Ernest Hemingway

A Moveable Feast

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A Moveable Feast Summary

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A Moveable Feast is one of Nobel-Prize winning American writer Ernest Hemingway’s most renowned books. A memoir, published posthumously by his widow, Mary Hemingway, it was written in the 1950s, based on Hemingway’s journals from the 1920s. During this time, the writer lived in Paris with his first wife, Hadley, and their young son, Jack. Hemingway struggled to get by as a journalist for a Canadian newspaper and also strike out as a writer of fiction. In the years after World War I, Paris had become a mecca for artists and intellectuals, many of whom who, like Hemingway, were expatriates.

A Moveable Feast’s title derives from the Roman Catholic term for a religious holiday that occurs on a different date each calendar each year, such as Easter Sunday. Relatedly, the structure of Hemingway’s memoir takes the form of 20 titled chapters, each of which stands alone and need not be read in chronological order. The stories themselves are from different periods in Hemingway’s life in Paris, and therefore, do not represent a linear approach to his experiences. Hemingway described the lasting effect of his time in Paris to a friend as a “moveable feast.”

“A Good Café on the Place St.-Michel” sets the scene of Hemingway’s life in Paris, where the weather is cold, and his days are marked by journeys to a café through crowded, dirty streets. Cafés, however, are his sanctuaries, where he can write as he drinks and people-watches. “Miss Stein Instructs” lays out Hemingway’s famous saying that “one true sentence” is all that is required to create a good story. Here, the author reminisces about his fellow writer and mentor Gertrude Stein, a friend of the Hemingways who had an art studio, with whom he enjoys frank discussions about his writing as well as about life. In “Une Génération Perdue” or “A Lost Generation,” Hemingway credits this phrase, used to this day to describe the young people who fought in World War I, to Gertrude Stein.

“Shakespeare and Company” describes a famous bookstore in Paris that is particularly cozy during the winter. The owner, Sylvia Beach, allows Hemingway to borrow books from the store’s rental library for free. In “People of the Seine,” the author details his walks along the River Seine, during which he frequents the small bookstores along its banks and stops to watch the fishermen. “A False Spring” explores the bliss of the Parisian spring. Hemingway decides to take his wife to a horse race, and the couple enjoys a dinner out and night on the town together. The author describes a feeling of hunger, however, that lingers in him late into the night.

In “The End of an Avocation,” Hemingway becomes less interested in horse racing and more in the Parisian bicycle races, which he learns about over lunch with his friend Mike Ward. The author describes looking at art in Parisian museums on an empty stomach in “Hunger Was Good Discipline.” Hemingway has less money now that he has quit his journalism position to work on and sell his stories, which he has done to some success. Nonetheless, he buys an extravagant lunch, where he thinks and writes and realizes he must write a novel. “Ford Madox Ford and the Devil’s Disciple” contains Hemingway’s description of a meeting at the Lilas café with the English writer Ford Madox Ford, which provides a glimpse into the complex social dynamics of the expatriate literary circle in Paris.

In “Birth of a New School,” Hemingway shares the annoyance of being interrupted by a heckler in a café, which breaks the mood of his writing routine. He writes of his pleasure, by contrast, in sometimes working at home, early in the morning, near his young son and cat. The author goes on to tell of an evening with a Bulgarian painter friend in “With Pascin at the Dome.” The artist is accompanied by a pair of models, and he speaks openly of sexuality. “Ezra Pound and his Bel Esprit,” or chapter twelve, portrays Hemingway’s friendship with the American poet Ezra Pound, to whom he teaches boxing in Pound’s studio. Pound has started a literary club called the Bel Esprit, which Hemingway joins.

In “A Strange Enough Ending,” Hemingway overhears a disturbing disagreement in Gertrude Stein’s apartment, which leads him to end their close friendship, except to maintain appearances. “The Man Who Was Marked for Death” is about a meeting between Hemingway and the Irish poet Ezra Walsh, who says Hemingway is “marked for Life” and promises him a literary prize. Hemingway expresses his appreciation for Russian literature alongside his impressions of the American poet Evan Shipman in “Evan Shipman at the Lilas.” Hemingway then attempts to bring the dying American poet Ralph Cheever Dunning opium in a cold-cream jar in “An Agent of Evil,” but Dunning only throws empty milk bottles at him.

A Moveable Feast’s penultimate three chapters—“Scott Fitzgerald,” “Hawks Do Not Share,” and “A Matter of Measurements”—make up Hemingway’s famous portrait of the American writer F. Scott Fitzgerald and his wife, Zelda. The two are heavy drinkers, and Hemingway joins them in travels in France and Spain, where he learns firsthand of Zelda’s poor mental health and its negative effects on Fitzgerald. During this time, Hemingway reads Fitzgerald’s novel The Great Gatsby, and he is also writing his own novel, The Sun Also Rises.

The last chapter, “There is Never Any End to Paris,” takes place during a family vacation in the Austrian Alps. Hemingway meets the American journalist Pauline Pfeiffer, with whom he begins an affair. This marks the start of a new era in his life in Paris—which necessarily brings this memoir, which documents the now-previous era, to a close. Hemingway’s preface to this book states that it may be read as fiction if the reader so desires and that fiction sometimes sheds light on the truth. Fact or fiction, A Moveable Feast is a tantalizing portrait of 1920s Paris, offering firsthand insight into Hemingway’s development as a writer.