to his reflection connecting this fishing trip to his past trips.

In the three pages Hemingway added, he slowed down the process of Nick's watching the trout and refined his lyrical language to convey Nick's excitement. He considerably delayed Nick's seeing the trout leap above the surface of the stream. Instead, he replaced "a big trout shot up stream" with a paragraph focused on Nick's watching: first, "many trout" swimming; then, the stream's rapid current; and then the "big trout" swimming at the bottom. Below is the first paragraph of the three inserted, handwritten pages, as printed in In Our Time:
He watched them holding themselves with their noses into the current,
many trout in deep, fast moving water, slightly distorted as he watched
far down through the glassy convex surface of the pool, its surface
pushing and swelling smooth against the resistance of the log-driven
piles of the bridge. At the bottom of the pool were the big trout. Nick
did not see them at first. Then he saw them at the bottom of the pool,
big trout looking to hold themselves on the gravel bottom in a varying
mist of gravel and sand, raised in spurts by the current. (IOT 133)

This final print version closely resembles the manuscript paragraph, with Hemingway's adding a hyphen for "log-driven," and commas for pauses before "big trout looking" and "raised in spurts" (IOT 133). The revised, expanded version replaces the past tense active verbs of the original manuscript ("shot up stream... and curved") with mostly present participles ("holding," "fast moving," "pushing and swelling," and "looking"). In this added section, the trout are much more active, as Nick sees them moving in the present, rather than remembered in the past. In the revision, Hemingway also replaces "a big trout" (manuscript in Folder 274; Smith, "Early Manuscripts" 280) with many "big trout": "Then he saw them... looking to hold themselves" (IOT 133; emphasis added). The first new paragraph in the three pages that Hemingway added to the story portrays Nick as looking at a stream with many fish, rather than with a single trout. This revision contributes a sense of excitement as Nick looks ahead to fishing in a stream full of trout.

The next substantial change in these three added pages comes with the second paragraph introducing a kingfisher. The print version of this paragraph is virtually identical to the handwritten page Hemingway added. Once he brought the kingfisher into this scene, he left that paragraph intact, beginning with two quick sentences, as Nick's and the kingfisher's eyes move in seemingly opposite directions: "Nick looked down into the pool from the bridge," and then "A kingfisher flew up the stream" (IOT 134). Subtly shifting Nick's point of view, Hemingway implies that he has moved from the side of the stream where, in the previous paragraph, he watched the current, the piles of the bridge, the bottom of the pool, and its trout. Having climbed up onto the bridge, Nick looks down, apparently for a closer view of the fishing pool. Only now does Nick look backwards in time: "It was a long time since Nick had looked into a stream and seen trout" (IOT 134). As if to mirror the kingfishers flying downstream against the current, Nick's thoughts turn to the past, to the "long time" since he had seen any trout in any stream. That is, Nick's generalizing of "a stream" (not "this stream") suggests that this is his first fishing in many years--eliding over the war chapters and circling back to the trout fishing in "The End of Something."

Within this second added paragraph, with just slight changes in reaching his final version, Hemingway composes one of the longest, most lyrical, and most complex sentences of In Our Time. The syntax and exact phrasing bear close study, as does the fact that we are viewing the scene through Nick's eyes. First, Nick watches "[a]s the shadow of the kingfisher moved up the stream... " (IOT 134). Nick sees the "shadow," not the kingfisher; he is watching its reflection on the surface of the stream, not the bird itself. As he follows this shadow, he sees that "a big trout shot upstream in a long angle, only his shadow marking the angle... " (IOT 134). Although one might possibly read the trout as casting its shadow after it leaps through the surface of the stream, more likely in this context is that "shadow" is the word describing the angle of the trout moving quickly underwater and waiting for the kingfisher to fly away before leaping out of the stream (Smith, "Early Manuscripts" 281). Thus, Nick traces the shadow of a kingfisher, not the bird itself, and the shadow of the trout before and after it leapt out of the stream. Hemingway keeps the reader inside Nick's range of sight.

