Published posthumously in 1964, A Moveable Feast is Ernest Hemingway's first-person account of his years as a beginning, struggling writer in Paris of the 1920s. Written in the 1950s, this memoir provides a glimpse into the lives of the expatriates of the Lost Generation. With stories about Gertrude Stein, Ezra Pound, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and others, Hemingway reveals his thoughts and feelings about the people who affected his life at this time. Through his honest, often biting, portrayal of fellow writers in Paris, he offers an analysis of the talents and individual characteristics of those who would later make such an impact on British and American literature.
On a personal level, Hemingway recounts his marriage to his first wife, Hadley, leading up to the time of his affair with his second wife, Pauline, and the birth and early years of his son, “Bumpy.” Hemingway speaks of the cafés he frequented, the quiet spots that provided the atmosphere as he wrote his first stories after his departure from journalism. Hemingway also reflects on his own faults that led to the disintegration of his marriage, expressing his continued love and concern for Hadley. Hemingway’s vulnerability is apparent throughout the memoir, and it is a sharp contrast to the tough man of adventure that has come to be the usual presentation of him.
Though the work should be read with the critical eye necessary for the memoir of a man who could be self-justifying, A Moveable Feast is a valuable picture of Hemingway and the exciting days of the literati of Paris who would come to be known as the Lost Generation.
Summary and Analysis
Summary and Analysis Chapter 1
Ernest Hemingway begins his memoirs of his years in Paris by describing the most negative parts of the city. At the beginning of his story, the winter rains are beginning. All of a sudden autumn was over, and Paris would sink into a depressing sodden mass. Representative of this bleary side of the City of Lights is the Café des Amateurs off the Place Contrescarpe; Hemingway has rented a room in a nearby hotel where he can write. The Café is inhabited by the lowest of the citizens of Paris: drunkards and alcoholics, miserable people who stay drunk out of the depths of their despair. Hemingway describes it as the “cesspool of the rue Moufretard,” a street that leads into the Place Contrescarpe.
The dwelling places in this district are mostly slum-like apartment houses with primitive sanitary conditions, mere holes in the floor that lead down to a tank which is emptied each day by a lorry that reminds Hemingway of the “earthy” browns and yellows of a Braque painting. But while the tanks can be emptied, the “cesspool” of the Café cannot.
Hemingway describes the walk to his hotel workplace, examining the skyline on this cold day for signs of smoke that will indicate that it is worth the trouble to light a fire in his room. It is not, so he proceeds to another, better patronized café on the Place St.-Michel. As Hemingway moves from the Place Contrescarpe to the Place St.-Michel, his vision of Paris also changes. In this section of the city, there is more sheer comfort and pleasantness. He settles down for a day of writing, accompanied by a drink of rum high quality St. James rum.
Hemingway’s attention is not entirely settled on his writing. He notices a beautiful girl in that café, alone and obviously waiting for someone. He notices the freshness of her face and the style of her black hair. Sensually excited, he is also desirous of finding some way to put her into the story he is writing.
The story Hemingway is writing is one he describes as “writing itself,” and he confesses a difficulty in keeping up with it. He pauses, considering the pretty girl one more time, then manages to regain control of his story and sinks into the writing experience. When he finishes, he looks up and notices the girl is gone. He feels a vague sense of sadness, yet also satisfaction, at the completion of his story, and puts off rereading it to make a final judgment until the following day. He orders some oysters and sits back to revel in the sensual experience of eating and drinking....
(The entire section is 1046 words.)
Summary and Analysis Chapters 2 and 3
On his return to Paris, Hemingway finds the city has adjusted to the winter weather. He sees beauty now in the naked trees and the crisp, cold outdoors on the streets and in the gardens. There is comfort in the warmth of indoors, not the claustrophobic feeling that he conveyed in the first chapter. He works in his hotel room, which is not so miserable as it was before his trip to the mountains. There he also struggles successfully to write a new story. All he has to do, he states, is write “one true sentence,” and all the rest will follow.
