A Moveable Feast by Ernest Hemingway

9 June, 2011

A Moveable Feast by Ernest Hemingway is a series of vignettes written between 1957 and 1960 just before Hemingway’s death about his life in early 1920s Paris when he was still an impoverished and struggling writer.

My father read this last year when we visited Paris and kept raving on about it, so this year I decided to crack it open as we were visiting the French capital again. Don’t you feel like reading up about a place you’re going to visit? I always get the urge. Usually I’m all over the existentialists, but this year, we walked in the footsteps of Hemingway, even staying in a hotel on rue Vaugirard which goes all the way to the Luxembourg Gardens where Hemingway used to walk. The only place we didn’t visit was his local bar Closerie de Lilas (which my father managed to find after I’d already returned to London. Well done, Dad!)

Hemingway talks about the mechanics of writing, his daily rituals, how he and his first wife, Hadley, celebrated when he finished a story, betting on horses to make money for holidays, what they ate, drank and what was most interesting to me, was his friendships with other writers. There was Ezra Pound, Gertrude Stein who he later fell out with (but she fell out with almost everyone), Ford Maddox Ford and of course, F. Scott Fitzgerald. In some ways it’s a romantic idea of a writer’s vision of Paris in the 1920s, and you begin to wonder how much of Hemingway’s recollection is remembered through rum-filled glasses, as he wrote A Moveable Feast almost 40 years after the events and just before his death.

Sylvia Beach and her bookshop, the original Shakespeare & Company where James Joyce used to frequent, then situated in the rue de L’Odeon, played an important part in young Hemingway’s life. I hadn’t realised that Beach’s bookshop was also a lending library and it was lovely to read how she would lend him books even though he didn’t have the money to pay. You get the feeling that the writers all supported each other because they knew how important books were.

I think what surprised me most about this collection was how romantic Hemingway came across. His softness and love of Hadley was surprising to me.

I really enjoyed this collection and recommend it to anyone who is going to visit Paris. It will give you a new perspective of the writer and the city. So of course now I have to get my mitts on The Paris Wife by Paul McLain about Hadley, Fiesta: The Sun Also Rises, Hemingway’s first novel, and The Garden of Eden based on the breakup of his first marriage, just so I can steep myself further in the legend of Papa.

Also, Dolce Bellezza and A Book Sanctuary are doing a readalong this month, so if you are thinking of picking up A Moveable Feast, why not join them?

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25 Responses to “A Moveable Feast by Ernest Hemingway”

  1. Nymeth Says:

    The readalong is very tempting – this is by far the Hemingway that appeals to me the most.

  2. Vindi Says:

    This looks delightful! I ashamedly have never ventured into the world of Hemingway but I think I’ve found a lovely work to start off with 🙂 Great post!

    • sakura Says:

      I found it more accessible than his novels (I’m thinking of The Old Man and the Sea). Reading this has made me want to read more novels by him:)


  3. I don’t know why I haven’t read this book yet – I love Paris (esp. the Shakespeare & Co shop where I want to LIVE!!!). I have been told to read this many times so why haven’t I?

    • sakura Says:

      We never listen to others, do we? It’s taken me a whole year to read this after having my dad harp on about it for ages. And I’m with you on the Shakespeare & Co thing, although I’ll probably need to take my own bed!


  4. I wish I’d read it before my trip to Paris. Keep putting off reading Heminghway for some reason. Must get on to it! Really like your blog, only recently discovered it. 🙂

  5. Melissa Says:

    I love this book. It gave me such a better understanding of Hemingway and was such a wonderful look at Paris. I’ve been to the new Shakespeare and Company bookstore and it’s divine!

  6. Caitlin Says:

    This is one of my favorite books – have read and re-read. The same is true with The Sun Also Rises. I love having the longevity I have with both books – it’s interesting to see how my perspective shifts as I re-read at different ages. When I was younger it was all the romance of being an expatriate, doomed lovers, running with the bulls, when I re-read The Sun Also Rises last year or so it was all about the description of the fishing trip. Glad you enjoyed it!

    • sakura Says:

      I’m really looking forward to reading The Sun Also Rises. Glad to hear it’s one of your favourite books. Maybe I should give The Old Man and the Sea, A Farewell to Arms and To Whom The Bell Tolls another go to see whether my readings have changed as I read them years ago.

  7. Relish Says:

    Shamefully, I’ve never read very much Hemingway, maybe I always saw him as a bit of a man’s man (not that I’m much of a girl’s girl myself ;)) Boys books? Perhaps that’s a bit controversial!

    My bf loves Hemingway and recently read ‘The Paris Wife’ and after some initial moaning was very touched by the end … You’ve inspired me to finally pick up A Moveable Feast. It’s about high time!

    • sakura Says:

      I know what you mean. I wasn’t particularly enamoured by Hemingway’s most famous novels including The Old Man and the Sea (which my father loves) but having read A Moveable Feast, I’m much more eager to read his work. Good to hear your bf enjoyed The Paris Wife. I’m looking forward to reading that too!


  8. Love buying books set in places I’m going to visit – it just makes it come alive, and gives the travels a hint of familiarity which isn’t unwelcome. I’d love to read this and Orwell’s Down and Out in Paris and London (re-read) one after the other, just to see how their experiences compare and if there was any overlap. Two great authors – I haven’t read much Hemingway, but I adore Orwell.

    • sakura Says:

      I adore Orwell too! If I remember correctly, Down and Out in Paris and London was probably less romantic and more realistic in terms of living the hard life. But yes, it would be wonderful to compare the two. Let me know if you do!

  9. winstonsdad Says:

    I m hoping to join read a long a while since I read the book ,and after reading the baxter want to reread it ,all the best stu

  10. Mystica Says:

    I can imagine how nice it must be to read a book and either live in the place or visit it! I got that feeling so strongly with the Christopher Fowler book I read set in London. It brings it so close to one.

    • sakura Says:

      That’s one of the reasons why I love Christopher Fowler’s Bryant & May series so much because it makes me want to go and explore London even though I live in the city! Do you ever read books about Australia before you go and visit? I guess you can borrow books when you are there.

  11. Rikki Says:

    Yes, he does sound rather romantic, doesn’t he?

    Btw, meanwhile I have watched The Garden of Eden with Mena Suvari, and it was pretty awful. I can’t recommend it with a good conscience.

    • sakura Says:

      Oh no, I was really looking forward to watching The Garden of Eden at some point:( No wonder it didn’t get that much love when it came out.

  12. Nishita Says:

    Wow! You are so lucky to be able to follow in Hemingway’s footsteps. Unbelievable that the Closerie de Lilas is still up and functioning.

    I read this book last week, and am so dreaming about Paris.

    Btw, I too was surprised by Hemingway’s tender relationship with Hadley. Somehow, knowing that he had 4 wives, I thought him a very macho, womanizing kind of man,,,but this book doesn’t reflect that at all.

    I do want to read The Paris Wife though and see how things looked from another angle.

    • sakura Says:

      I still haven’t managed to read The Paris Wife yet and reading other reviews about Hemingway certainly makes me want to pick it up! But yes, it almost seems as though Hemingway is feeling nostalgic about his past. I’m sure it wasn’t really like that in reality!


  13. […] then you absolutely must take this book on your trip. If you don’t believe me, check out Chasing Bawa’s post. I would love to track down and visit some of his hangouts […]


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