In the case of the kingfisher, Nick sees his shadow as he flies above the surface of the stream. With the trout, however, Nick follows his shadow on the surface with the trout below the surface. Looking at the river, Nick initially could not find the trout: he "lost his shadow as he came through the surface of the water" (IOT 134). In the earlier, shorter version, the "long angle" Nick sees is the actual trout, as it "burst through the surface of the water" (manuscript version, Folder 274; Smith, "1924" 45). In the earlier version, Nick sees the trout having leapt above the surface of the stream. In the revised version with the three added pages, Hemingway keeps Nick's eyes focused on the stream's surface and the moving shadow of the trout rising towards the surface from below. The revision affords readers a slow-motion version as Nick's eyes follow the trout before it is about to leap out of the stream. In a subtle elision, Hemingway does not specify Nick as the viewer who "lost" the trout's "shadow" as it broke through the "surface," but no other reading seems plausible. After suggesting what Nick's vision "lost" (his view of the trout's shadow as it leapt from the stream), Hemingway shows what his eyes followed (the trout itself). Here Nick loses the shadow but gains sight of the trout, as it luminously "caught the sun... " (IOT 134). That is, his vision has shifted from the shadow to the actual trout's breaking the surface and then re-entering the stream. Once the trout returned "into the stream, under the surface," its "shadow" (IOT 134) again seems to be an underwater image of the trout that looks like the shadow Nick earlier observed under the surface of the stream. (4) In these inserted pages, Hemingway focuses us on Nick's viewpoint, as he keenly watches the shadows cast by the kingfisher and the trout, while he prepares to fish.

He continues watching the trout as it reverses course and seems to retreat under the force of the stream's current. Once Nick picks the shadow back up, he notes that, having earlier "shot upstream," the trout's "shadow seemed to float down the stream with the current, unresisting... " (IOT 134). The kingfisher that Nick watched never changed direction as it flew upstream. In contrast, Nick observes the trout's shadow, once the trout re-entered the stream, turn downstream "to his post under the bridge where he tightened facing up into the current" (IOT 134). This lyrical, winding, seventy-nine-word sentence comes to a close with the trout's return to his "post," as if Nick's metaphor retains a very faint hint of what Hemingway rejected in cutting the wartime images in his first draft of the story. Just as the trout has found his "post," so has Nick. Only now, repeating the same verb ("tightened") as he gave for the fish, does Hemingway give us, in the three pages he added by hand to his manuscript, Nick's first emotional turning point in the story: "Nick's heart tightened as the trout moved. He felt all the old feeling" (IOT 134). Even so small a change from "He felt all the old thrill" to "He felt all the old feeling" presents this moment as an uncertain revival (Folder 274; Smith, "Early Manuscripts" 281 and "1924" 45). Hemingway's slight shift from "thrill" in the manuscript to "feeling" in the revised and published version shifts from a slightly melodramatic noun to a more neutral word. These three pages added to the manuscript of "Big Two-Hearted River" present Nick Adams as carefully watching the trout amid moving currents, solid bridge piles, and shadowy reflections.

After these three inserted pages that present the opening sight of the river from Nick's watchful eye, Hemingway picks up his narrative on the bottom of page four in the manuscript. His revisions for the next several paragraphs stress Nick's gradual walk along the river, as he explores possible sites for his camp: "He adjusted the pack harness around the bundle, pulling straps tight, slung the pack on his back... " (IOT 134). The participial phrase "pulling straps tight" is a handwritten addition to the original sentence in the manuscript. The slight addition of "pulling" shows Nick's adjusting the straps so that the backpack is tightly in place. Similarly, Hemingway added by hand, "The road climbed steadily" before the simple sentence, "It was hard work walking up hill" (IOT 134). Thus, the reader shares Nick's feeling as he climbs up the ascending road before hearing Nick's thought about his "hard work" walking up it. Then, in one of the most significant revisions in part one, Hemingway initially wrote that Nick "felt he had left everything behind, the need for thinking, the need to write... " (Smith, "Early Manuscripts" 282). In the manuscript, Hemingway crossed out "necessity" three times and replaced it with "the need" and crossed out "the need to talk" and replaced it with "the need to write" (IOT 134). By replacing a fated external "necessity" with "the need," Hemingway focuses on Nick's inner needs (Smith, "Early Manuscripts" 282). Moreover, crossing out "the need to talk" presents "the need to write" as Nick's last specific thought of an inner need. Such a change suggests that fishing is, for Nick, a rest from his work as a writer. This change is the one indication in "Big Two-Hearted River" that Nick considers himself a writer.

