restricted access Hemingway's Craft of Omission: Four Manuscript Examples, and: The True Gen: An Intimate Portrait of Hemingway by Those Who Knew Him (review)
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Reviewed by
Susan F. Beegel. Hemingway's Craft of Omission: Four Manuscript Examples. Ann Arbor: UMI, 1988. 124 pp. $39.95.
Denis Brian. The True Gen: An Intimate Portrait of Hemingway by Those Who Knew Him. New York: Grove, 1988. 356 pp. $19.95.

Susan F. Beegel's little book, Hemingway's Craft of Omission, consists of analyses of four Hemingway manuscripts: (1) two and a half pages that were cut from "Fifty Grand" at the suggestion of Scott Fitzgerald, (2) a coda of four pages omitted by Hemingway from the published version of "A Natural History of the Dead," (3) a discarded passage from Death in the Afternoon, and (4) two early versions of "After the Storm."

By far the most interesting of these chapters is Beegel's analysis of (4), although "After the Storm" is hardly as important a story as Beegel appears to believe. Still, unlike the three brief manuscript fragments, "After the Storm" in its three full-length versions, two in manuscript, one in print, makes possible significant comparisons. Beegel shows that in moving from an early version, which closely followed an actual experience recounted to Hemingway by Eddie "Bra" Sanders, a charterboat captain, Hemingway altered and reshaped events to fit his habitual view of life and of human nature. In the first version, based on the actual experience of Sanders, the narrator discovers a sunken steamer off the coast of Cuba but makes no attempt to break into it. In Hemingway's published version, the narrator makes three dives down to the sunken ship, which increasingly tax his strength and bring him face-to-face with death. Beegel's conclusion about the effect of this change is that it emphasizes "unaccommodated man's heroic but futile defiance of nature." That may be, but a more significant change, artistically, is that Hemingway's published version gives this story what the early version lacked: an actual conflict and significant narrative structure. In that earlier version the narrator had merely sat in his boat and looked down through the water at the steamer. As any would-be fiction writer knows, the change from a sitting observer to a diving participant in the action was a crucial change in the transformation of Sanders' anecdote into a Hemingway story.

Hemingway's Craft of Omission is clearly written and workmanlike. Its limitations are partly the result of copyright restrictions that limited Beegel to these particular manuscripts. Another serious limitation, however, is the author's dependence on potted phrases such as "Hemingway's iceberg theory" and his "craft of omission" which he is said to "exercise" and to "use." These phrases are invoked as if they explained rather than labeled, obscuring rather than illuminating Hemingway's artistry. But, then, that is too often a side effect of literary analysis.

In putting together The True Gen: An Intimate Portrait of Hemingway by Those Who Knew Him, Denis Brian applies the method of the polltaker to biography. Instead of assuming the traditional role of the biographer, weighing evidence and drawing his own conclusions, Brian interviews people who knew Hemingway and quotes them extensively—along with his own occasionally inserted comments, thus creating the impression of a vast round table in which partisans and detractors come and go disputing the "true gen" about Ernest Hemingway. The result is a babble of voices in which, for instance, Winston Guest can be heard charging that Martha Gelhorn implied to him, Guest, that she married Hemingway to [End Page 621] "help her improve her writing," to which Martha replies, "What rubbish. My career started before I ever met Ernest Hemingway." Thomas Shevlin then is heard to allege that Martha invited herself to accompany Hemingway to Spain and "wrote some books looking over his shoulder." Irwin Shaw then cries, "Lies! The things Guest and Shevlin say are absolute canards! They were toadies. I'm very friendly with Martha; she has always been a good friend of mine. Knowing her as I do, it sounds absolutely improbable that she married Hemingway for her own advancement and without loving him. . . ."

And so The True Gen goes, following more or less the chronology of Hemingway's life while raising...


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