Hemingway then goes into detail about his new friendship with Gertrude Stein, a fellow American expatriate who, along with her companion Alice B. Toklas (whom Hemingway does not name), has created an artistic gallery in their apartments. Hemingway and Hadley, having met them in the park, are invited to their salon and immediately make a connection with Stein and her partner. Thus Hemingway begins one of his strong, intellectual, literary friendships. Stein encourages Hemingway to eventually move away from journalism to fiction, with which Hemingway emphatically agrees.
Stein and Hemingway enter into a conversation about sex, specifically homosexuality, which Hemingway finds disgusting. He relates his previous experiences with aggressive homosexuals in his travels, as a child and again as a young man in Kansas City and Chicago. He also regrets discovering the sexual orientation of an old man “with lovely manners” he met during his hospital stay in Italy during World War I. Stein categorizes homosexuals into two groups: the “perverts” (such as the criminals he encountered in big cities) and the merely sad (such as the old man in Italy). To Stein, male homosexuality in itself is repulsive, unlike female homosexuality (Stein herself was a lesbian), which is presented as having a certain freedom from all that is disgusting. This double standard is not something with which Hemingway can agree, but he remains friends with Stein despite her sexuality.
Another close friend and mentor that Hemingway makes in Paris is Sylvia Beach, owner and proprietor of
(The entire section is 905 words.)
Summary and Analysis Chapters 4 and 5
Hemingway describes walking on the quais along the Seine River in Paris. The buildings are a mixture of the beautiful and the utilitarian. Most interesting to Hemingway is the Tour D’Argent restaurant, not so much for its food but for its bookstall. There are rooms for rent above the restaurant and people regularly leave behind books, which the proprietress then sells. Hemingway occasionally finds a good book there and tries to convince the proprietress to save the books in English for him, but she refuses due mostly to his irregular visits. She is afraid to be left holding worthless books because she has serious doubts about the quality of books written in English. To her, a book is valuable if it is aesthetically pleasing to the eye—a good cover, pleasant pictures and illustrations, a solid binding. The contents of the book are not what gives it value, she believes.
Hemingway enjoys watching the fishermen along the Seine who sell their catches to nearby restaurants. Though it is believed that the fishermen along the Seine are crazy and never catch anything, Hemingway enjoys taking a day off to watch. He himself does not fish because at that time he had no fishing tackle. Plus, he was afraid he would become too involved in fishing and then never get any work done. He never feels lonely along the Seine and enjoys seeing the approach of spring in all the trees. Occasionally spring seems to come early, but then retreats. Hemingway speaks of the fear of its never returning, but always it does.
Paris has a touch of the countryside, as Hemingway describes it, with a goatherd roaming the streets in the early morning hours selling goat milk. Hemingway hears the woman who lives in the floor above go down to buy some. With that, Hemingway decides to go for a racing paper. He and Hadley debate whether or not they have enough money to go to the races (they decide that, despite all that they cannot afford, they do...
(The entire section is 777 words.)
Summary and Analysis Chapters 6 and 7
Hemingway finally admits that the racetrack has taken over his life. Rather than pretending that it is just “racing,” he faces that it is in fact the gambling that he is obsessed with—gambling with money that he cannot really afford to waste. He mentions that Hadley enjoyed it but did not love it as Hemingway did. He hints that even though racing never came between them, it did become personified as a lover that was destroying their marriage ever so subtly. He attempts to justify his time spent at the track by writing about it, but (as he foreshadows) those stories would be eventually lost, just as the time and the money spent on gambling was. He meets a friend, Mike Ward, for lunch and they...
(The entire section is 960 words.)
Summary and Analysis Chapters 8 and 9
When Hemingway gave up writing journalism to concentrate on writing fiction, he gave up a significant portion of his income. It had reached the point that he was even skipping meals, telling Hadley that he was dining with friends, when in actuality he was not eating at all so as to leave more food for her. He reflects on the effect of hunger on artists such as Cezanne, driving them to further heights of creativity. He endeavors to let his hunger do the same for him, avoiding place where the smell of food could distract him as he wrote. Sylvia Beach, however, has an inkling that he is hungry. He pleads that he was merely concentrating on his work, but she sees through him. Compassionately, she does not...