Hemingway's revisions to part one tend to slow down his story and to keep us inside Nick's watchful mind as he studies the terrain, the stream, the kingfisher, and the trout. Most of the revisions to part two tend to intensify the dramatic, tactile tension between Nick as a fisherman and the trout he is trying to catch. At the point of Nick's first strike, Hemingway wrote: "Holding the now living rod across the current, he brought in the line with his left hand" (IOT 148). In the manuscript, by hand Hemingway added "now living" and crossed out "the pull of" before "the current," so that the emphasis is on what Nick feels as a fish tugs on the line: the fishing line is "now living" because the trout has taken the bait; the pull is now from the trout, not from the current. Likewise, once he has pulled in this smaller trout, Nick "held the trout, never still, with his moist right hand... " (IOT 149). To the original draft, Hemingway added "never still," stressing how Nick felt in his right hand the rapid movement of the trout, just before he unhooked the fish and released it to the stream.

Even more dramatic are Hemingway's revisions to the scene where Nick tries to reel in one of the biggest trout he has ever seen. Hemingway's numerous cross outs and insertions in the manuscript revisions of this passage show his work to evoke Nick's fishing as tactile. Here is the final version of this paragraph in the story:
There was a long tug. Nick struck and the rod came alive and dangerous,
bent double, the line tightening, coming out of the water, tightening,
all in a heavy, dangerous, steady pull. Nick felt the moment when the
leader would break if the strain increased and let the line go. (IOT

In the initial draft in the manuscript, Hemingway repeated "tightening" three times, heightening both the tension of the fishing line and the tension of Nick's fight with the fish. He might well have left that original draft alone. Instead, his revisions intensify the drama. For instance, the phrase "alive and dangerous" is a later addition by hand to the manuscript as if the possibility of the line's breaking poses a physical threat. At the same time, originally Hemingway had a fourth adjective, "irresistible," after "heavy, dangerous, steady." By eliminating "irresistible," Hemingway suggests that Nick's struggle continues with the trout until he decides to "let the line go" (IOT 150). After letting go, Nick hears and feels the sensations of the trout's rushing away: "The reel ratcheted into a mechanical shriek as the line went out in a rush" (IOT 150). Hemingway worked for the alliterative, shrill sound that accompanies the tactile sensation of the fishing line. To the draft in the manuscript, he added by hand the phrase "ratcheted into a" (IOT 150). Not only does the addition of "ratcheted" strengthen the shrill alliteration of "r" sounds, but "ratcheted" as a verb evokes the rapidly clicking sounds Nick heard as the big trout was rushing out. With a poet's ear, Hemingway evokes Nick's hearing the clicking reel as a single, slightly ominous "shriek."

At this point, Hemingway shows that Nick has a change of heart as he decides to fight the trout rather than let it go. In the paragraph that begins, "With the core of the reel visible," Hemingway crossed out three phrases in the original draft in the manuscript referring to his heart's shaking and pounding with excitement. The cross outs suggest Hemingway's careful work at this pivotal point of the story. In the print version, Hemingway replaces the more tremulous and hesitant "felt shaky" with the firmer "his heart feeling stopped with the excitement... " (IOT 150). Hemingway's revisions convey Nick as arrested in the thrill of the moment, not shaky but resolute and fixed in the tension of the battle. Hemingway's phrasing here of Nick's action stays firm with identical language from the manuscript to the final print version:"... Nick thumbed the reel hard with his left hand" (IOT 150). While Hemingway struggled to find the right phrase to evoke Nick's inner change of heart, his phrasing remains steady about Nick's physical action--he thumbs the reel in one last attempt to pull in the trout.

Then, Hemingway revised this dramatic sequence to evoke what Nick felt just at the point before the trout broke free. One of the turning points of the story, this passage reflects Nick's tactile sensations as he tries to land the trout:
As he put on pressure the line tightened into sudden hardness and
beyond the logs a huge trout went high out of water. As he jumped,
Nick lowered the tip of the rod. But he felt, as he dropped the tip to
ease the strain, the moment when the strain was too great; the hardness
too tight. Of course, the leader had broken. (IOT 150)

