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.