A Moveable Feast is Ernest Hemingway’s memoir. It focuses on his life as a struggling writer with his first wife Hadley and their first son Bumby in Paris after the war, roughly leading up to the publishing of The Sun Also Rises in 1926. While it is technically best described as a memoir, it is probably best read as a piece of fiction – Hemingway encourages us to do so early in the book.
First off, I LOVE this book. But I’m not sure whether this fondness can be attributed to the book itself, or just the idea portrayed in the book. It reads sort of a romanticised rags-to-riches story about one of the most iconic writers of the 20th century. Paris has been romanticised by many the world over and reading Hemingway’s tales of writing in the La Closerie Des Lilas or strolls through au jardin de Luxembourg renewed that sense of awe and wonder for me. So much so that I already know what my itinerary will be for the next time I am in Paris: to explore the world of A Moveable Feast like this. While I probably won’t meet the Ezra Pound’s or F. Scott Fitzgerald’s of the 2020s, I am bound to run into a new generation of artists in such a quest.
I love also how simply Hemingway and his wife lived. There are passages that underscore how poverty-stricken their lives were after Hemingway quit his job as a journalist. Struggling to sell his stories to magazines and prior to publishing his first novel, he would go days without eating food so that Hadley and Bumby could.
“We ate well and cheaply and drank well and cheaply and slept well and warm together and loved each other.”
His contemporaries, the lost generation as Gertrude Stein put it, which included Pound and Picasso and I would argue Sylvia Beach as well, elevates this tale into an almost mythical status. While I have not read any of Ezra Pound’s poetry, or Stein’s for that matter, I did a bit of Art History in school and am familiar with that period in Paris. So whenever one of these legendary figures came into the fore, I couldn’t help but fangirl. It’s like when I realised that most of the NBA’s legendary figures grew up either friends with one another or at least competitors.
It almost felt like I was reading some sort of reality TV show, but without all the tropes that it trash. It felt like I was reading a purer and simpler version of reality TV, much like Terrace House. Pound was my favourite of the bunch, an elder stateman of the group, not in age but in stature. His generosity and general supporting-of-the-fellow-artist-vibe he gave off really struck a chord with me. The tormented Fitzgerald made for the most amusing chapters, and is probably the dramatic centre of this work.
What makes my connection with this work so strong is Hemingway’s prose. I have read in many reviews that his prose is described as economical, and after reading this, I can understand why. It is so simply written. He oft mentions in book that the measure of a write is not the quality of the work in the pages, but the quality of writing omitted. The more I read, the more I was convinced of this notion. Every legendary literary figure mentioned felt like normal people. People have problems, and they also have dreams; they all have something they are good at and something they are bad at. I think this tale, written by another author, would not have had nearly the same impact.
I’ll want to end off by saying that my impressions of this book is, in my estimation, unreasonably biased. While I have spent little under a week in Paris, I am familiar with city through my years learning its tongue. I also read this at a time when I was harbouring my own ambitions of leaving a corporate life for that of a writer of fiction. I did not not pick up this book for those reasons, I was just looking for good memoirs, of which this came highly recommended in certain internet circles. Serendipity did the rest.
It is of note that it was written in his last years and ultimately left incomplete, there have been multiple editions made available. The restored edition is a complete and the most faithful interpretation of what he mean’t to accomplish. The first edition that came out in 1964 had many omissions, and was heavily re-ordered from the original manuscripts. Make sure to get the restored edition.
Highly Recommended. Makes me want to drop everything I am doing, move to Paris, live simply, write in cafés all day, and collaborate with artists and writers.