Hemingway’s Catherines: Death Drives and Destruction in A Farewell to Arms and The Garden of Eden
Catherine Barkley, who predeceases the retrospective narration of her bereaved lover in A Farewell to Arms, has nevertheless transcended her untimely death to become immortalized as a frequent and much-debated subject of Hemingway criticism. Since her debut in 1929, Catherine has taken many a turn beneath the critical microscope as scholars have shuffled through various lenses. Catherine has weathered countless critical trends and multiple waves of feminism, throughout which critics have cast her in many roles, from her infamous early days as a “divine lollipop” and “inflated rubber-doll woman” to her later restoration not as Hemingway dream girl, but Hemingway code hero (Hacket, Bell qtd. in Spanier 76). Whether critical darling or demon, Catherine Barkley remains one of Hemingway’s most iconic and well-known characters. And yet, oddly, she is not Hemingway’s only Catherine.
In 1986, another Catherine, Catherine Bourne, made her debut as the female lead of the posthumously published The Garden of Eden. Although Catherine remains a common name, I reject a reading that figures this repetition as purely coincidental. Noting, as Carl Eby points out, that Hemingway maintained a fascination with the name Catherine both within and outside of his fiction—even adopting the name for his own private use later in life—I contend that Hemingway would not repurpose the name of one of his best-known heroines on another leading character in anything other than an intentional move (“Literary Jealousy and Destruction” 104). As David Bourne himself reminds us in The Garden of Eden, “Names go to the bone” (GOE 141). The significance behind the twin names is increasingly hard to ignore as it becomes clear that the female leads of A Farewell to Arms and The Garden of Edenshare more than just a first name. Catherine Barkley and Catherine Bourne consistently and eerily echo each other’s desires, fantasies, and impulses. Most fundamentally, the Catherines mirror each other in a shared desire for a romantic ideal of merged identity, which is intimately related to their twin fantasies of gender play and transgression, as well as to their infamous destructive impulses.
Both Catherines entertain a fantasy of very literal romantic unity in which desiring another means to also desire to becomethe other. Catherine Barkley willfully dissolves her identity within her lover’s, declaring “There isn’t any me, I’m you,” a sentiment she insistently echoes throughout the novel (FTA115). Catherine Bourne acts on similar desires, engaging in gender-bending sexual activities in which she calls her husband “Catherine” and asks, “Now you can’t tell who is who, can you?” (GOE17). Later, in convincing her husband to get matching haircuts, Catherine Bourne fulfills a fantasy of tonsorial twinning earlier expressed by Catherine Barkley to her own beloved: “Let it grow a little longer and I could cut mine and we’d be just alike” (FTA299). Along with their mutual commitment to a romantic ideal of love as shared identity, the two Catherines share a destructive impulse apparently also rooted in this romantic ideal. “I want to ruin you,” Catherine Barkley announces in a declaration that Catherine Bourne later echoes with the assertion, “I’m the destructive type, and I’m going to destroy you,” (FTA305, GOE5). There is, as Eby notes of the latter Catherine’s statement, “something sinister” in this language that becomes increasingly haunting as Catherine Bourne continues to echo and intensify the most bizarre desires of her eponymous predecessor (“Literary Jealousy and Destruction” 99). As she consistently mirrors one of Hemingway’s most famous female characters, dead but not forgotten, Catherine Bourne rises out of the posthumous publication like a ghostly doppelganger.
I propose that neither these similarities nor their eeriness are merely coincidental. Moreover, I suggest that both Catherines can trace the origins of their romantic desires and destructive impulses to yet a third—and no less spectral—Catherine: Emily Brontë’s Catherine Earnshaw, whose famous avowal, “I am Heathcliff,” resounds in the romantic model of merged identity sought by Hemingway’s Catherines (Brontë 82). A novel of doubleness and merger, destructive and self-destructive impulses, and quasi-queer relationships, Brontë’s Wuthering Heightsshares many motifs with Hemingway’s works—motifs that may initially seem better suited to Brontë’s gothic than Hemingway’s realism. Illuminating Hemingway’s position in the gothic tradition, comparisons with Wuthering Heightsauthorize an exploration of darker imagery and motifs in Hemingway’s work through the psychoanalytical lens of the death drive. A pulse many critics have long identified in Wuthering Heights, I propose that the death drive is also a driving force uniting the similarities in A Farewell to Arms andThe Garden of Eden. My reading is interested in highlighting the similarities between Hemingway’s Catherines while showing how thematic and psychoanalytical parallels with Wuthering Heightscan help illuminate and explain their destructive impulses as subversive reactions against patriarchal structures of meaning.
An “enigmatic” text to which even the most authoritative sources still attribute a “peculiar power” that renders the novel a “challenge to both fictional and moral conventions,” Wuthering Heightsremains something of an outlier even within its own generic and historical context (Alexander & Smith 560). A novel that is difficult to figure in conversation even with ostensibly similar texts, Brontë’s gothic masterpiece may strike as a particularly ill-suited companion to Hemingway’s famously stark realism, written a century later and in an entirely different literary tradition.
