—ERNEST HEMINGWAY, to a friend, 1950
Published posthumously in 1964, A Moveable Feast remains one of Ernest Hemingway’s most beloved works. It is his classic memoir of Paris in the 1920s, filled with irreverent portraits of other expatriate luminaries such as F. Scott Fitzgerald and Gertrude Stein; tender memories of his first wife, Hadley; and insightful recollections of his own early experiments with his craft. It is a literary feast, brilliantly evoking the exuberant mood of Paris after World War I and the youthful spirit, unbridled creativity, and unquenchable enthusiasm that Hemingway himself epitomized.
Ernest, I don’t know what to make of you. I don’t think I like you. I just finished A Moveable Feast, and I wonder if this had gotten published if the vignettes hadn’t been written by you. I don’t see the point of most of the stories included in this book. And I don’t understand how this is a celebration of Paris either.
You write very eloquently about what it’s like to be hungry while wandering the streets of Paris. After I read about the sausages and potato salad you describe in “Hunger Was a Good Discipline,” I changed my dinner plans so that we would have potato salad that night. I enjoyed reading about your ski trips to Austria in “There Is Never Any End to Paris.” It was fun to travel to Lyons with you and Fitzgerald to bring the car to Paris, as you describe in “Scott Fitzgerald.” Your “Une Génération Perdue” made me write down the titles of a few books that I’d like to read. But otherwise?
You come across as arrogant and grumpy. You’re rude in “Birth of a New School.” Your joke about Major Eliot in “Ezra Pound and His Bel Esprit” is not funny. If it is only mildly funny AFTER you explain it, then it doesn’t mean that there’s something wrong with the person you had to explain it to. It means that maybe there’s something wrong with what you thought was funny.
And are you telling me that you broke with Gertrude Stein because you overheard an argument between her and her friend and she sounded weak? That would be petty of you. Promising to visit while knowing you have no intention to go is underhanded.
Above all, I am astounded by how casually you go about breaking apart your marriage. “When there were the three of us instead of just the two” sounds so benign. What a nice way to deflect the point that you cheated on your wife. Your only excuse seems to be that writing was difficult. I don’t like that.
Today, you would probably be diagnosed with PTSD and maybe there is some genetic explanation for why you and so many members of your family committed suicide or had mental problems, but that is no excuse for the fact that you were a drinking, gambling, unkind person.
I committed to reading A Farewell to Arms in the next four years, and I might have told someone I would read the collection of your short stories that is staring at me from my nightstand. While I will be true to my word, I can’t say I am looking forward to reading either book. But at least I will try to keep an open mind. After all, you somehow managed to get the Nobel Prize for literature….
I read this for Jazz Age January hosted by Books Speak Volumes. I have one more book that I am planning to read for this event. It’s not about drinking, it’s about eating! I love it already.