Wednesday, March 21, 2018

A Moveable Feast

I've owned a copy of Ernest Hemingway's memoir about his life in Paris in the 1920's, A Moveable Feast, for years, fully intending to read it when the time was right. With a trip to Paris scheduled for July, the time was now.

I ended up enjoying it quite a bit--it is rather uneven as it is a posthumous book. It is more a collection of pieces that he wrote about his life as a poor writer, in love with his first wife, Hadley, and doting on his baby son, writing in cafes, roaming the boulevards, meeting other writers and artists at Gertrude Stein's salon, going to the races, and skiing in the Alps.

Having recently read A Farewell to Arms, Hemingway's voice in Moveable Feast is almost identical to Frederic Henry's. They were clearly written at the same time.

My favorite pieces were about the writing process--how Hemingway worked, what he was trying to achieve, and what he thought of what he wrote--and the other authors he met, and how they worked, etc. I liked the fact that he acknowledge that he had talent, but knew that to mine it required hard work.

The pieces, towards the end of the book, on Scott Fitzgerald were painful to read. I love The Great Gatsby, which was already behind him when Hemingway met him in Paris, but Hemingway's perspective on how Scott and Zelda colluded to dissipate his talent was heartbreaking.

And speaking of heartbreaking, I felt so sad reading the very ending fragments in which Hemingway asks for Hadley's understanding and forgiveness in how he represented their happiness in Paris and then wrote of the wedge that came between them, in the shape of his second wife, Pauline, and how his affair with her destroyed their marriage and his happiness. There must be twenty or more fragments in which he struggles to say that he is sorry things went so badly and that it wasn't her fault.

I'm planning on reading The Paris Wife, by Paula McLain, within the next month or so. It tells Hadley's story, so I understand, and should serve as yet another great source of what to visit and experience in Paris this July.

I am counting this book as one of my Back to the Classics 2018 books, a travel/journey narrative category.


  1. Fascinating commentary. My wife read this a few years ago and really liked it. The book sounds like it touches on many interesting things. I am also interested in how F. Scott Fitzgerald’s privatize life influenced, and perhaps disrupted his work.

  2. Uneven is a good way to describe this book. I liked it, too, but some found certain parts better than others. And since I've always liked Fitzgerald better than Hemingway, those parts where he bashes F. Scott at the end weren't my favorite.

  3. I am not the biggest fan of Hemingway's fiction, but I loved this book. I love the sense of nostalgia that it has. I imagine reading it is great preparation for your upcoming trip and will also be helpful in rounding out your future read of The Paris Wife. Great review!

  4. Oh I seem to have forgotten the part about the Fitzgeralds. It's been a long while since I read Moveable Feast so I need to do a reread. But I recall really liking the book, maybe the nostalgia got me and the setting. I think I've read 4 of Hemingways and have liked them all.

  5. Hmmm...I started this many years ago (a very rare DNF for me). Your review makes me think I should give it another try.

  6. I am not a big fan of Hemingway's books but this one, where you can really see him as a person, sort of made me forgive the flaws. And made me wish I had read The Paris Wife after I read this one because I really became so attached to Hadley.