Author: Ernest Hemingway
Published: 1964 (posthumously)
A Moveable Feast, is a breezy autobiographical series of remembrances written by Ernest Hemingway about his time as a poor but determined young writer living in Paris in the 1920’s. I’ve found over the years that I enjoy Hemingway’s short stories even more than his novels, and A Moveable Feast, which is comprised entirely of brief vignettes, ranging from absurdist to mournful, is a delight to read.
We find Hemingway living in a small apartment with his wife and son, three years removed from the great war, and struggling to write his first novel while haunting the many cafes of Paris. The book is largely about the struggle to write a good story, but since writing about writing would be anathema to Hemingway (he can’t stand talking about his own work) the prose mostly picks up the moment he has finished his work for the day. When not writing, Hemingway spends his days betting on horses at the racetrack, taking out books at the now famous bookshop Shakespeare and Company, drinking and eating at the cheapest restaurants in Paris, watching the fishermen on the Seine and meeting up with fellow writers and artists.
While often hungry and worried about money, his life is also a charmed one - filled with interesting companions and the pleasure that comes from following your true passion. He spends many evenings conversing with Gertrude Stein at her bohemian apartment and they quickly develop a mutual respect and fondness for one another, even though Hemingway is annoyed when she refers to veterans of WWI as “the lost generation”. One amusing episode finds Hemingway trying to deliver a jar of opium to a crazed, drug addicted poet-acquaintance in the midst of a terrible withdrawal. When Hemingway arrives on the scene with the needed remedy in his hands, the poet goes berserk - cussing him out and whipping milk bottles at his head. Hemingway makes a speedy getaway, but can’t help remarking in his customary deadpan, “For a poet he threw a very accurate milk bottle.”
The chapters I enjoyed most were centered around Hemingway’s loyal and tragic friendship with F. Scott Fitzgerald. Each episode is told with a raw and touching honesty. There’s their ill-fated but hilarious trip to Lyon where the hypochondriac Fitzgerald forces Hemingway into the role of nursemaid, the dinner where Hemingway must reassure Fitzgerald that his penis length is perfectly normal, (despite his wife’s cruel taunts), and the painful realization where Hemingway grasps that Fitzgerald’s love for his wife will ultimately be his undoing. It's Hemingway at his most vulnerable and inviting. He captures the essence of his friend with these beautiful lines:
His talent was as natural as the pattern that was made by the dust on a butterfly’s wings. At one time he understood it no more than the butterfly did and he did not know when it was brushed or marred. Later he became conscious of his damaged wings and of their construction and he learned to think and could not fly any more because the love of flight was gone and he could only remember when it had been effortless.
A Moveable Feast was written at the end of Ernest Hemingway’s storied career, and was published posthumously in 1964 (three years after his death). It is a book that only could’ve been written after many years of reflection. Many of the wounds in the stories remain fresh, especially the dissolution of his first marriage, and a certain melancholy suffuses many of the pages. But rather than give the prose a downtrodden feel, the work sparkles with life and the possibilities still to come. Hemingway was an old man when he rediscovered the tattered journals he’d left behind in the Paris Ritz Hotel all those years ago, and they formed the basis for the book. Reopening that forgotten trunk undoubtedly stirred old feelings, regrets and fond memories. Lucky are we readers that Hemingway was able to dance so gracefully down memory lane.