Hemingway's revisions, including cross-outs and additions, are close to the final version. His changes may seem slight, but they are important. To his original sentence about how the fishing line "tightened," Hemingway added by hand the phrase "into sudden hardness," as he suggests Nick feels the quick, hard tug of the trout's pulling away. As he shifts to convey Nick's final sense of the trout on the line, Hemingway evokes the more dramatic downward motion of the reel with "dropped the tip," which he wrote by hand above the crossed-out phrase "lowered to take." Hemingway slows down and stretches out, ever so slightly, Nick's resignation: he lowered, and then dropped, the tip of the line. By hand, Hemingway added the phrase, "the hardness too tight," to reinforce that not only was the "strain" of the trout's pull "too great" for Nick himself to overcome, but also the "hardness" of the line was the last sensation he felt before he realized that he had lost the fish: "Of course, the leader had broken" (IOT 150). Hemingway presents first Nick's recognition about the broken leader and only then his memory of his tactile sensation as the leader broke: "There was no mistaking the feeling when the spring left the line and it became dry and hard" (IOT 150). With these repetitions of "hardness" and "hard" more emphatic in Hemingway's revisions, he conveys the sensation Nick felt in his hands just before the line broke--and the disappointment of temporary failure.

Moreover, Hemingway divides long, monolithic paragraphs from the manuscript into shorter paragraphs that break down Nick's fishing for this "huge trout" into distinct steps. In the manuscript, the sequence from when Nick first feels the tug of the big trout to when he feels dizzy from losing it is one long paragraph, from "Nick leaned back against the current" all the way to "It would be better to sit down" (IOT 149-50). In his revision, Hemingway breaks that monolithic paragraph into seven paragraphs: 1) Nick baits the line and lets it run; 2) Nick feels the "long tug" of the big trout and at first lets the line go; 3) the reel runs out too fast; 4) Nick "thumbed the reel hard" as he tries to regain control of the trout; 5) he sees the "huge trout" leap out of the water and feels the line break; 6) he reflects upon how this trout was the biggest he has ever seen; and 7) Nick, feeling "shaky" and "a little sick" as he pulls in his broken line, decides to sit down. In revising this section, Hemingway shaped one of the turning points of the story into a careful sequence of seven paragraphs evoking Nick's mounting excitement, heightened struggle, and shaken disappointment.

With slight brush strokes, Hemingway records Nick's reflections on losing the trout. In the paragraph starting, "The leader had broken... ," Hemingway made two seemingly minor changes to present Nick's interior monologue about the trout that got away. First, as Nick imagines the trout "holding himself over the gravel," Hemingway marked with an arrow the insertion of "steady" between "holding himself" and "over the gravel" (IOT 150). This addition of "steady" emphasizes Nick's recognition of the power and control of the big trout in the current. (5) Second, the two sentences--"Anything that size would be angry. That was a trout"--were added by hand to the original draft in the manuscript (IOT 151). Here--in Nick's interior voice--Hemingway conveys Nick's empathy and respect for the trout. Furthermore, he changed the ending of the passage to "after the thrill that made his shoulders ache" (IOT 151), with "shoulders ache" replacing "hands shake" in the manuscript. Having referred four paragraphs earlier to Nick's "shaky" hand, Hemingway's revision suggests that Nick's fishing left him aching but calm. Hemingway shifted the emphasis from a phrase that would suggest Nick's uncontrollable spasms to language that suggests his persevering past his shoulders' pain.

What follows this climactic and carefully reworked sequence is Nick's catching the first trout he keeps. Before catching that trout, Nick meditates upon his failure with the "big trout" and resolves to continue fishing. Initially, Hemingway broke the long sentence (sixty-one words) beginning with "[h]e sat on the logs" into at least two separate sentences. After "the logs warm in the sun," Hemingway in the manuscript started with a capitalized "Nick," as if he started a new sentence there. Then, crossing out "Nick," he continues the sentence with "smooth to sit on," as Nick continues to gather himself while feeling the smooth support of the logs. This longer sentence is an example of Hemingway's winding, curving, amplified style in presenting Nick's interior monologue. The present participles in the monologue capture Nick's sensations. He felt warmth while he "sat on the logs, smoking, drying in the sun," with the "light glittering" (IOT 150). Hemingway's sentence evokes in its fluidity Nick's settling himself and taking his time before acting: "Nick tied a new hook... " and "He baited up" (IOT 151). Then Nick renews his fishing, with very few changes in the manuscript--not a single word changed between "A trout struck... " and "... Nick led the trout over the net then lifted" (IOT 152). Indeed, the only changes in this passage from the manuscript to the print edition are Hemingway's decision to start a new paragraph at "[h]olding the rod far out" and his addition of a couple of commas to signal pauses. At this point of evoking Nick's resilience after loss, Hemingway seemed settled on his development of the fishing story.