Discordant as the comparison may initially ring, I am not the first to note traces of Brontë in Hemingway. In fact, Lisa Tyler goes as far as to provide a reading that convincingly figures A Farewell to Armsas “a retelling” of Wuthering Heights. In defense of this “fairly unusual reading,” Tyler points to a 1935 Esquirearticle in which Hemingway ranks Wuthering Heightsfourth on a list of favorite books (81, 79). As Tyler proposes, and I agree, “Hemingway’s inclusion of Brontë’s novel in his list of important works suggests that…it may, in fact, have influenced his writings in ways we have yet to fully acknowledge” (79). Tyler goes on to outline the various similarities between the two seemingly disparate texts, arguing that such allusions are at once so numerous and often so obvious that they can constitute nothing less than “deliberate signals to the reader of the underlying thrust of the book” (80). Tyler provides a fairly comprehensive overview of the similarities uniting the two texts, many of which are worth reviewing here.
Tyler begins, as I have, with “the most obvious and superficial similarity:” both heroines are named Catherine (82). However, as Tyler shows—and I plan to elaborate on by extending a reading of this “superficial similarity” to yet another Hemingway text—the shared name is far from truly superficial, in fact signaling an important thematic connection to Wuthering Heightsthat figures Catherine Earnshaw as something of a literary foremother to Hemingway’s Catherines. The connections that allow us to hear Wuthering Heightsin the underlying pulse of A Farewell to Armsand its echoes in The Garden of Edenbegin with the nominal allusion to Brontë’s gothic heroine.
Such similarities continue to crop up, some obvious, others in minute detail. Both Catherines die in childbirth. Both give birth to children named Catherine, although, as Tyler notes, Catherine Barkley’s stillborn son only bears this name in utero (Tyler 82). In Catherine Barkley’s first appearance in A Farewell to Arms, she somewhat inexplicably carries “a thin rattan stick like a toy riding-crop, bound in leather” (FTA 18). Pressed for explanation, Catherine Barkley responds only that it belonged to her late fiancé. Tyler, however, provides a more satisfactory explanation, noting that the article is “reminiscent of the whip that Catherine Earnshaw asks her father to bring her in her first appearance in Wuthering Heights” (82).Of course, Catherine Earnshaw never actually receives such an item; instead of the gifts promised, Mr. Earnshaw returns with the child Heathcliff, much to the chagrin of his own children (Brontë 37). Heathcliff becomes a symbolic substitution for Catherine Earnshaw’s lost whip, while inversely, “the little stick…returned with his things” is the substitution Catherine Barkley receives in place of her dead fiancé (FTA 19).
Rain is another seemingly superficial shared motif to which Tyler points, noting that in both novels, “rain functions as a poignant and pointed symbol of separation and death” (82). While, as Pearl James notes, the reading of rain inA Farewell to Arms as either symbolic or historical remains a subject of debate, the “over determined” presence of rain in the novel, whether historically accurate or not, can hardly help but underscore the gothic undertones present in Hemingway’s text (James 136). Considered alongside a parallel motif in Wuthering Heights, this traditionally gothic symbol helps illuminate other dark and seemingly inexplicable or bizarre aspects stained through the realism of A Farewell to Arms.
Unsurprisingly, Catherine Barkley is most often the harbinger of the novel’s most jarring and bizarre images. Even before her long, agonizing death brings the novel to a dark, gothic close (set, no less, against a backdrop of rain), Catherine peppers the novel with strange ideas and imagery that border on the traditionally gothic grotesque. In one such image, she expresses a desire to possess a fox tail with little explanation, conjuring a perverse bestial image (FTA 303). She also entertains a bizarre and vaguely eerie fantasy of twinning with Frederic, imagining them with matching haircuts. Taking an even darker turn, Catherine also wishes to have had gonorrhea, so, as she explains to Frederic “to be like you” (FTA299). All of these jarring images have their roots in Catherine’s ultimate desire to literally beFrederic: “Oh darling, I want you so much I want to be you too” (FTA 299). It is no coincidence that this desire is also at the heart of the similarities between A Farewell to Arms and Wuthering Heights. Both Tyler and I point to the heroines’ passionate declarations of love, which echo each other unmistakably in a shared fascination with merger. As noted earlier, Catherine Barkley’s repeated insistence that she and Frederic Henry are one extends to the point of entire self-dissolution: “There isn’t any me, I’m you. Don’t make up a separate me” (FTA115). Catherine’s declarations that she isFrederic cannot help but parallel Catherine Earnshaw’s famed avowal, perhaps among the most famous lines in Wuthering Heights: “Nelly, I am Heathcliff—he’s always, always in my mind—not as pleasure, any more than I am always a pleasure to myself—but as my own being” (Brontë 82).
