Bludgeoning Subtlety – A Sex Scene

The Red Room (Where The Writers Are) is a site where I faithfully transfer these posts on literary subjects. The "management" there occasionally prompts readers to post on a particular subject – in this case your favorite sex scene. I rarely take this challenge on, but it's springtime and the sap's rising, and so this time I did. The post follows, expletives implied.


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One of the greatest enjoyments in reading good fiction is to be allowed to fill in blanks left by the author, and since we're all human here, a well-crafted sex scene that leaves the reader wanting to jump into one or another of the characters' skins will always rank among the most memorable. 

To accomplish such a scene, an author must be able to lead the reader into it with taste, sensitivity, and subtlety. Ernest Hemingway could be the most subtle of writers at times, and in writing his posthumously published book, "The Garden of Eden," he managed to blaze a sexual path a mile wide while creating immense subtlety in his third person objective point of view. 

In this story, David and Catherine Bourne are on holiday in the south of France. The couple are having marital problems, and soon another woman, Marita, appears. With all due literary foreplay, both David and Catherine fall in love with her. Halfway though the book, Marita's and Catherine's mutual affections are all too clear, as are David's for Marita. In the scene I love (and here Hemingway isn't above pun and wordplay), Catherine makes clear that she's willing to share Marita in an overt menage a trois. To depict the scene, it's impossible to it justice without surrendering a bit to Hemingway's dialogue:

In the room, he said to Catherine, "To hell with her."

"No, David. She wanted to do what I asked her. Maybe she can tell you."

"F— her."

"Well, you have," she said. "That's not the point. Go and talk with her, David. And if you want to f— her then f— her good for me."

Hemingway's language is shocking, given his subtlety in arriving at that point. But Catherine speaks volumes about the complexities of both male-female sexual relations – not to mention the layers of added complexity between these three and their twined lovemaking.

Paul Hendrickson surmises that Hemingway, who at the time of the original manuscript's writing, was trying to cope emotionally with the revelation that his son Gregory was a cross dresser, that Papa was using his fiction as a way to understand Gregory. Frankly, I don't see it. But it does bear consideration; there was never much separation between Hemingway's life and his fiction.



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