Then comes the original ending of "River," with its shift from Nick's fishing in northern Michigan to his living and writing in the left bank of Paris. In the manuscript, after referring to "the trees of the left bank" ("of the left bank" added by hand), Hemingway completed his picture of Nick's sizing up the fishing possibilities: "Nick knew there were trout in each shadow" (IOT 152). At this point in the manuscript, Hemingway diverged into the digressive, original ending of "Big Two-Hearted River" with the transitional reference to Bill Smith as having shared his discovery: "He and Bill Smith had discovered that on the Black River one hot day" (NAS 233). For whatever reason, his reference to a previous fishing trip with Bill Smith took Hemingway away from his fictional fishing trip to his position as a writer in Paris. Then the manuscript of part two continues with a discussion referring to Ezra Pound, Bill Bird, Bill Smith, Nick, Hadley, Eric Dorman-Smith, bull fighters, James Joyce, E.E. Cummings, Gertrude Stein, and Cezanne as Nick's ideal artist: "He wanted to write like Cezanne painted... .He was the greatest" (NAS 239). The shift from Nick's vision of the Michigan landscape to the Paris scene, and from his fishing to his adulation of Cezanne's landscapes, is jarring.

For some time, Hemingway clung to this version of part two of "Big Two-Hearted River." Hemingway included the original ending of part two in a titled typescript of "Big Two Hearted River" (still no hyphen in the title, Folder 275). In this titled typescript, Hemingway slightly revised part one and part two, the second part more substantially. However, he kept the final section of part two mainly intact, changing "Hadley" to "Helen" (Folder 275; Oldsey 220). (6) In a second typescript, with very few ink corrections, he retained the original ending (Folder 276; Oldsey 220). This second typescript was, for Hemingway, "often the publishing stage" (Oldsey 220). Not until a ten-page manuscript, which Hemingway wrote in an upper-right slant, as if he were writing at an angle, does the gorgeous ending begin to appear with "Nick moved along through the shallow stretch watching the bank for deep holes" (IOT 153). Once he undertook this new ending, Hemingway seemed to gather steam quickly. There are few corrections and revisions in this handwritten draft, as preserved in the typescript fragment (Folder 278). His decision to complete "Two-Hearted River" as Nick's fishing story is a response, it now seems clear, to Gertrude Steins strong advice. (7)

Finally, while there are few changes in the revised ending, those changes Hemingway made in the penultimate paragraph of the story focus on Nick's knife as a tool for cleaning the fish. In each version, after washing the trout and his hands in the stream, he laid the trout on a sack before putting them in a landing net. Much of the language in this penultimate paragraph is in the manuscript draft of the story. The most telling change is how, to the original manuscript, Hemingway added the sentences: "His knife was still standing, blade stuck in the log. He cleaned it on the wood and put it in his pocket" (IOT 156; typescript in Folder 278). That is, with this addition in the typescript and final version, Hemingway ended the paragraph--not by narrating how Nick moved the washed dead trout to the landing net, but rather by focusing on the knife with which he cleaned them. Hemingway had already described Nick's cleaning both fish and identifying them as male with their "strips of milt," consistent in the manuscript, typescript, and print versions. Then he showed Nick's cleaning his knife--the tool with which he had cleaned the trout. In the typescript and print version, the sentences Hemingway added to the manuscript present Nick's knife as a figure for Nick himself--the knife was "still standing, blade stuck in the log" (IOT 156). Hemingway's addition of the knife's "still standing" foreshadows Nick's final upward motion: "Nick stood up on the log, holding his rod... " (comma added in IOT 156). Now that his knife has completed its work of "slitting" the trout open and removing "the insides," Nick completes his work by wiping the knife that he used to clean the fish: "He cleaned it on the wood and put it in his pocket" (IOT 156; typescript in Folder 278). Presumably Nick wiped the knife on the wood of the log on which he had already stuck the knife, twice. He "stuck it in the log" (IOT 155) first to free his hands to pull the trout out of his sack; he probably stuck the knife in the log a second time after cleaning the fish, so that his hands were free to wash both the trout and his hands in the stream. These changes reflect Hemingway's care in portraying Nick's entire fishing experience as a catharsis, culminating in Nick's final act of cleansing himself ashore. After cutting out the milt from the male trout, and removing the rest of their insides "clean and compact" (IOT 155), almost like works of art, Nick washed the trout and then cleaned the knife and washed himself. (8)