Tyler suggests that comparisons between Catherine Earnshaw and Catherine Barkley can help the latter escape the “geisha girl” reading that has long plagued her and instead cast her as a “Romantic heroine,” rendering her “a more comprehensible and better realized character, one with whom feminist readers can more comfortably sympathize” (80). My reading of these parallels, however, does not explicitly seek to portray Catherine Barkley as a feminist heroine—work which, I would argue, has been better accomplished by the likes of Sandra Whipple Spanier and to which comparisons with Catherine Earnshaw add little—but rather a gothic one. Like Tyler, I hope to render Catherine Barkley “more comprehensible.” However, having established gothic undercurrents at work in A Farewell to Arms via parallels with Wuthering Heights, my approach seeks to explain Catherine’s bizarre and destructive behavior through the darker psychoanalytical lens of the death drive.
In her seminal feminist reconsideration of Catherine Barkley’s character, Spanier identifies and challenges a pervasive binary approach to Hemingway women which finds them invariably resigned to one of two types: “those who destroy men and those women men could only dream of” (76). While early criticism tended to figure Catherine Barkley as what Spanier calls “the prototypical dream girl,” her character does display some unmistakably destructive behaviors. In perhaps the most notable example, Catherine herself states in no uncertain terms that she wants to ruin Frederic. “What do you want to do? Ruin me?” Frederic asks, to which Catherine responds simply, “Yes. I want to ruin you,” (FTA 305).
Of course, taking Catherine at her word, there is no “separate” Catherine to ruin a separate Frederic. Her identity is intertwined inextricably with her beloved’s. In this sense, then, her desire to “ruin” Frederic becomes not simply destructive, but rather self-destructive. As noted earlier, the self-destructive impulses at the heart of Catherine’s willful self-abnegation appear at various points throughout the novel, often manifesting physically. Upon hearing that Frederic’s experience with gonorrhea was “very painful,” Catherine’s immediate response is to wish that she’d also had it (FTA 299). While here, Catherine explains her desire for gonorrhea as parallel to her desire “to be like” Frederic, other manifestations of her self-destructive impulses receive no such explanation. Throughout her painful and ultimately fatal labor, Catherine expresses a perverse desire for pain, referring to the more painful contractions as “good ones.” When the pains are less severe, Frederic notes that “she was disappointed and ashamed” (FTA 314). I suggest that Catherine’s obsession with pain and self-abnegation is ultimately symptomatic of her death drive.
Returning again to Tyler’s parallel reading of A Farewell to Arms and Wuthering Heights, she calls on the work of Ernest Lockridge, whose analysis of A Farewell to Armsrests on the claim that, “It is Catherine’s effort to resurrect her lost love…that is the whole novel’s primary mover” (qtd. in Tyler 82). According to Tyler, this reading “establishes a profound thematic parallel with Wuthering Heights, in which it is Heathcliff’s effort to resurrect a lost love that is the whole novel’s primary mover” (82). In psychoanalytical parlance, which Tyler borrows from William A. Madden, both novels structure their narratives around a character trapped in a classically Freudian “repetition compulsion,” through which they repeat their trauma in an attempt to restore “psychic wholeness” (qtd. in Tyler 89).
This desire to return to an earlier state of wholeness comprises the heart of the Lacanian conception of the death drive, in which psychic wholeness belongs exclusively to the domain of the pre (or post)-linguistic realm. In Lacanian theory—as outlined by Robin DeRosa in her analysis of the death drive in Wuthering Heights—it is language, a system based on separation and difference, that is responsible for the psychic rupture that renders wholeness impossible. The move from the pre-Oedipal, pre-linguistic “imaginary” into the symbolic realm necessitates a departure from this original wholeness, resulting in a system in which “language and desire are both positioned around loss” (Derosa 28). The repetition of trauma and self-destructive behaviors, then, can be read as an attempt to return to this earlier state of wholeness, a “desire to attain a kind of fullness outside the range of discursive signification” (Derosa 32).
While Tyler, referencing Madden, presents Heathcliff as the primary enactor of the repetition compulsion in Wuthering Heights, Derosa instead presents a reading that figures Catherine Earnshaw as the novel’s main embodiment of the death drive. In light of parallels already drawn between Catherine Earnshaw and Hemingway’s Catherine Barkley, I hope to extend this reading of Earnshaw’s death drive to illuminate a similar pulse in Catherine Barkley’s character. According to DeRosa, “Catherine [Earnshaw]’s death drive involves two foundational desires: the desire to merge with Heathcliff and the desire to return to an innocent state of childhood” (33). I propose that Catherine Barkley’s death drive likewise involves two parallel desires: the desire to merge with Frederic and the desire to return to an earlier state of wholeness.
