A Moveable Feast by Ernest Hemingway

My next book in my summer reading program is A Moveable Feast by Ernest Hemingway.  I read it years ago and have fond memories of it, so I thought I would give it another visit.  I found the updated version with forwards from two grandsons and restorations to the more original text.  Mary Hemingway, Ernest‘s fourth and last wife, did some fairly heavy-handed and occasionally egregious editing to the version that was published posthumously in 1964.  Especially the timeline surrounding his first and second wife, which is understandable, she was under the impression that she was protecting his public image.  He, on the other hand, was humanity, the messiness of life, and whatnot.

I found the New York Times book review for A Moveable Feast when it was first published and have included it below.  Do yourself a favor and read a book this summer, let yourself slip away to another place and find a little bit of quietness to exercise your imagination.

May 5, 1964

Ernest Hemingway’s Memoir of Paris in the Twenties

By CHARLES POORE

The importance of beating Ernest, someone once said, gave a hopeless target to industrious lit’ry careerists. How cheerfully Hemingway was aware of that–and how early–appears quite clearly in this memoir of what I can only call his brilliantly obscure emergence as a man of letters. Here is Hemingway at his best. No one has ever written about Paris in the nineteen twenties as well as Hemingway. Thousands, of course, have given their own bright versions of that unaccountably perpetual springtime, but too many lost parts of their own identities in taking on some of Hemingway’s. And they could not precisely share his astounding fugue of interests, which wove Tolstoy out of Sylvia Beach’s bookship with days at the great race tracks, skiing expeditions to the Alps and the study of CÈzanne, noticing that F. Scott Fitzgerald was wearing a British Guardsman’s tie and boxing with Ezra Pound, forays to Pamplona and living above a sawmill at 113 Rue Notre Dame des Champs.

It made a very movable feast. The feasting was sometimes pretty Spartan. Yet Hemingway and his first wife, Hadley Richardson, and their infant son, lived high on low amounts of money. Wages were precarious for a writer trying to get on paper, in his phrase, “the sequence of motion and fact which made the emotion,” trying to create rather than describe.

And what was the upshot? What–as one of his friends of those days, Archibald MacLeish, asked–what became of him? And answered:

Fame became him. Veteran of the wars before he was twenty: Famous at twenty-five: thirty a master– Whittled a style for his time from a walnut stick In a carpenter’s loft in a street of that April city.

Fame was quick in coming, though in this book it seems elegiacally slow. And prosperity is far around the crooked corners of Montparnasse.

It would be a shallow mistake to take this book as a return only to the past. “If the reader prefers,” Hemingway suggests at the end of a preface date a year or so before his death in 1961–“this book may be regarded as fiction. But there is always the chance that such a book of fiction may throw some light on what has been written as fact.”

There you have it. And the light these pages throw on what has been written by and around and about Hemingway is extraordinarily various. “A Moveable Feast” decidedly would not have the tone of the twenties as he put it to his ear in the nineteen-fifties if Hemingway had not subsequently written the books that led to the Nobel Prize and read the things about himself that sometimes made him wonder whether he was a figment of his critics’ odd imaginations.

The Society of Those Who Knew Hemingway When–a motley if there ever was one–is here in silhouette. But there are Goyesque portraits in full color of Pound and Gertrude Stein and Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald and James Joyce. It would be unkind to ask the forever undemobilized pallbearers of Ford Madox Ford to cheer Hemingway’s view of Ford-double-Ford. However, several writers who may have fattened their portfolios by remembering that they knew him rather more extensively then he remembered having known them will probably be content to remain incognito at “A Moveable Feast.”

Any book by or about Hemingway suddenly becomes the occasion for another full-scale review of his career and I don’t think this one is going to prove a conspicuous exception. The St. Vitus dancers among his critics who are mazily on record for changing their minds about him are always good for one more swing. But, once again, it is a greater pleasure, for the reader at large, to read Hemingway than to cope with the folklorist of his mythology.

 

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