Thus, in a massive process of revision, Hemingway began by eliminating virtually any reference to war in the story. He continued by shaping Nick's voice into an American folk idiom. Adding three pages to the original manuscript, Hemingway portrayed Nick as a watcher of currents, shadows, and a trout's turning downstream and settling under the bridge. He presented Nick's fishing as involving one who feels trout as having heft in fighting against his struggles to reel them in. He broke up paragraphs to slow down the pace of Nick's fishing into a methodical process of his physical sensations--pulling in, releasing the line, jamming his thumb inside the reel frame, watching a huge trout break the surface in a beautiful arc, and feeling the line break before feeling his need to sit and rest and think. Begrudgingly, after retaining the original ending through at least two typescript versions of part two, Hemingway listened to Gertrude Stein and relinquished the initial ending of "Big Two-Hearted River." Instead, he presented Nick as a fisherman more than as a young artist. (9)

At some point during his process of writing and revising, Hemingway thought about an entirely new ending to the story. After writing by hand "Big two hearted," at the top of a page, with the word "continuation" to the left of the title, Hemingway scribbled notes to himself about where Nick might be heading:
He thinks, gets uncomfortable, restless, tries to stop thinking, more
uncomfortable and restless, the thinking goes on, speeds up, can't
shake it--comes home to camp--hot before storm--storm--in morning creek
flooded, hikes to the railroad. (10)

This sketch sounds like an early draft of "Now I Lay Me," a story Hemingway wrote two years later. This draft of a different ending circles back to the rather apocalyptic first draft of the beginning--with its "twisted ironwork," "twisted" gun barrels, and cartridges melted in the heat. Here Hemingway envisions not an apocalypse of fire, but perhaps one of flood, with Nick's mind "restless." Following his inner turmoil is a storm that turns the fishing stream into a flood plain. Nick "hikes to the railroad," appearing to end his fishing trip after just two nights. On the bottom of this same page, facing upside down, Hemingway wrote in two lines by hand, "Black River Manuscript."

Rather than pursue this nightmarish scene as the ending of his story, Hemingway instead gives us Nick at the end of a day, his legs freezing in the cold water, his shoulders sore from the weight of his pack and from the pull of the trout. In the final sentence of each version of the story, from the manuscript of the revised ending to the print version, Hemingway indicates that Nick will remain at his camp for "plenty of days" (IOT 156). The only significant change Hemingway made in the manuscript of the final paragraph was deleting, in both the typescript and the print version, a reference to Nick's going back to camp to read. Instead, in the print version, Hemingway simply notes: "He was going back to camp" (IOT 156). Having excised virtually any reference, direct or oblique, to writing, reading, sleeplessness, storms, and war, Hemingway concludes his fishing story by focusing on Nick's balance and resilience and resolution.


I want to thank Stacey Chandler, Textual Archives of the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library, for her support during my research in the Hemingway Collection at the Kennedy Library. I would also like to thank Donald A. Daiker for reading and commenting on earlier drafts of this essay.

(1.) Paul Smith notes the "false start" of the original beginning (Reader's Guide 85). Bernard Oldsey (219-20) discusses the references to war in this early draft of "River." Smith discusses Hemingway's addition of three manuscript pages to the early part of "River" ("Early Manuscripts" 280-81). Michael Reynolds quotes and discusses Hemingway's draft of the story's ending with a flooded fishing site (Reynolds Homecoming, 209; see also Cirino 22 and Wyatt 165).

(2.) The original beginning of "Big Two-Hearted River" is in Folder 279, Hemingway Collection, The John F. Kennedy Library, quoted in Oldsey 219. Smith indicates that Hemingway began his "false start" in "the first person" (Reader's Guide 85). In the manuscript, as noted by Oldsey, Hemingway crossed out "We" by hand and changed "We" to "They" (219). The "false start" is not just starting the story in the first person, but starting the story with Nick joined by fishing companions in what resembles a war zone. For two recent discussions of the presence of war within the absence of explicit references to combat, see Cirino (20-36) and Vernon. I will refer parenthetically by folder number to citations of material from The Ernest Hemingway Collection at the John F. Kennedy Library in Boston. To avoid copyright issues, I reproduce passages from the manuscripts only if they have appeared previously in print.