The desire to merge with the beloved is, for both—or, as I plan to show later, all three—Catherines, rooted in the desire for wholeness sought through the death drive. Perceiving themselves as fractured, split-off halves of divided egos, the Catherines seek wholeness through merger with another. For both Catherine Earnshaw and Catherine Barkley, the beloved with whom they hope to merge embodies the desired state of pre-linguistic wholeness and childhood innocence. Raised together as children, Catherine Earnshaw and Heathcliff are childhood playmates turned sweethearts. Moreover, as the illiterate “gypsy boy” who first arrives at Wuthering Heights repeating “some gibberish that nobody could understand,” young Heathcliff effectively embodies the pre-symbolic, pre-linguistic realm to which Catherine desires to return (Brontë 37). For Catherine Barkley, meanwhile, the desire to merge with Frederic is a death-driven attempt to recreate the earlier sense of unity she enjoyed with her fiancé. Others, whether or not engaged in a psychoanalytical reading, have noted that Frederic functions as a replacement for Catherine’s deceased former lover, often pointing to Frederic’s own hope that Catherine will employ him in such a role: “Maybe she would pretend I was her boy that was killed” (FTA 37). Like Heathcliff and Catherine Earnshaw, Catherine Barkley and her fiancé “grew up together” (FTA 19). Like Heathcliff, then, the fiancé represents “the sexual and necessarily language-less innocence” inherently associated with childhood in Lacanian theory (DeRosa 28). While Catherine’s fiancé is presumably not illiterate, he resists language in other ways, embodying—like Heathcliff—the pre-linguistic phase to which the death drive aims to return. Nameless and therefore not represented by a linguistic sign, Catherine’s fiancé predeceases Frederic’s narrative, effectively leaving him outside the linguistic realm represented by the narrative structure itself. Catherine’s attempt to recreate that earlier wholeness through a merger with Frederic, then, represents a desire to return to the pre-linguistic, pre-symbolic realm.
What my own language here betrays, however, is the sheer inescapability of the symbolic order. Even those characters whom I have here identified as “representative” of the pre-linguistic realm thusly remain trapped in structures of representation that are inherently symbolic. Addressing this quandary, DeRosa explains that the novel, as a form, is an inherently linguistic structure eternally moored in representation. The novel, then, is in direct opposition to the death drive, and cannot help but “save its own life,” as well as “the lives of the characters desperately trying to die within it” (34). Indeed, although both Catherines literally succumb to their death drives, dying in childbirth, their deaths hardly constitute a transcendence of the symbolic order. As Tyler notes, both Catherines’ stories are told only after they die, imprisoning them in narratives in which they are both “grievously misunderstood and misrepresented” by their retrospective first-person narrators (83). Misrepresentation, of course, still constitutes representation, and both Catherines are left eternally imprisoned within the symbolic, despite their best death-driven efforts to escape it. In fact, it could even be argued that it is death itself that ultimately thwarts these characters’ attempts to escape the symbolic. In his reading of A Farewell to Arms as a trauma narrative, Trevor Dodman figures Catherine’s death as the trauma Frederic hopes to revisit and overcome through narrative representation: “Looking back on events, reconstructing his memories, Frederic reveals a desire for a whole and perfect retelling of the past; his narration functions as a prosthesis meant to stave off a sense of the self as a disarticulated scar” (250). In this way, then, Catherine’s attempt to transcend the symbolic in death is in fact the very action that leaves her immortalized in the symbolic realm of Frederic’s narrative.
In a shared attempt to escape the symbolic and return to a state of psychic wholeness, both Catherine Earnshaw and Catherine Barkley follow the death drive to its literal end, only to become eternally imprisoned and immortalized in the very structures they sought to escape. In the wake of her failed predecessors, Hemingway’s second Catherine, The Garden of Eden’s Catherine Bourne, emerges to avenge the thwarted attempts of her literary foremothers. Unlike Catherines Earnshaw and Barkley, Catherine Bourne does not succumb to her death drive. Instead, her destructive impulses successfully issue a challenge to the phallocentric structures of meaning inherent in the Lacanian conception of language, signaling a subversion of the patriarchal order.
Despite a considerably younger and shorter critical lifespan than her eponymous predecessor in A Farewell to Arms, Catherine Bourne’s critical reputation is scarcely less controversial than Catherine Barkley’s. To return to the binary approach Spanier identifies and challenges, critics are easily and understandably tempted to resign Catherine Bourne to the cast of Hemingway women “who destroy men” (76). Taking the Biblical bait set out in the title, criticism of The Garden of Edenreadily casts Catherine as “Eve and serpent rolled into one” (“Literary Jealousy and Destruction” 99). In a less canonical approach to the Garden of Eden mythology, Tamara Powell even figures Catherine Bourne as Lilith, “the archetypal woman-as-destroyer” (78).
