Tuesday, July 10, 2012

“For Sale: Baby Shoes, Never Worn"

Frank Kermode the British critic once wrote a book called The Sense of An Ending. Hollywood has always had script doctors—writers who producers go to in an emergency to deal with their ailing screenplays. And novelists have always engaged editors. For instance Hemingway and Fitzgerald both had Maxwell Perkins, though there are many novelists who might want to see a specialist who just deals with the problem of endings, a problem which has reached epidemic proportions in certain periods of literary history. Speaking of Hemingway, Times writer Julie Bosman points out that Hemingway told George Plimpton in a l958 Paris Review interview that he’d written 39 different endings to A Farewell to Arms “To Use and Use Not,” NYT, 7/4/12). Bosman’s piece appears on the occasion of the publication of a new edition of A Farewell to Arms which contains an appendix with all the endings. Bosman quotes Sean Hemingway, the writer’s grandson, who happens to be “a curator of Greek and Roman art at the Metropolitan Museum of Art” as pointing out, there are 47. These endings are all to be found in the Ernest Hemingway Collection at the John F. Kennedy Library and Museum in Boston. In a piece on a new collection of Steven Millhauser short stories in The New York Review of Books (“A Master of the In-Between World,” The New York Review of Books, 7/12/12), Charles Simic writes “Hemingway once said that the best story he ever wrote contained just six words: ‘For sale: baby shoes, never worn.'” Sometimes non-sequiturs make great endings and considering some of the examples that Bosman’s article unearths one wonders why Hemingway didn’t include the precious words above instead of for instance No. 7, the truly prosaic “Live-Baby Ending" which reads, “There is no end except death and birth is the only beginning.” What if Hemingway had gone to see an ending specialist or consulted with a critic like Frank Kermode? Perhaps “For sale: baby shoes, never worn,” might have ended up being the ending of A Farewell to Arms. “After a while I went out and left the hospital and walked back to the hotel in the rain,” was what Hemingway finally decided on. 

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