Review: A Moveable Feast: The Restored Edition

A Moveable Feast: The Restored Edition, Ernest Hemingway. New York: Scribner, 2010 (Original edition published in 1964).

Summary: Based on the manuscript submitted by Hemingway for publication rather than the posthumously edited version originally published, a memoir of his time in the 1920’s in Paris, his beginnings as a writer, his first marriage, and the circle of writers he worked among, including the previously unpublished “Paris Sketches.

A Moveable Feast was the last work to come from Ernest Hemingway. He began working on it after recovering two trunks of effects in 1956 that had been stored at the Ritz in Paris in 1928. He wrote his publisher weeks before he took his life (in June 1961) of the difficulties in writing the beginning and ending. The manuscript published posthumously contained edits made after his death that he may not have approved. In 1979, Hemingway’s personal papers were released. In 2009, Hemingway’s grandson Sean Hemingway edited the manuscript as it came from Hemingway, restoring the text as it stood before Hemingway died and also including ten “Paris Sketches” not previously published. His son Patrick also contributed the Foreword.

A Moveable Feast, the title of which is explained in Sean’s “Introduction,” is a memoir of Hemingway’s Paris years. We read of the honeymoon years of his first marriage to Hadley, how joyously and inexpensively they lived, especially after Hemingway gave up journalist writing, and then betting on the horses, both of which took him away from the work of writing. In the Paris Sketches there is a wonderful little sketch of how his son accompanied him to the cafe’s as he wrote, and tried to shame Fitzgerald out of drinking. In another Paris Sketch, “The Pilot Fish and the Rich,” Hemingway chronicles the end of his marriage, his inability to love two women, and the remorse he lived in, without recriminations toward Hadley, who eventually, in his words, “married a much finer man.”

He recounts his beginnings as a writer, trying to get his short stories published, and the support of Sylvia Beach, of the original Shakespeare and Company, the venerable Paris bookstore, that served as a gathering place for the ex-pat writers of this period–Joyce, Hemingway, Stein, Fitzgerald, Eliot, Pound. He recounts the advice of Stein and his falling out with her, the influence of Joyce, and his relationships with a number of others, not always flattering. Hemingway describes Fitzgerald’s problems with drunkenness and Zelda’s jealousy of his writing as she sinks into her own insanity. Ford Madox Ford is portrayed in one of the Sketches as a liar, and Hemingway describes the disagreeable, acrid odor that emanated from him when he lied. On the other hand “Ezra Pound was always a good friend and he was always doing things for people” and was a great encouragement to the young Hemingway.

In contrast to some of the others, notably Fitzgerald, we see a writer increasingly disciplined, who did not treat those who interrupted his work kindly, often getting up early to his writing. Not only did a number of short stories come out of this time, many lost in a stolen suitcase, but also The Sun Also Rises, his first full-length novel. Sadly, he finished the last revisions in December of 1925 during their ski holiday in Schruns, their last together before they separated and divorced.

There is a bittersweetness about this work, it seems to me. One senses a generation trying to escape into the gaiety of Paris after the spectre of war and the wounds, physical and mental it left on so many. We meet the great talents, often thwarted by their own demons as much as anything. We delight in the decision of Ernest and Hadley to both grow their hair to the same length, which will save them the time-consuming social life with disapproving friends. And we wish it could have lasted. Sadly, Hadley would not share him with Pauline and the honeymoon in Paris ended.

One wonders what Hemingway thought as an older man, struggling with this memoir, in his fourth marriage and suffering from depression. One senses both glimpses of the wonder of the memory of these times, and a sadness, that despite the successes that flowed from this time, that he’d not found what he was looking for, that may have seemed so near in those Parisian years. Perhaps that is why he could write neither beginning nor end. Perhaps this was a time that could not be anchored in time–a moveable feast indeed.

One thought on “Review: A Moveable Feast: The Restored Edition

  1. Pingback: The Month in Reviews: July 2022 | Bob on Books

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