Published posthumously in 1964, A Moveable Feast remains one of Ernest Hemingway’s most beloved works. Since Hemingway’s personal papers were released in 1979, scholars have examined and debated the changes made to the text before publication. Now this new special restored edition presents the original manuscript as the author prepared it to be published.
Featuring a personal foreword by Patrick Hemingway, Ernest’s sole surviving son, and an introduction by the editor and grandson of the author, Seán Hemingway, this new edition also includes a number of unfinished, never-before-published Paris sketches revealing experiences that Hemingway had with his son Jack and his first wife, Hadley. Also included are irreverent portraits of other luminaries, such as F. Scott Fitzgerald and Ford Madox Ford, and insightful recollections of his own early experiments with his craft.
Sure to excite critics and readers alike, the restored edition of A Moveable Feast brilliantly evokes the exuberant mood of Paris after World War I and the unbridled creativity and enthusiasm that Hemingway himself experienced. In the world of letters it is a unique insight into a great literary generation, by one of the best American writers of the twentieth century.
Two people have mentioned moveable feasts (Easter in particular) to me in recent weeks and having heard good things about the book of the same name, it was fitting to give it a go. Hemingway is one of those authors that leaves me constantly undecided, on the one hand there is his unconvincing monosyllabic dialogue and on the other hand there is The Old Man and the Sea. This book I hoped would push me to make a firm decision about his work one way of the other.
Written with Hemingway’s trademark pared down style, as a series of vignettes on Paris life, I was immediately drawn into his time and experiences. Set in the early to mid twenties at a time when the highly artistic gathered in paris, Mr H. gives us plenty of insight into the eating habits and thoughts of such famous names as Ezra Pound, James Joyce, Ford Madox Ford, F. Scott Fitzgerald as well as on the subjects of skiing, books, racing and so forth.
It is an engaging look at the writers life, living in relative poverty – although thankfully the currency exchange rate helps out in their favour on that score, he never overly sentimentalises his life, writing or the poor quarter of the city he lives in. The city is painted as not only vivid but also as ever so slightly nostalgic perhaps – yet still in the author’s macho style – which we can forgive the man for.
A lot of people come across badly, Stein as petty and self-absorbed, although she does make a good point about not buying clothes unless necessary, and Hadley (Mrs H.) seems very weak-willed and a bit dull, reminiscent of the love interest in A Farewell to Arms, a character who totally ruined that book for me. F Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald seem like the most terrible match in history as well but are nonetheless fascinating. Whether these people are presented as odious or not, it does bring the urge to explore their lives and works.
One suspect that these tales will differ from the versions of others and for all his unfair comments, Hemingway is not always the hero he paints himself to be, It’s a flawed portrait, a human one that remains very lively. For all the talk of writers struggling, the book at times does read like a restaurant menu, Hemingway loves to eat, rather like Samuel Pickwick from Dickens’ The Pickwick Papers which is a nice if accidental literary nod that pleased me a lot.
This memoir is indeed a moveable feast as are many other books, it’s a captivating book but one suspects there is more to these tales therein. I found the book started off strongly and finished in the same vein with the Fitzgerald chapters but I did feel there was a slight dip in the middle where the magic just wasn’t as strong. After all that though my interest and curiosity are still unabated as I still try to decide if I really do appreciate this guy’s literary output, never has a writer niggled me quite so much but I get the impression Hemingway would be quite pleased with that.
For those of you interested in seeing a bit more of Shakespeare and Company, the bookshop of the cover and one of Hemingway’s favourite haunts (and it’s easy to see why), my friend Tm did a guest post about it sometime back located here.