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[406] A Moveable Feast – Ernest Hemingway

” 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/Skim/Toss] [Buy/Borrow]

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23 Responses

  1. I’ve always wanted to read this book (it’s been sitting on my shelf for more than a couple years) and now I’m even more intrigued.

    You did a beautiful write-up on this and I appreciate all the insight on Hemmingway himself. 🙂

    • I was planning to read it before I went to Paris in June, but I decided to save it for after the trip so I can relive the experience. Hemingway writes a heart-felt book. A lot of the pieces exude his love for his first wife.

  2. I agree, great write-up! I loved this book, and read it on my way over when I went to Paris a million years ago. Once there, I went as soon as I could to the Cloiserie de Lilas, and paid $8 for a coke so I could sit in the same rarified air…

    • I didn’t eat at Cloiserie de Lilas but paid about the same kind of money at Cafe du Flore. I guess it’s the experience that is priceless! I sat down after a long day of walking with a book and I could understand why writers back then would love hanging out at these establishments and do their work.

  3. Indeed a great write up. Quite a few years ago we holidayed in Kenya. The hotel next door was called Hemingways after the author because he had once been a guest.

    • Hemingway’s Paris is really a feast in life and values. He was truly living the moment, pursuing what his heart drives him, despite living on meager income. I haven’t read much of his fiction works, but after A Moveable feast I am compelled to do so.

  4. I’ve not read that and I’m seeking a copy as soon as possible. I love to read about that time and Paris was such a gathering point for so many talents. I enjoyed ‘Orwell’s Down And Out In Paris and London’ and recently Sartre’s ‘Age of Reason’. Thanks for the pointer. I’m always willing to be educated and your blog is one of the best for reviews and referrals to ‘deeper’, more literary and intellectually stimulating books.

    • I have read the Orwell you mentioned and loved it. I need to check out Age of Reason because it’s been so long since I read any Sartre. (I read him for philosophy in college.) I am not expert but I try to give more weights into my reviews. 🙂

  5. One of my favorite books. I read this for the first time last year and it still resonates with me today. Might be due for a re-read for me. It’ll take me quite a bit of time, though, to remove all of the post-it notes that I attached to it last year, signifying a favorite passage.

    • This one is meant to be re-read over and over again, especially I love Paris. What else is better than reading about artists and writers in Paris other than going to Paris myself?

  6. I read my first Hemingway novel (since high school that is) this summer–The Sun Also Rises. It took some getting used to–such a staccato style of writing, but I liked it. I want to read this as well, but haven’t gotten around to it yet. Did you read Paris Wife? It’s about his first wife–I thought it was really interesting and well done–about this period, too. If you haven’t read it you might check it out.

    • I read The Sun Also Rises in high school at didn’t come to appreciate much later until I re-read on my own in college. Hemingway is about experience in life that only with time’s passing one can fully come to grasp. A Moveable Feast holds a special place in my heart because he happened to be at one of my favorite cities during my favorite time period.

  7. My son just picked this one up to read, along with A Farewell to Arms. I will share your review with him and I hope to get him to do a guest review on my blog.

  8. Oh, dear sweet Hemingway. I really loved this. I havent read it in a year or two but it still remains one of my favorite books and definitely a favorite by Hemingway. Glad you enjoyed it!

    • This book will truly stay us many a readers for a long time. Hemingway puts it in a perfect way: “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.”

  9. This book has been on my TBR pile for ever. Enjoyed your review and I look forward to reading the book. BTW, nice blog!

  10. […] sprouted out of Hemingway’s generation on war give me pause. It wasn’t until I read A Moveable Feast that it dawns on me the true canonical nature of this novel, which is considered one of his best. […]

  11. […] my Best Books list? Here are a few, you have to wait until New Year’s Eve for the full list.) A Moveable feast Ernest Hemingway Wolf Hall Hilary Mantel Crossing to Safety Wallace […]

  12. […] A Moveable Feast Ernest Hemingway. My first Hemingway ever and this one really made a huge impression in me. It is evocative of that lost generation of artists living in 1920s. 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. […]

  13. […] A Moveable Feast by Ernest Hemingway. What this book has to offer is exactly the reason why a book shall be re-read. Hemingway’s Paris is one that I have always dreamed of living in: the literati, the artists, the cafes. 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. Share this:StumbleUponRedditPrintMoreTwitterFacebookEmailDiggLike this:LikeBe the first to like this post. […]

  14. You really make it seem so easy with your presentation but I find
    this matter to be really something which I think I would never understand.

    It seems too complex and very broad for me. I am looking
    forward for your next post, I’ll try to get the hang of it!

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