‘I am your Catherine too’: Ernest Hemingway’s Re-Imagination of Emily Bronte’s Feminist Icon
Ernest Hemingway’s most recently published posthumous novel, The Garden of Eden, is a text fraught with controversy and undeniable depth. His heroine in this novel, Catherine Bourne, is a woman haunted by her femininity, furious with society and defiant in her lifestyle. As the etymology of Catherine’s name, Bourne, may suggest, she is character and woman who straddles the limits of her sexual orientation. Similar to the New Woman figure in literature of the nineteenth century, Catherine Bourne can be interpreted as being inspired by Emily Bronte’s Catherine Earnshaw (i.e. Linton) from Wuthering Heights. Hemingway once advised, in a letter to F. Scott Fitzgerald, “…you should learn about writing from everybody who has ever written that has anything to teach you” (91). A reader might perceive that Emily Bronte was a teacher and motivator for Hemingway in this context. These are two literary figures that are memorable, stubborn, and much beloved by their readers respectively. Catherine Bourne is a character written and derived from the very essence of Bronte’s Catherine, and Hemingway, in his writing, attempts to imagine the limit of such a personality in a different era and her subsequent development as time has passed.
Likenesses between a Hemingway heroine and Bronte’s infamous Catherine have been noted in previous critical work. Lisa Tyler’s “Passion and Grief in A Farewell to Arms: Ernest Hemingway’s Retelling of Wuthering Heights” proposes that Hemingway uses Bronte’s Catherine to create his heroine, Catherine Barkley. Her argument continuously returns to the fact that “A Farewell to Arms persistently echoes Wuthering Heights in its themes and symbols, sometimes even in its minutest details” (152). Both Catherines perish in childbirth, and even Barkley’s personality seems to echo the very essence of Bronte’s Catherine. Tyler points out that “The most obvious and most superficial similarity between the novels lies in the name: both heroines are called Catherine” (154). Not only are Catherine Earnshaw and Catherine Bourne known as Catherine identically, like Hemingway’s Barkley, but their lovers also know them as a “Devil” in multiple scenes. Directly preceding Catherine Linton’s death, Heathcliff questions her by asking “’Are you possessed with a devil?” (149) In Catherine Bourne’s character the reader sees this theme adapted, and run with, by Hemingway to its full extent. Hemingway writes Catherine Bourne’s husband, David, continually referring to her as “Devil” throughout The Garden of Eden. In one instance, a moment in which Catherine aims to seduce David, he asks “’What did you do, Devil?’” (45)
Although Tyler suggests “The aggressively masculine image he [Hemingway] so assiduously cultivated has obscured his literary debt to the brilliantly imaginative Yorkshire gentlewoman” (80) I believe that his reuse of the name Catherine was blatant and implicitly acknowledged Bronte’s influence on his work throughout his career. In fact, Tyler cites,
“In an Esquire article published in February 1935 (six years after a Farewell to Arms), Ernest Hemingway presented a list of book he ‘would rather read again for the first time… than have an assured income of a million dollars a year.’ The fourth title on the list is Wuthering Heights (‘Remembering’ 21)” (79).
This is not the only instance of Hemingway explicitly admitting his having read and admired Wuthering Heights. A recent contemporary article details a young writer, a twenty-two year old Arnold Samuelson in 1934, venturing out into the world in search of the great Hemingway to seek authorial advice. What he received from Hemingway was a reading list. Of the fourteen novels listed, Wuthering Heights makes an appearance at number twelve on the list. Now having multiple occurrences of Hemingway citing his reverence of Bronte’s text, it is conceivable that he may have, on more than one occasion, utilized her most powerful female character as inspiration for his own heroines.
Barkley and Bourne are respectively strong female figures; in their dialect and actions we can see reflections of the traces left from the force of nature that was Heathcliff’s beloved, Catherine. In all three scenarios of Catherine it is notable that essentially all of them make some form of a departure from the hero in their respective texts. Barkley dies in childbirth similarly to Bronte’s Catherine. In Bourne’s case, however, we are given a woman who has inherited the legacy of Catherine, but who differs from her predecessors given her reproductive issues and explicit leniency, i.e. prioritization, towards developing a masculine identity. In all of these characters there are moments of an identity crisis, but in Hemingway’s Bourne we see the full development of the masculine Catherine identity come to a head. Tyler proposes in her work an important development in Catherine with the character of Barkley that we can build on for Bourne’s development of Bronte’s Catherine.