Of course, these comparisons can hardly be called unjustified. Catherine herself invites if not demands them, unabashedly declaring herself “the destructive type” in her very first appearance in the novel (GOE 5). As noted earlier, such declarations of destructive impulses are among the key ways in which the Catherines of A Farewell to Arms and The Garden of Eden echo each other. However, while Catherine Barkley’s desire “to ruin” Frederic remains a mere wish, Catherine Bourne’s destruction is given as a promise—one she pursues with much greater intent than her predecessor—solidified in her final, infamous destruction of David’s manuscripts. While Catherine Barkley merely expresses a desire to destroy — “I wantto ruin you” —Catherine Bourne makes it clear that she has no intention of seeing her own desire go unfulfilled, instead promising, “I’m going todestroy you” (emphases mine, FTA 305, GOE 5). Moreover, Catherine Bourne continues to elaborate, promising to enact such a memorable—however unnamed—act of destruction that it will warrant “a plaque up on the wall of the building outside the room. I’m going to wake up in the night and do something to you that you’ve never seen or heard of or imagined” (GOE 5). Certainly there is, as Eby identifies, “something sinister” at work beneath this “playful and loving” banter (“Literary Jealousy and Destruction” 99).
However, unlike the many critics that have cast Catherine as the successor to serpentine evil in the Garden of Eden mythology, I see this “something sinister” as not so much Satanic as it is Lacanian. As Eby contends, “Almost the entire psychosexual content of The Garden of Edencan be found in A Farewell to Arms, only expressed more subtly” (“Reading Hemingway Backwards” 109). Among these psychosexual parallels, I again point to the death drive as the underlying force through which to trace and explain Catherine Bourne’s destructive impulses, uniting her with Catherine Barkley in their shared pursuit of psychic wholeness.
Just as Catherine Barkley’s insistent desire to merge with Frederic renders her destructive impulses toward him in fact self-destructive, so does Catherine Bourne’s insistence on twinning and merger with David transform her acts of destruction into those of self-destruction. Like Catherine Barkley, who loves Frederic so much she wants to be him, Catherine Bourne longs for a total merger with her husband in which “you can’t tell who is who” (GOE 17). Catherine Bourne’s insistence on matching haircuts and even referring to David as “Catherine” suggests that, like Catherine Barkley, Catherine Bourne wants to beher husband. And, according to some interpretations, she is. Eby presents a reading that figures Catherine and David as two halves of a divided ego—namely, Hemingway’s ego. According to Eby, “Both David and Catherine are, of course, reflections of Hemingway’s imagination and different aspects of his psyche,” with Catherine Bourne representing “Hemingway’s split-off other-sex alter-ego” (“Literary Jealousy and destruction” 104). Significantly, Eby repeats almost this exact parlance in his analysis of A Farewell to Arms as “a book about the onset of Hemingway’s fetishism and the birth of ‘Catherine’ as the split-off other-sex half of his ego” (“Reading Hemingway Backwards” 109). This reading, as Eby elaborates, “helps us to understand why Catherine and Frederic want to ‘be’ each other—for on some level, as emblems of two halves of a divided ego, they already are” (111). Thus, Catherine’s destructive actions—though certainly more egregious than those of her predecessor—do not constitute acts of vengeance or jealousy against her husband so much as they do a desperate attempt to escape the symbolic and restore unity through merger with the other half of her divided ego.
Whether or not we accept Eby’s biographical approach, the figuration of Catherine and David as two halves of a divided ego—Hemingway’s or otherwise—can help align Catherine’s destructive impulses with the death drive. As one half of a divided ego, Catherine belongs to a world of separation and fractured identity. Like Catherine Barkley, who desires to return to the earlier state of wholeness she enjoyed with her fiancé by merging with Frederic, Catherine Bourne’s death drive manifests in her desire to restore psychic wholeness through merger with the other half of her fractured identity. For Catherine Barkley, this earlier state of wholeness is represented by her relationship with her late fiancé, who predeceases the novel and evades symbolic participation in Frederic’s narrative. For Catherine Bourne, this “earlier” state of psychic wholeness has a more literal Freudian parallel, corresponding to the androgyny of infancy.
Queer experimentation and androgyny are among the most notable motifs that first appear in A Farewell to Arms, where they are stunted by “a greater degree of condensation, displacement, and symbolization,” only to resurface relatively uncensored in The Garden of Eden(“Reading Hemingway Backwards” 109). Pointing to Catherine Barkley’s fascination with merger, desire for twin haircuts, and momentary allusion to lesbianism — “I wish I’d stayed with all your girls” — Debra Moddelmog notes that “there is more than an implication in A Farewell to Arms that gender transgressions and reversals of traditional male and female roles during sex lie beneath the androgynous fusion of two parts into one whole” (FTA 299, Moddelmog 18). What is perhaps “more than an implication” in A Farewell to Armsbecomes a blatant portrayal in The Garden of Eden, with Catherine Bourne actually completing many of the queer experiments to which Catherine Barkley only alludes. Catherine Bourne “changes from a girl into a boy and back to a girl carelessly and happily” (GOE 31). She successfully convinces David to get the matching, androgynous haircuts that Catherine Barkley proposes, with little response, to Frederic. In her sexual relationship with Marita, Catherine Bourne even “stays with” one of David’s girls.
