A Moveable Feast – Ernest Hemingway

“If you are lucky enough to have lived in Paris as a young man, then wherever you go for the rest of your life, it stays with you, for Paris is a moveable feast.”

It was with some anticipation that I picked up this little book, just 126 small pages. I come to Hemingway’s writing as a complete novice, this is the first of his books I have read so I opened it with no expectation and high expectation at the same time – if that makes sense.

A Moveable Feast is Hemingway’s account of the years he spent in Paris in the 1920s, when he was finding himself as a writer, soaking up every ounce of Paris along with his wife Hadley & other American ex pats who would come to be known as ‘The Lost Generation’. Knowing that he had written it 30+ years later, I wondered if it might be a little rose tinted or over sentimental. It is obvious from the start that he has lived and breathed Paris, interestingly though he says he didn’t know it well enough in the early days to write about it.

Each chapter deals loosely with a different topic – from his writing in the various cafes around Paris and his enjoyment of the original Shakespeare and company bookshop to his acquaintance with Gertrude Stein, James Joyce, Ford Maddox, and Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald.Several chapters are given to his relationship with the Fitzgeralds, he talks of Scott being a good friend but he also talks of it being a difficult relationship, affected by Fitzgerald’s excessive drinking and the fragile mental health of Zelda. I wonder what Scott Fitzgerald’s view was on their friendship?

Lack of money and hunger were a constant and Hemingway writes with real passion and joy about the meals they did get to eat and the wine, a way was always found to drink wine.

I was especially looking forward to Hemingway’s references to his wife Hadley. A while ago I read The Paris Wife, a fictional account of the same period written from the point of view of Hadley. Whilst The Paris Wife is a novel, the author Paula McLain obviously knew the facts well so it was a nice balance to then read A Moveable Feast which interestingly, Hemingway also invites the reader to view as fiction. He writes very fondly but in a slightly detached way about his wife with an especially poignant comment near the end:

“When I saw my wife again standing by the tracks as the train came in by the piled logs at the station, I wished I had died before I ever loved anyone but her.”

I found that really sad.

Even though this book is small, I could write and write about my thoughts on it but then there would be nothing left for those who still have the pleasure of discovering it. I found Hemingway’s writing to be matter of fact, with an almost childlike quality to it, or to his observations at least. It is also very personal, despite the various friendships and acquaintances he writes about, there is something quite solitary about his experiences I thought.

Regardless of what else was going on the priority was always his writing, as well as learning his craft he had the less lofty goal of feeding himself and his wife. Establishing a routine & discipline in relation to his writing was crucial to Hemingway, he sounds as if he could have been quite grumpy when interrupted.

I loved reading this book and could imagine sitting at a table across from Hemingway in one of those Paris cafes as he sharpened his pencils and lost himself in his writing. The book was published in 1964, three years after Hemingway’s death, it is important to know that I think when reading it. I hope it is not too intrusive to be reading something that Hemingway didn’t have the final say over publishling himself

I’m curious to read more about this fascinating group of people and to read some of Hemingway’s stories – I suspect his style of writing would either appeal or not, with not much inbetween, I hope I love it.

I have especially enjoyed reading this knowing that Bellezza has also been reading it at the same time and I can now see why people enjoy read a longs so much – I can’t wait to read Bellezza’s thoughts on this and am going to head over there now to find out….

12 responses to “A Moveable Feast – Ernest Hemingway

  1. I read this years ago ,but after reading The most beautiful walk which reference’s this a lot I will be rereading it soon as I want feel the paris he describes again ,all the best stu

    • Stu – He really does describe Paris so well – I have visited before but after reading this and also your review of The most beautiful walk I feel like I didn’t see it at all! Wishing you lots of enjoyment when you re read it.

  2. I loved reading this, inspired by Bellezza (and you). (I have the Paris Wife on hold at the library & I’m looking forward to the same comparison.) I wasn’t very fond of Ernest at the end, because of that detachment. But I did read somewhere that his wife Mary, who prepared this manuscript for publication, might have edited out an apology to Hadley because she (Mary) wanted to diminish the importance of his first marriage (they did seem to be in love!)