“She becomes a more comprehensible and better realized character, one with whom feminist readers can more comfortably sympathize, and her presence helps to disprove the claim that Hemingway could not portray ‘real’ women in his fiction” (152).
In this sense it is conceivable that Hemingway, continuing to try to grapple with such a complex female identity, that of the literary Catherine, writes Bourne as an expansion upon Barkley and Bronte’s feminist icon. Bourne continues on in the pattern that Tyler suggests. She becomes explicitly dominating, bringing to life Catherine Earnshaw’s manipulative personality, as well as refusing to shed her intricate and wild identity in the way that Earnshaw’s character is forced to after entering the Linton household and becoming Catherine Linton.
Catherine Linton and Bourne each identify with male and female states of mind. Catherine Linton proclaims “’Oh! I’m burning,’” (123) as Nelly questions her in the midst of her madness, and she expresses, “’I wish I were a girl again, half savage and hardy, and free… and laughing at injuries, not maddening under them!’” (123) One could point to this as a significant moment Hemingway may have held onto in his reading of Bronte, and later as a writer all his own. Bronte, in expressing Catherine Linton’s remorse, directs the reader to a time in her life when she is technically and physically a girl, but in every other sense she exemplifies the characteristics attributed to a little boy, giving her somewhat of a queer identity as a child. In the beginning of The Garden of Eden Hemingway lets the reader know in the same way that Catherine Bourne wishes to be anything but the stereotypical female that she is expected to be in her society and marriage. “’You see,’ she said. ‘That’s the surprise. I’m a girl. But now I’m a boy too and I can do anything and anything and anything’” (15). Hemingway gives Bourne the ability to be “free” in the way that Linton nostalgically recalls from her childhood, begging for happier times as her descent into madness becomes inevitable due to her loss of this freedom. As the plot of The Garden of Eden progresses, however, Hemingway seems to pose an important question: is freedom that which can save such a fierce identity from madness? Or perhaps madness is unavoidable in the personality of a character with a soul on fire.
John Killinger asks a relevant question in his analysis of Hemingway’s hero in love. In many ways the arguably masculine identities that Hemingway’s heroines struggle with impose upon them issues that only the men in his novels are generally attributed to primarily having. In Hemingway and the Dead Gods Killinger inquires “How are love and the fear of complications to be reconciled?” (89) This is easily Catherine Linton and Catherine Bourne’s central problem. Linton’s status and social standing are constantly getting in the way of her love for Heathcliff, so she sheds her masculine identity, but loses her love. Bourne’s status is secure, superficially, based on her marriage to David, and in the beginning the grip she firmly holds on her masculine identity seems to liven her marriage, exhilarating the two lovers. We can see Hemingway play out the possibility of a character such as Bronte’s Catherine maintaining her masculine identity in Bourne, throwing caution to the wind and disregarding the reconciliation of love and the fear of complications in the hopes that somehow they will reconcile themselves.
Another similar theme from these two texts is the impossibility of mutual happiness in the relationships of Heathcliff and Catherine, as well as David and Catherine. Killinger quotes of Beauvoir referencing Wuthering Heights in his analysis,
“‘I am Heathcliff,’ says Catherine in Wuthering Heights; that is the cry of every woman in love; she is another incarnation of her loved one, his reflection, his double: she is he. She lets her own world collapse in contingence, for she really lives in his” (92).
In this citation it is clear that his analysis of Hemingway hinges upon his heroine’s masculine identities deriving from their love interests, the hero. I propose that rather Hemingway’s Catherine Bourne finds solace in identifying with her partners sexual orientation in her hope to understand her own self, not her lover. Just as Catherine Linton clamors to return to a “savage and hardy, and free” identity, Catherine Bourne cuts and dyes her hair in an attempt to relinquish her femininity, despite her “dowry,” (15) i.e. her breasts, and asks David to follow her lead in an attempt to say to the world “I am David” in a substantial way, like the verbal declaration from Catherine Linton that lets the world know that “she is he.”