In Freudian psychoanalysis, androgyny is pre-symbolic, reflective of the infant’s pre-linguistic state of “polymorphous perversity.” Thus, Catherine’s desire for androgyny becomes a manifestation of her death drive. Her queer experimentation constitutes an attempt to return to an earlier, pre-symbolic state of wholeness and unity characterized by androgyny. This death-driven fascination with androgyny can also help explain Catherine’s ultimate act of destruction: the burning of David’s manuscripts. The honeymoon narrative that Catherine prefers, and which she played some role in the creation of, is “androgynously conceived,” while the African narrative that she destroys is a “masculine narrative” from which she is excluded (Burwell 199). Catherine destroys the masculine text in order to restore and preserve the androgynous wholeness of the honeymoon narrative.
Catherine’s death drive also surfaces in her almost overtly Lacanian fascination with mirrors. A recurring motif throughout The Garden of Eden, the use of mirrors has notable parallels in related Hemingway texts as well, including A Farewell to Arms and the short story “The Sea Change.” In The Garden of Eden, Catherine expresses a desire for a bar mirror at the hotel: “A bar’s no good without a mirror…Then we can all see each other when we talk rot and know how rotty it is. You can’t fool a bar mirror” (GOE 103). In basic Lacanian ideology, the mirror stage is a pre-symbolic state in which infants respond to a seemingly coherent image of wholeness reflected in the mirror. Catherine’s obsession with mirrors reflects her desire to return to this earlier state. Seeing herself as the split-off half of a divided ego, Catherine—like the pre-symbolic infant—responds to and craves the image of wholeness in the mirror. Incorporating French feminism, Kathy Willingham perhaps best outlines Catherine’s relationship to mirrors in the Lacanian register:
Catherine’s inability to access language, or to enter into the Symbolic smoothly, in the Lacanian sense, is further reinforced by Catherine’s obsession for gazing into mirrors. She is so fascinated with observing herself that she suggests purchasing a mirror to hang in the bar so that the three of them “can all see each other when we talk rot and know how rotty it is. You can’t fool a bar mirror.” Cixous repeatedly speaks of alienation from the symbolic as advantageous, and Catherine’s interest in mirrors shows a similar satisfaction with existence in the imaginary or pre-symbolic condition. (52)
For Catherine, then, mirrors are a way to transcend the symbolic and access the Lacanian “real.”
For David, however, mirrors are a source of distress and dissociation. “It’s when I start looking quizzical in one that I know I’ve lost,” he tells Catherine (GOE103). Indeed, like the unnamed young man in “The Sea Change,” who looks into the bar mirror and sees “a different man,” David often finds himself “looking quizzical” in mirrors (“The Sea Change” 401). David resists mirrors because, as pre-symbolic, they challenge patriarchal constructions of meaning. As a writer, David deals in the symbolic, and recognizes that Catherine’s death drive is in direct opposition to linguistic creation. Calling on Sarah Webster Goodwin and Elizabeth Bronfen’s argument in Death and Representation, DeRosa explains the conflict between the death drive and symbolic representation: “‘Representations are fantasies of wholeness, invented to protect each human being from confronting an initial traumatic experience that installed them in the first place as split-off meanings, as re-presented.’ Thus, any encounter with the real is an encounter with the realm outside of representation; representations and death are always in direct opposition” (DeRosa 28). For David, then, merger with Catherine is a threat to the symbolic order, which of course includes his own writing. He wants to resist merging with Catherine and instead maintain the separation that, in Lacanian theory, makes language possible. For this reason, David is compelled to dissociate when he looks into mirrors, seeing “someone else” and resisting the psychic wholeness of the imaginary that threatens the male symbolic order of separation and difference (GOE 84). Frederic, too, experiences similar instances of dissociation when confronted with mirrors in A Farewell to Arms. While Catherine Barkley expresses her desire “to do something really sinful” as she combs her hair in front of the mirror, Frederic shows resistance and dissociation around mirrors, at various points throughout the novel regarding his own reflected image as “strange” or “fake” (FTA153, 258, 311, 319). For Catherine Barkley, like Catherine Bourne, the mirror is a way of accessing the death drive. For the men with whom they seek to merge in order to reclaim the imaginary, however, mirrors pose a threat to the male symbolic order. Unlike Catherine Barkley, Catherine Bourne thwarts this male resistance with the successful installation of the hotel bar mirror, foreshadowing her consummate challenge to the patriarchal order through her destruction of David’s manuscripts.
This reading has alluded to a number of ways in which Catherine Bourne successfully consummates the unfulfilled desires of Catherine Barkley. In The Garden of Eden, Catherine Bourne fulfills Catherine Barkley’s haircut fantasy and engages in physical acts of twinning and gender bending instead of mere verbal expressions of metaphorical oneness. Finally, in her most infamous act of destruction, Catherine Bourne destroys David’s manuscripts, successfully issuing a challenge to the symbolic order in which her predecessor remains imprisoned.
