To be honest, I never had much interest in Ernest Hemingway until I read The Paris Wife after Jim’s review posted on BGB. While reading about Hemingway’s life in Paris from his wife Hadley’s point of view (even the fiction version), I made a mental note to put A Moveable Feast on the short list. Appropriately, I bought the book at Shakespeare and Company while I was in Paris and started it as soon as I returned home.
I chose the perfect time to explore Hemingway’s writings. Fortunately for those of us late to this famous author, in 2009, Sean Hemingway took his grandfather’s notes and rewote several of Hemingway’s books based on his actual writings. At the beginning of A Moveable Feast, Sean outlines the differences between the two editions. Since I never read the first one, I wouldn’t have known any differently, but knowing that this version is straight from the source and not edited by one of his wives makes me happy that I waited.
Hemingway spent several years in Paris when he began his writing career in the 1920′s. The 1920′s in Paris was a wild time. American artists were escaping prohibition in America and were able to live cheaply in Paris while dedicating all of their time to their profession. The smallest detail of the everyday is exciting in this case. ( I always wonder if my Paris memoires would be this interesting, but probably not, I’m not Ernest Hemingway).
After you came out of the Luxembourg you could walk down the narrow rue Ferou to the Place St.-Sulpice and there were still no restaurants, only the quiet square with its benches and trees. There was a fountain with lions and pigeons walked on the pavement and perched on the statues of the bishops.
Hello! I was just in that exact place! That is the church square where I can trace my ancestry back to 1490. Hemingway was there too! Ok. I became just a little excited while reading this book.
Like most memoirs, each chapter can represent its own memory, completely separate from any other. There isn’t a particular timeline that I could follow, but some subjects were deserving of several chapters. His good friend and poet, Ezra Pound, was one such subject. F. Scott Fitzgerald is another example. Hemingway seems to have had a love-hate relationship with him. He appreciated Fitzgerald’s writing talent but focused a lot of his own writing time on Fitzgerald’s drinking problem, erratic behavior and crazy wife Zelda . He put a lot of thought into describing Scott’s looks the first time he met him,
Scott was a man then who looked like a boy with a face between handsome and pretty. He had very fair wavy hair, a high forehead, excited eyes and a delicate long-lipped Irish mouth, that on a girl, would have been the mouth for a beauty. His chin was well built and he had good ears and a handsome, almost beautiful, unmarked nose. This should not have added up to a pretty face, but that came from the coloring, the very fair hair and the mouth. The mouth worried you until you knew him and then it worried you more.
Hemingway also often describes what conditions were best for him to work. His trips to the track and the different people who he would randomly see in cafes were also parts of his life he described. All of them quite fascinating.
Having lived in Paris myself, there is nothing further form the truth than Hemingway’s famous quote:
If you are lucky enough to have lived in Paris as a young man [or woman!], then wherever you go for the rest of your life, it stays with you, for Paris is a moveable feast.
When I return to Paris next time, and there is always a next time, I am going to explore Hemingway’s old haunts for myself.