Amy Strong’s analysis in “’Go to Sleep, Devil’: The Awakening of Catherine’s Feminism in The Garden of Eden” emphasizes that Catherine Bourne is not truly mad, and raises provocative points regarding identity that well apply to both Bronte and Hemingway’s Catherines. Strong says “As a deconstructionist (and a feminist) [Catherine Bourne], she believes that one’s identity is an invention, not a cultural given” (192). With the acknowledgment of her dowry it seems that she is aware of her feminine inheritance, accepting that culturally there are some symbols she is unable to rid herself of that identify her with a particular sexual orientation to the outside world. Though, it does seem that she believes that she can invent her identity, rather than assume it is a given that identity is an invention. This relates directly to how Catherine Earnshaw crafts her identity in Wuthering Heights, becoming Catherine Linton, hiding her masculinity rather than putting it on display in the hope of making herself happy. Earnshaw, living in a time dictated more by culturally acceptable versions of a feminine identity, attempts to construct her own identity so as to explicitly wield the same power that Bourne likewise aims to obtain. In a conversation with Nelly, Catherine acknowledges her lack of love for her future husband, Edgar, but reveals her strategizing in that “…he will be rich, and I shall like to be the greatest woman of the neighborhood, and I shall be proud of having such a husband” (85). William Madden’s work “Wuthering Heights: The Binding of Passion” perceives this suppressing of the self to achieve a stable role in society for the young Earnshaw. Madden says “Her attempt to reenter society through marriage to Edgar is, as she half recognizes, an attempt to evade the basic truth of herself, her being wedded to Heathcliff as a fellow outcast from that society” (149). Both Catherine’s arguably find their demise in marriage and the prospect of a union with their lovers.
In their mutual quest for power is where the two Catherines depart from one another. Catherine Linton, having failed in manipulating her way successfully into power, and internally possessing a queer identity in an oppressive era, is taken as a cautionary tale for Hemingway. So he departs from her path in his writing of Catherine Bourne in significant ways. Strong understands that “Catherine is a woman tortured by definitions of normality, anxious to break beyond uniformity to find a place where her less constrained, personal identity can emerge” (193). One might suggest that Hemingway has written Bourne’s character in this way to experiment with the role that “definitions of normality” play in the life of a wild personality, such as the inherited Catherine.
Killinger also mentions a vital complication, “But, says Sarte in Being and Nothingness, two can never truly become one, and any attempt to do so is always fraught with the possibility of rupture” (93). Bronte and Hemingway, in the case of their two Catherine’s, seem to support this thesis that the attempt for two to become one, and its resulting complications surrounding the love union, do in fact guarantee rupture. Bronte and Hemingway’s Catherine wish to be as free as their male counterpart is what most drastically contributes to this rupture. Madden’s analysis of Wuthering Heights confirms the resemblance in the union induced rupture between Catherine Linton and Heathcliff, like that of the Bournes. Madden says “Their [Catherine and Heathcliff’s] rejection causes them to retaliate by repeatedly using their love against others as well as against themselves” (150). This same rejection and retaliation can be seen in the Bourne’s use of Marita to lash out against one another. By being unfaithful to each another, similarly to how Catherine is unfaithful to Heathcliff by marrying Edgar, they toy with one another emotionally. This causes mutual resentment despite their inability to live happily separately from one another.
Identification and love then become two central themes, and conflicts, in Bronte and Hemingway’s attempt to tell the story of Catherine. Carl Eby’s article “Who is the ‘Destructive Type’?: Re-reading Jealousy and Destruction in The Garden of Eden” claims that David and Catherine become mirror images of one another. This is a well-supported thesis, but moving beyond the bounds of The Garden of Eden to encompass identification with the authorial voice, and influences, can give us a deeper understanding of Catherine’s jealousy and destruction. As I have argued, Catherine Bourne seems to be based on the original New Woman “destructive type,” Bronte’s Catherine. Hemingway uses this model to guide many of the actions of Catherine Bourne. Eby suggests that “She [Bourne] writes with people’s lives — her own and others’” (100). By manipulating those around her and leveraging her emotional effect on others she expects to create and strengthen relationships, but instead destroys them. Bronte’s Catherine demonstrates these same tendencies. Close to her descent into madness she explains to Nelly, “’How strange! I thought, though everybody hated and despised each other, they could not avoid loving me‘” (119). The fractured identity of Bronte’s Catherine, being both Earnshaw and Linton, attempts to write her own story through her marriage and by taking advantage of her environment, much in the same way that Bourne attempts to. When Eby claims that “Her imagination is driven by identification” (100) he implies that Catherine Bourne’s wild actions are imagined through who she most connects with. This insight lends itself perfectly to the possibility of Bourne being a character born from the very depths of Earnshaw’s demise. In the spirit of reinvention and re-imagination we can see how Eby’s conclusion that “The dynamic in the novel between creation and destruction for Catherine and David is anything but simple. Rather, in the best Edenic tradition, creation and destruction seem to exist in productive tension” (103) exists not only in the connection between the Bournes, but that of Catherine Bourne and her predecessor, Bronte’s Catherine. Hemingway recreates the image of Bronte’s Catherine in the 1920’s New Woman with all of her destructive tendencies to display the inseparable relationship of creation and destruction.
