Saturday, February 13, 2010

Review: A Moveable Feast

by Ernest Hemingway
Simon and Schuster
copyright (original) 1964 - restored edition 2009
rating: 3 out of 5

I was so inspired by Jeremy Mercer's memoir, Time was Soft There, regarding his time spent in Paris, and in particular at The Shakespeare and Company bookstore, that I decided to read Ernest Hemingway's memoir taking place in the same City of Lights. I don't recall a time when I was so conflicted regarding an opinion about a book. On the one hand, some chapters were beautifully written and spoke to my heart; on the other hand, some chapters seemed rather random and abstract to my way of thinking. If I had a third hand, I would say that I often felt lost in the dark as he spoke about his relationship with Gertrude Stein, Ezra Pound, and F. Scott Fitzgerald --- all notable authors whom I have heard referenced, but unfortunately whom I have not read. I felt as though I really needed to be familiar with their works, if not their own biographies, before I could appreciate these chapters in Hemingway's book.

All in all I would say that I am glad that I read this classic memoir, and I am now inspired to read some of Hemingway's classic novels as I feel as though I have insight into the mind of this genius author. Perhaps once after I have read some these enduring works - as well as some of those by the above-mentioned authors, I will gladly re-read A Moveable Feast with a greater appreciation.

While my rating of the book at this first initial read is a mediocre 3 out of 5 stars, I would like to leave you with a few quotes that I found to be most memorable:
Now what can I say about the title? Mary Hemingway derives it from a reark made by her husband to Aaron Hotchner: "If you are lucky enough to have lived in Paris as a young man, then wherever you go for the rest of your life, it stays with you, for Paris is a moveable feast." (page xii)

The final title of the book, A Moveable Feast, was chosen by Mary Hemingway after the author's death....The choice of spelling follows Hemingway's idiosyncratic preference to retain the "e" in words ending in "ing" and formed from the verbs that ended in "e." It adds the imprint of the author and the "ea" in Moveable also makes a pleasant visual repetition with the "ea" in Feast. (page 12)

...It had all been part of the fight against poverty that you never win except by not spending. Especially if you buy pictures instead of clothes. But then we did not think ever of ourselves as poor. We did not accept it. We thought we were superior people and other people that we looked down on and rightly mistrusted were rich. It had never seemed strange to me later on to wear sweatshirts for underwear to keep warm. It only seemed odd to the rich. We ate well and cheaply and drank well and cheaply and slept well and warm together and loved each other. (page 43)

You got very hungry when you did not eat enough in Paris because all the bakery shops had such good things in the windows and people ate outside at tables on the sidewalk so that you saw and smelled the food. When you were skipping meals at a time when you had given up journalism and were writing nothing that anyone in America would buy, explaining at home that you were lunching out with someone, the best place to do it was the Luxembourg gardens where you saw and smelled nothing to eat all the way from the Place de l'Observatoire to the rue de Vaugirard. There you could always go into the Luxembourg museum and all the paintings were heightened and clearer and more beautiful if you were belly-empty, hollow-hungry. I learned to understand Cezanne much better and to see truly how he made landscapes when I was hungry. I used to wonder if he were hungry too when he painted; but I thought it was possibly only that he had forgotten to eat. It was one of those unsound but illuminating thoughts you have when you have been sleepless or hungry. Later I thought Cezanne was probably hungry in a different way (page 65)
and finally, I was quite struck by his three page recollection of sitting in a Parisian cafe writing a story in his notebook, drinking rum St. James:
It was a pleasant cafe, warm and clean and friendly, and I hung up my old waterproof on the coat rack to dry and put my worn and weathered felt hat on the rack above the bench and ordered a cafe au lait. The waiter brought it and I took out a notebook from the pocket of the coat and a pencil and started to write.......

.....A girl came into the cafe and sat by herself at a table near the window. She was very pretty with a face fresh as a newly minted coin if they minted coins in smooth flesh with rain-freshened skin, and her hair black as crow's wing and cut sharply and diagonally across her cheek.

I looked at her and she disturbed me and made me very excited. I wished I could put her in the story, or anywhere, but she had placed herself so she could watch the street and the entry and I knew she was waiting for someone. So I went on writing.

The story was writing itself and I was having a hard time keeping up with it. I ordered another rum St. James and I watched the girl whenever I looked up, or when I sharpened the pencil with a pencil sharpener with the shavings curling into the saucer under my drink.

I've seen you, beauty, and you belong to me now, however you are waiting for and if I never see you again, I thought. You belong to me and all Paris belongs to me and I belong to this notebook and this pencil.

Then I went back to writing and I entered far into the story and was lost in it. I was writing it now and it was not writing itself and I did not look up nor know anything about the time nor think where I was nor order any more rum St. James....Then the story was finished and I was very tired. I read the last paragraph and then I looked up and looked for the girl and she had gone, I hoe she's gone with a good man, I thought. But I felt sad. (page 17-18)


  1. I am glad to hear it inspired you to read more Hemingway. I haven't read any, but I did read 'The Great Gatsby by Fitzgerald and loved it.

  2. I attempted to read this one several years ago in preparation for a trip to Paris. I struggled with it and was never able to work my way through it. Some of it was beautiful, but it just mostly felt disjointed to me and I was never really drawn in.

  3. I am woefully under-read with those particular authors as well, so perhaps I would be a little lost in the references as well. I've always been tempted to read this one though. Something about Paris is very alluring!

  4. I think I avoid books like this because I'm afraid I'm not smart enough for them.

  5. Oh, I simply must read this one! I am fascinated by European things, as my eldest son has been living in Europe since the late nineties (currently in Berlin).

    My only Hemingway thus far has been "For Whom the Bell Tolls," which I read eons ago!

  6. I'm so glad to get your thoughts on this one. It's one I've been meaning to read and now I know that I need to do some legwork before I pick this up.

  7. I bought this book shortly before Christmas and am looking forward to it. I've read a few of Hemingway's novels and a couple by FSF, but it's been a long time. Hope that's enough to help me appreciate A Moveable Feast. Thanks for the quotes, too!

  8. I have never read a book by Hemmingway, but I will add this to my wish list!

  9. I loved A Moveable Feast but I also love Hemingway as well as the literary world of Paris at that time. I'd recommend reading it again if you ever do read more Hemingway, Fitzgerald, etc.

  10. Well, after reading this book, there is a scene you will always remember whenever FSF is mentioned! I love this book, not so much for the writing, I don't think it's the best example of his writing, but for the portrait of a specific time at a specific place. I re-read this last year and then read Gertrude Stein's Autobiography of Alice T., they both had very strong views of the other!


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