” There is never any ending to Paris and the memory of each person who has lived in it differs from that of any other. We always returned to it no matter who we were or how it was changed or with what difficulties, or ease, it could be reached. Paris was always worth it and you received return for whatever you brought to it. But this is how Paris was in the early days when we were very poor and very happy. ” (from There is Never Any End to Paris, 209)
After World War I Hemingway settled in Paris as a correspondent for the Toronto Star. Later he quit the job as a journalist of his own accord to pursue serious writing—meaning he also forfeited a stable income. A Moveable Feast, savagely written and vividly intuitive, is an astonishing, painstakingly candid personal story of a man who dared to be completely honest, of both the people he knew and of his dedication to writing. It brings alive Paris in the 1920s, as Hemingway’s literary life, albeit thrifty and austere, takes him to famous establishments and homes of some well-known literati.
It was in that room too that I learned not to think about anything that I was writing from the time I stopped writing until I started again the next day . . . Going down the stairs when I worked well, and that needed luck as well as discipline, was a wonderful feeling and I was free then to walk anywhere in Paris. (from Miss Stein Instructs, 13)
Hemingway does not make a secret of his being poor, nor does he feel ashamed of it, for poverty was almost everywhere and by which people live at that time. Small economy seems to be the norm in Paris, then, one could live very well on almost nothing and by skipping meals occasionally and never buying any new clothes, luxuries could be afforded every once in a while. He derives pleasure from frugality, deeming hunger as discipline. But he is protective of his wife’s feeling, hiding his hunger from her. A walk from his flat above a sawmill and through Jardin du Luxembourg into St. Sulpice, devoid of any restaurants and boulangerie, is the best way to curb hunger and cravings. By the time he works his way through the quiet alleys in St. Germain-des-Pres and reaches Shakespeare & Co., his hunger is contained. New books on display heightens his perceptions. As a member of the bookstore’s rental library, Sylvia Beach, the owner, allows him to take as many books as he wants with no expiration.
But when he was drunk he would usually come to find me and, drunk, he took almost as much pleasure interfering with my work as Zelda did interfering with his. This continued for years but, for years too, I had no more loyal friend than Scott when he was sober. (from Hawks Do Not Share, 182)
As protective of his private writing time as Hemingway claims (he would avoid his “office” at Cloerie de Lilas lest to be disrupted by society), he makes generous allowance for Scott Fitzgerald, who confides in him his marriage problems and book projects. Choked by the vicious cycle that begins and ends with drunkenness, with sobering, working, and fighting with Zelda in between, Fitzgerald struggles to write after The Great Gatsby, which was huge hit was critics but not sales. The substantial coverage on Fitzgerald in A Moveable feast is a testimony to the depth of their friendship. Fitzgerald’s marriage unfortunately also becomes an antithesis to what Hemingway and Hadley share in theirs—joy, happiness, and content despite financial hardship. It’s priceless to follow the heart’s pursuit.
A Moveable Feast is evocative of that lost generation of artists living in 1920s Paris: Gertrude Stein, Ezra Pound (who set a fund to rescue T.S. Eliot out of his bank job in order to write poetry), Pablo Picasso, Ford Madox Ford, and James Joyce. Hemingway truly captures that intensity and immediacy of youth and love, doing what his heart craves, with biding interest. I’m living vicariously through Hemingway’s Paris. The mood that Paris creates affects those who visit today as it did in Hemingway’s time.
209 pp. Softcover. [Read/
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