One of the greatest uncanny themes to reoccur in these two texts is the suggestion of a ghost-like presence of both Catherines following the decline in their mental state. Hemingway’s posthumous novel gives us two endings for Catherine Bourne: the edited ending, chosen by editor Tom Jenks, and the provisional ending written prior to his death. Both of these conclusions leave the reader haunted, much in the same way that the observer Mr. Lockwood is haunted by the ghost of Catherine Earnshaw, i.e. Linton, and how Heathcliff is haunted in his incessant summoning of Catherine’s spirit. In Wuthering Heights Mr. Lockwood is plagued by Catherine’s ghost when she comes to him explaining “’I’m come home, I’d lost my way on the moor” (43). Even after her departure from the lives of those on the moor the traces she has left come to the attention of visitors. Bronte is deliberate and explicit in the scene with Catherine’s ghost because she wants the reader to understand that the spirit of such a powerful woman cannot so easily be dismissed just because her physical presence on the moor has transformed. Hemingway’s provisional ending echoes this sequence of events in an original way. Catherine Bourne does leave the side of David, and she also returns in the provisional ending, but not as an unambiguous specter. Hemingway again re-imagines the possibility of the literary Catherine’s fate. Lacking the ability to conceive children becomes the crucial difference in the future of this reinvented character; Catherine Bourne never has the possibility of dying in childbirth, hence she continues to live. While Catherine Linton’s ghost has “been a waif for twenty years” (43), Bourne’s spirit seems to have gone the way of the transparent ghost as well twenty years down the line.
Physical presence becomes interpretable in Hemingway’s penultimate ending when we see Catherine and David reminiscing on their youth. One analysis of Hemingway’s provisional ending is Robert Fleming’s article “The Ending’s of Hemingway’s Garden of Eden.” He notes Bourne’s mental state contributing to the actuality of her presence. Fleming observes, “Gradually, it becomes apparent that Catherine still shows signs of her mental illness… David tries to reassure Catherine. When she talks of having gone away, he tells her that she has come back” (268). Just as Bronte’s Catherine nears death and fears Heathcliff leaving her, Bourne likewise wishes never be parted from David. Hemingway replicates this jointed-ness in lovers through a question posed by Catherine Bourne; as Fleming suggests, “Catherine’s request is a predictable one,”
“‘If it goes bad again so I’d have to go back to the place can I, may I, do it [suicide] the way Barbara did? I don’t mean in a dirty place like Venice.’
‘I couldn’t let you.’
‘Would you do it with me?’
‘I knew you would,’ she said. ‘That’s why I didn’t like to ask.’ (P. 7)” (269).
One could argue that in Wuthering Heights Heathcliff joins Catherine in a death of the soul after they are robbed of one another’s presence, essentially both committing suicide. His actions afterwards clearly indicate an absence of all compassion that he had once held when Catherine was alive. Hemingway, in his retelling of the Catherine character recognizes that Catherine Bourne senses an implicit understanding between her and her lover; they cannot live without one another. While in Wuthering Heights this is explicitly noticed, in Heathcliff’s declaration “’I cannot live without my life! I cannot live without my soul,’” (155) it is more subtly given to the reader in The Garden of Eden through this discrete suicide pact. K.J. Peters’s article “The Thematic Integrity of The Garden of Eden” stresses the significance of the suicide pact within the provisional ending as well.
“Together they see their suicide pact as a way of ending the remorse, and they appear willing to sacrifice their lives in an attempt to atone for their sins, thus falling into the unpardonable sin of despair” (28).
Peters’s analysis unknowingly resurrects the fate of Catherine Linton and Heathcliff in Wuthering Heights, in addition to that of the Bourne’s in The Garden of Eden. Bronte’s Catherine begs for forgiveness in her final moments with Heathcliff, in many ways sacrificing her own life for it. Heathcliff likewise, trying to “atone” for his sins, sacrifices joy and happiness in Catherine’s absence. In these ways both Catherines fall “into the unpardonable sin of despair” that is their destiny given their identical spirit, which lacks the ability to be tamed by society.