(3.) Robert Paul Lamb sees "equipment" as part of "a figurative description of young Ernest sitting down to write" (Short Story 181). Hemingway's revision of "paraphernalia" to "equipment" suggests a fisherman's or a writer's practical tools--a baited hook, a pencil.

(4.) Paul Smith connects "the shadow of the moving fish until it broke the surface" to the shadow of the kingfisher in a "triangular relationship" with Nick ("Early Manuscripts" 281). Mark Cirino's discussion of the story as "a silent drama of metacognition" is persuasive (21), although he does not discuss these three pages that Hemingway added to his manuscript.

(5.) Hemingway's addition of "steady" by drawing an arrow after "himself" and before "over the gravel" echoes the repetition of "steady" in Nick Adams's first watching the trout "keeping themselves steady" and working to "hold steady" in the current of the stream (IOT 133).

(6.) Hemingway changed "Hadley" to "Helen" in the typescript (Folder 275), as noted by Oldsey (220) and discussed by Lamb (Short Story 210 n.17). Thus, after taking out Hadley's name, Hemingway paired Nick in the original ending of "Big Two-Hearted River" with Helen, presumably the same Helen as Nick's pregnant partner in "Cross-Country Snow."

(7.) For the latest discussion of Stein's role in Hemingway's revising the initial ending, see J. Gerald Kennedy, "An Introduction to the Volume," Letters vol. 2, liii. See also Hemingway's letter to Robert McAlmon referring to "the shit" of the "mental conversation" as "the stuff that I've got to cut," and his letter to Donald Ogden Stewart about the "fecal matter" of the original ending (Letters vol. 2, 170-72).

(8.) Nick's self-cleansing points ahead to Jake Barnes' bathing at San Sebastian in the final chapter of The Sun Also Rises (SAR 238, 242).

(9.) Responding to Hemingway's letter of 15 August 1924 (Letters 2, 141), Stein wrote in a letter postmarked 17 August 1924: "... I am glad you are doing a good fishing story and I want awfully to see it... " (Box 77 Series 3: Incoming Correspondence, Hemingway Collection at JFK). By acceding to Stein's suggestion about cutting the original ending, Hemingway preserved the "fishing story" as cleared of references to Nick's writing, aside from the brief reference to his "need to write" (IOT 134).

(10.) Folder 281, as cited by Reynolds (Paris Years 209 and 378 n. 6), also quoted by Wyatt (165).


Cirino, Mark. Ernest Hemingway: Thought in Action. U of Wisconsin Press, 2012.

Hemingway, Ernest. In Our Time. 1925. Boni and Liveright, Scribner's, 1930.

--. The Sun Also Rises. Scribner's, 1926.

--. The Nick Adams Stories. Scribner's, 1972.

--. The Letters of Ernest Hemingway: Volume 2 (1923-1925), edited by Sandra Spanier et al., Cambridge UP, 2013.

Lamb, Robert Paul. The Hemingway Short Story: A Study in Craft for Writers and Readers. Louisiana State UP, 2013.

Oldsey, Bernard. "Hemingway's Beginnings and Endings." College Literature, vol.7, no. 3, 1980, pp. 213-38.

Reynolds, Michael. Hemingway, the Paris Years. Blackwell, 1989.

--. Hemingway: The Homecoming. WW. Norton, 1999.

Smith, Paul. "Hemingway's Early Manuscripts: The Theory and Practice of Omission." Journal of Modern Literature, vol. 10, no. 2, 1983, pp. 268-88.

--. A Reader's Guide to the Short Stories of Ernest Hemingway. G.K. Hall, 1989.

--. "1924: Hemingway's Luggage and the Miraculous Year." The Cambridge Companion to Ernest Hemingway, edited by Scott Donaldson, Cambridge UP, 1996, pp. 36-54.

Vernon, Alex. "War, Gender, and Ernest Hemingway." Hemingway: Eight Decades of Criticism, edited by Linda Wagner-Martin, Michigan State UP, 2009, pp. 91-114.

Wyatt, David. Hemingway, Style, and the Art of Emotion. Cambridge UP, 2015.

John Beall

Collegiate School, New York City
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Title Annotation:Ernest Hemingway
Author:Beall, John
Publication:The Hemingway Review
Article Type:Critical essay
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Mar 22, 2017
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