While Catherine’s destructive impulses are infamous, they cannot entirely obscure her creative ones, however stunted. Catherine frequently expresses a frustrated desire for creative output, comparing her inability to paint and write to an insatiable hunger she is powerless to quench (GOE 53). Despite Catherine’s own doubts, critics have noted that her creativity is not simply abortive, but rather seeks other outlets. Eby explains that “Catherine and David’s creativities work very differently—largely in different psychological registers” (“Literary Jealousy and Destruction” 101). Taking a Lacanian approach, Eby claims that Catherine “creates in the register of the imaginary; David in the symbolic. Her imagination is driven by identification; David’s by representation. She stresses the signified; David the signifier” (100). What Eby neglects to emphasize, however, is that these creative differences are not merely personal, but gendered. As Willingham points out, Catherine lacks “full access to the traditionally male-controlled tool of literature” because of her gender (47).
In Lacanian theory, entry into the symbolic is made possible by the “law of the father” or the “father’s no.” When the imaginary is disrupted by threat of castration in Lacan’s refiguring of the Oedipus complex, the father’s opposition to the son’s incestuous desire for the mother thrusts the child out of the imaginary and into the symbolic. Thus, the symbolic realm is inherently patriarchal. As a woman, Catherine Bourne is excluded from male-centric structures of meaning, and instead “employs a language which clearly opposes phallogocentric discourse” (Willingham 59). In destroying David’s manuscripts, Catherine seeks to both annihilate the patriarchal order of language from which she has been excluded, as well as to abolish the male text that separates her from David and thwarts her efforts to merge with him in pre-symbolic wholeness. What is often viewed as a jealous attack on the husband is actually a desperate, self-destructive act intended to thrust both Catherine and David out of the symbolic so they can merge and restore the wholeness of a single, undivided ego.
In this physical attack on the symbolic order, Catherine Bourne exhibits some influence from her earliest predecessor, Catherine Earnshaw. In Wuthering Heights, DeRosa notes Catherine Earnshaw’s “aversion to to the printed word,” pointing to a scene in which a ghostly Catherine pushes aside a pile of books Lockwood has assembled in an attempt to prevent her entry into his bed: “While she can manage to thrust the books protecting Lockwood aside, thereby demonstrating her control over the texts, she is also in thrusting them aside destroying the barrier that separates her from Lockwood; and Lockwood, as stand-in for Heathcliff, is precisely the ‘other’ to whom Catherine wishes to connect” (31). Like Catherine Earnshaw, who violently thrusts aside text in an attempt to merge with another in the pre-symbolic, Catherine Bourne’s destruction of David’s manuscript is an attempt to destroy the story that has literally created a fissure in their marriage, as well as to destroy the patriarchal system of language that ruptured the psychic wholeness of the imaginary to which she wishes to return.
Catherine Bourne, of course, does not succeed in abolishing the symbolic order. In fact, in the novel’s uncharacteristically optimistic ending, both David and the text appear to make a full recovery, with David rewriting the stories in a triumphant blaze of reclaimed authority. Catherine’s challenge to the symbolic, however, does seem to authorize her participation in the patriarchal discourse she seeks to subvert. Despite an earlier lamentation that she “can’t even write a letter,” Catherine does write a letter to David at the end of the novel, one he even acknowledges as moving (GOE 53, 237). Conversely, Catherine Barkley remembers on her deathbed that she meant to write Frederic a letter, but “didn’t do it” (FTA330). Once again, Catherine Bourne succeeds where Catherine Barkley fails. Through her subversive efforts, Catherine Bourne successfully navigates the symbolic in a way that neither of her predecessors—whose deaths render them imprisoned in the symbolic realm of narrative—manage.
Catherine Bourne’s literal survival, then, emerges as another key way in which she triumphs over her predecessors. As noted, both Catherine Earnshaw and Catherine Barkley die in childbirth. By contrast, Catherine Bourne not only survives her narrative, but in fact struggles to conceive. Viewed in light of the Lacanian significance of dying in childbirth, Catherine Bourne’s failure to conceive becomes yet another way in which she triumphs over the patriarchal systems that lead the other Catherines to their demise. In basic Lacanian ideology, as outlined by Doreen Fowler, a child enters the realm of the symbolic and acquires language by becoming aware of difference and separating from the mother. If separation from the mother is the key to the symbolic realm, then “the murder of the mother is constructed as positive step toward establishing identity,” (317). This Lacanian tradition of symbolic matricide can help explain why both Catherine Earnshaw and Catherine Barkley die in childbirth. Catherine Bourne, however, escapes this fate. While critics often figure Bourne’s failure or inability to conceive as symptomatic of her other creative failures: “She finds that she can’t even have what she calls ‘a damned baby’” (“Literary Jealousy and Destruction” 100), I read Catherine’s childlessness as yet another way in which she successfully thwarts the patriarchal order.