    • Audrey – how lovely that you read this along with us. I’m going to head over now to read your review. I’ll look forward to your thoughts on The Paris Wife as well – I really loved that book and feel it’s opened by eyes to a whole new world. Yes I’m not sure what I thought of Ernest after reading A Moveable Feast, I’m know one thing I wouldn’t have wanted to be married to him! I also read that there was controversy over the book and the editing, all very interesting and adds to the intrigue of it all. But yes, they really seemed to be in love didn’t they?

  3. First of all, Tracey, let me say how much I enjoyed reading this with you! It’s very fun to have a reading partner, to know that as you’re flipping the pages be it ever so slowly in order to catch every nuance, someone is doing the same in her house.

    I love how you wrote your review in a narrative. I was at rather a lost when it came to writing this last night, and I ended up putting down my favorite passages, those which I’d highlighted during the course of my reading. But, I think your narrative is more effective.

    I could see myself sitting across from him, too, as he did just what you said: live and breathe Paris. The only thing I found a bit odd was his definition of poor. Sure, there wasn’t a lot of extra money, but to sit at cafes in that city? To see the people and attend the parties and develop one’s career with one’s notebook and two sharpened pencils? Surely that isn’t exactly ‘poor’ in my book! (I tend to thing of the ghettos of inner cities, such as Chicago, when I think of poor.)

    Anyway, the end of the book was so strikingly sad. Fitzgerald’s decline, the way that he and Zelda loved, but ultimately destroyed, one another was heartbreaking. And then, it became worse by Hemingway’s own (tender? in a way?) admission to loving another beside his wife. You could see that he didn’t really want to do it. Yet, he did. And ultimately, that shows what his character really is. Creative? Ambitious? Wildly talented? Yes. Able to live in faithfulness to his wife? No.

    Reading this book, and Flitzgerald’s, gave me such insight into these two men. I didn’t know they were only three years apart, Hemingway being the youngest, and I admire Fitzgerald’s writing the most, but this was certainly a treasure. Thanks for reading with me, friend, and putting up with my excessively verbose (and opinionated!) comment.

    • Bellezza, thank you so much for your generosity in inviting us to read the book together – I’ve been anticipating it and really enjoyed reading it knowing that you were also reading the same words and that we would post about it on the same day – even though we are oceans apart 0:)

      I’m going to pop over and talk to you on your blog – I agree though on the definition of poor – materially only for sure – such a treasure trove of experiences and culture and the pulse of Paris and all those talented people. Just wonderful. I also agree with you on his character, I think there is real contrast there, real attractivenss in many ways but also always search ing and not being able to commit – his thoughts at the end of the book seem full of regret – sad…

  4. Great review and great timing. I recently found a sweet old paperback version that I am looking forward to reading. I think I will have to move it up my TBR list.

    • Thomas – thank you – I love it when I read a review of a book I’ve just read or am planning on reading. Hope you enjoy it, I wonder what you’ll think of it and if you’ve read anything else by Hemingway? I’ll look out for your thoughts.

  5. I’m really looking forward to reading this book. I don’t know a great deal about Hemingway or his time in Paris, but I think it sounds fascinating.

    • Joanne – No I didn’t know much about Hemingway at all but the scene he paints is really fascinating and has made me keen to learn more. I hope you enjoy it too.

  6. Tracey,

    This is my first time visiting your blog, and I must say you have a wonderful place here. I’ve enjoyed reading your posts, and we do have a few mutual blog friends. I have just finished reading A Moveable Feast for the Paris in July event. I too feel sad when I come to the end of the book and the break up of their marriage after Hemingway fell in love with Pauline Pfeiffer. Did you read the “Restored Edition”? There’s some restored content, and the additional last chapter entitled “Nada y Pues Nada” (Nothing And Then Nothing) written three months before his suicide. Seems like a poignant foreshadowing.

    Also, did you watch Woody Allen’s new film “Midnight In Paris”? That’s one excellent compendium to A Moveable Feast.

    • Arti,

      Thank you for stopping by and taking the time to leave me a comment. I didn’t read the restored editon, my copy was from the library and didn’t have the additional chapter but it sounds very poignant indeed. I loved this little book, as much for the scene it paints as for the writing of Hemingway who I’m just starting to learn about.

      I also haven’t seen Midnight in Paris but I have heard it mentioned – thank you for the recommendation, I’m going to check it out.

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