Hemingway’s use and attempted evolvement of the character of Catherine comes to a head when we see Catherine’s apology to David put in contrast to Bronte’s Catherine’s obsession with forgiveness preceding her death. She cries on her deathbed, to Heathcliff, “’I forgive you! Forgive me!” (151) In Hemingway’s development of the Catherine character he changes her approach to this farewell, and subsequent parting wish at the end of her sanity. Catherine Bourne, in her note to David pronounces “’I love you and I always will and I am sorry. What a useless word,” (237) signed simply “Catherine,” lacking her married name. In this moment she becomes transparent, one with Bronte’s Catherine in Hemingway’s iceberg style of dialogue and character expression. Hemingway’s writing speaks to the essence of Catherine Linton’s final declarations. She lacks the word “sorry” in her address to Heathcliff because of the word’s uselessness, but it is implicit within her forgiveness and request to be forgiven. The reader knows in Wuthering Heights that Catherine Linton will eternally be Catherine Earnshaw, the wild young girl running free in the moors; just as Catherine Bourne will always be the free spirit unable to contain her sexual and emotional desires.
Hemingway interprets Bronte’s Catherine beautifully, capturing the essence of her tragedy in the final lines of her apology note. The uselessness of the sentiment “sorry” does not make up for either Catherine’s actions. Catherine Bourne, the evolved image of Bronte’s Catherine, tells David “I do not ask for forgiveness” (237) because Hemingway acknowledges what Bronte does not, that Catherine is aware that forgiveness is irrelevant to the bond between true lovers. This is perceivable in the way that Catherine and Heathcliff’s love extends beyond granted forgiveness. Hemingway infers this from Wuthering Heights and finds the voice of a more realized Catherine. The themes, obsessions, and passions that construct Bronte’s Catherine undeniably present themselves in Hemingway’s Catherine Bourne. Hemingway gives new life to one of Bronte’s most iconic characters in all her fierce and wild ways, and grants her the opportunity to change the conditions of her inevitable end.
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· Brontë, Emily, and Linda H. Peterson. Wuthering Heights: Complete, Authoritative Text with Biographical, Historical, and Cultural Contexts, Critical History, and Essays from Contemporary Critical Perspectives. Boston: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2003. Print.
· Eby, Carl P. “Who Is the “Destructive Type”?: Re-Reading Literary Jealousy and Destruction in The Garden of Eden.” The Hemingway Review 33.2 (2014): 99–106. Web. Dec. 2014.
· Fleming, Robert. “The Endings of Hemingway’s Garden of Eden.” (n.d.): n. pag. Abstract. (n.d.): n. pag. Print.
· Hemingway, Ernest. A Farewell to Arms. New York: Scribner Classics, 1997. Print.
· Hemingway, Ernest, and Larry W. Phillips. “Other Writers.” Ernest Hemingway on Writing. New York: Scribner, 1984. 91. Print.
· Hemingway, Ernest. The Garden of Eden. New York: C. Scribner’s, 1986. Print.
· Killinger, John. Hemingway and the Dead Gods; A Study in Existentialism. Lexington: University of Kentucky, 1960. Print.
· Madden, William A. “Wuthering Heights: The Binding of Passion.” Nineteenth-Centuy Fiction 27.2 (1972): 127–54. Web. Dec. 2014.
· Peters, K. J. “The Thematic Integrity of The Garden of Eden.” The Hemingway Review 10.2 (1991): 17–29. Web. Dec. 2014.
· Springer, Mike. “Ernest Hemingway Creates a Reading List for a Young Writer, 1934.” Open Culture. Open Culture: The Best Free Cultural & Educational Media on the Web, 24 May 2013. Web. Dec. 2014.
· Strong, Amy L. “’Go to Sleep, Devil’: The Awakening of Catherine’s Feminism in The Garden of Eden.” Hemingway and Women: Female Critics and the Female Voice. By Lawrence R. Broer and Gloria Holland. Tuscaloosa: U of Alabama, 2002. 190–203. Print.
· Tyler, Lisa. “Passion and Grief in A Farewell to Arms: Ernest Hemingway’s Retelling of Wuthering Heights.” The Hemingway Review 14.2 (1995): 76–96. Web. Dec. 2014.