As a survivor, Catherine Bourne is able to successfully exit the narrative. Her last appearance in the novel is in her letter, through which she briefly takes control of the narrative before fleeing it. She does not remain imprisoned in the symbolic order via a man’s first-person narrative, like both Catherine Earnshaw and Catherine Barkley, whose death-driven attempts to escape the symbolic only render them immortalized in the writing of male narrators. Catherine Bourne does not literally succumb to her death drive—at least not in the current published edition of the novel. She does not become yet another ghostly Catherine trapped in a haunted text. In her successful navigation of the symbolic, Catherine Bourne manages to both escape and survive.
It would be easy enough to write off Hemingway’s repetition of the name Catherine as mere coincidence. It is, after all, a common name. It could even be argued that Hemingway was only using the familiar name as a place holder, and would have changed it before the novel’s publication. However, as Eby points out, it is clear that Hemingway spent a lot of time thinking about the name Catherine, both within and outside of his fictional pursuits. It was the name he used for himself when exploring his own other-sex alter-ego, and he also considered repeating the name yet again on another character in theGarden of Eden manuscript, even toying with the working title “The Two Catherines” (“Literary Jealousy and Destruction” 104).
Clearly, the name Catherine implied an inherent doubleness for Hemingway, one that I think can perhaps trace the whispers of its origins to Emily Brontë’s original tale of two Catherines. As alluded to earlier, Wuthering Heightsis itself a novel of “two Catherines” —Catherine Earnshaw and her daughter Catherine Linton. And just as Catherine Earnshaw “is” Heathcliff, Hemingway’s Catherine Barkley “is” Frederic, and Catherine Bourne, in turn, “is” David. Thus, if Catherine Bourne is the serpentine destroyer of Eden, it is not out of jealous vengeance against her husband. Her destructive impulses echo a long literary tradition of desperate attempts to reclaim the other half of the self.
Alexander, Christine and Margaret Smith. “Wuthering Heights, A Novel.” The Oxford Companion to the Brontës. Oxford UP, 2003. pp. 553-561.
Burwell, Rose Marie. “Hemingway’s Garden of Eden: Resistance of Things Past and Protecting the Masculine Text.” Texas Studies in Literature and Language, vol. 35, no. 2, 1993, pp. 198–225. JSTOR, JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/40755009.
Brontë, Emily. Wuthering Heights. New York: Barnes & Noble, 2004. Dodman, Trevor. “‘Going All to Pieces’: ‘A Farewell to Arms’ as Trauma Narrative.” Twentieth Century Literature, vol. 52, no. 3, 2006, pp. 249–274. JSTOR, JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/20479772.
Eby, Carl P. “Who is “The Destructive Type?’: Re-Reading Literary Jealousy and Destructionin The Garden of Eden.” The Hemingway Review, vol. 33 no. 2, 2014, pp. 99-106. Project MUSE, doi:10.1353/hem.2014.0005
Eby, Carl P. “Reading Hemingway Backwards.” Teaching Hemingway and Gender ed. by Verna Kale (review).” The Hemingway Review, vol. 37 no. 1, 2017, pp. 104-114. Project MUSE, doi:10.1353/hem.2017.0025
Fowler, Doreen. “Matricide and the Mother’s Revenge: As I Lay Dying.” The Faulkner Journal 4. 1&2 (1991). Rpt. in As I Lay Dying. Edited by Michael Gorra. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2010.
Hemingway, Ernest. A Farewell to Arms. New York: Scribner, 2003. Hemingway, Ernest. The Garden of Eden. New York: Scribner, 1995.
Hemingway, Ernest. “The Sea Change.” Ernest Hemingway: The Short Stories. New York: Scribner.
James, Pearl. “Regendering War Trauma and Relocating the Abject: Catherine Barkley’sDeath.” The New Death: American Modernism and World War I, University of VirginiaPress, 2013, pp. 119–159. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt6wrkcw.8.
Moddelmog, D. A. ‘“We Live in a Country Where Nothing Makes any Difference”: The Queer Sensibility of A Farewell to Arms.” The Hemingway Review, vol. 28 no. 2, 2009, pp. 7-24. Project MUSE, doi:10.1353/hem.0.0029
Powell, Tamara M. “Lilith started it! Catherine as Lilith in ‘The Garden of Eden.'”The Hemingway Review, vol. 15, no. 2, 1996, p. 78+. Academic OneFile.
Spanier, Sandra Whipple, and Scott Donaldson. Hemingway’s Unknown Soldier: CatherineBarkley, the Critics, and the Great War. Cambridge University Press, 1991.
Tyler, Lisa. “Passion and Grief in ‘A Farewell to Arms’: Ernest Hemingway’s Retelling of ‘Wuthering Heights'”.” Hemingway Review, vol. 14, no. 2, 1995, pp. 79-96. ProQuest.
Willingham, Kathy. “Hemingway’s ‘The Garden of Eden’: Writing with the body.” Hemingway Review, vol. 12, no. 2, 1993, pp. 46-61.
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