(The entire section is 947 words.)
Summary and Analysis Chapters 10 and 11
In the evening Hemingway walks the streets, stopping by several cafés and restaurants. He knows several people in them, and he comments how the people he does not know always seem to be “nicer looking.” The people he likes, he states, go to the larger cafés so that they can be lost in them, going unnoticed, either alone or in the company of someone else. On this evening, Hemingway is feeling virtuous, having worked hard all day and having avoided going to the races. He speaks of his poverty, stating that Paris is very cheap and so one can live in it on almost nothing and still have some money for luxuries, if one saved. At this time, he could not go to the races, though it is possible to make...
(The entire section is 954 words.)
Summary and Analysis Chapters 12 and 13
Hemingway details the end of his close friendship with Gertrude Stein. He clearly regrets the loss of her friendship. He had helped her get her book serialized with Ford Madox Ford in his magazine, and also helped type and proofread her manuscript. Yet he generalizes that there is no future in a friendship between a man and a great woman.
Hemingway had been unsure about the extent of his welcome at Stein’s apartment, but she told him to drop in any time. He was reluctant to take advantage of this, feeling uncomfortable if she was not present. Yet one time he did show up unannounced and overheard Stein pleading with someone: “Don’t, pussy. Don’t. Don’t, please don’t. I’ll do...
(The entire section is 926 words.)
Summary and Analysis Chapters 14 and 15
Hemingway reflects on classic literature. Though he has been told that New Zealand writer Katherine Mansfield is good at short stories, he finds her flat after reading Chekhov. Even Chekhov’s writing was a mixed bag. Sometimes, according to Hemingway, he writes journalism, and other times he has wonderful stories. Tolstoy and Dostoyevsky astound Hemingway, though he is occasionally unsure why. It may be terrible writing but wonderful descriptions, especially about war. In speaking about these writers to Ezra Pound, Hemingway is nonplussed to find that Pound has never read any of the...
(The entire section is 914 words.)
Summary and Analysis Chapters 16 and 17
At this time, Hemingway’s son, “Bumpy,” has been born. The justification for leaving Paris for the mountains at this time is to protect the baby from the cold and the weather in the city. Hemingway himself spends much time in the cafés, working and keeping warm. Hadley goes to play the piano in an unspecified “cold place,” leaving the baby at home along with the cat. Since there are not babysitters at the time, the Hemingways simply let the baby sleep alone in his bed, claiming that the cat offered adequate protection against anyone bothering him. Hemingway dismisses the idea that cats were dangerous to babies, either through sucking their breath or in lying on top of them and smothering...
(The entire section is 959 words.)
Summary and Analysis Chapters 18 and 19
Fitzgerald’s drinking prevents him from doing any effective writing, so he avoids drinking when he has work to do. He painfully struggles to come up with anything of any worth, so the alcohol is strenuously avoided as much as he can help it. His wife, Zelda, however, drinks and pressures Fitzgerald to do so and to party more than he wants to. She claims that he wants to spoil her fun, so Fitzgerald often feels obligated to join her. Fitzgerald tells Hemingway that Zelda had once fallen in love with a French pilot, so he is very jealous and desperate to please her. On her part, Zelda is jealous of Fitzgerald’s writing, both of its success and the time he spent on it. Hemingway encourages him to...
(The entire section is 953 words.)
Summary and Analysis Chapters 20 and 21
Hemingway describes his work in a café, writing a story in the midst of the chaos of a business. He relies on luck, in this case his lucky rabbit’s foot. Some days the writing goes well, so well that he is actually drawn into the story he is creating. But on this occasion he is interrupted by someone (an unidentified person simply called Harold) whom he obviously does not care for. He admits that he has a short temper concerning interruptions of his work. He blatantly tells the intruder to get lost. Harold, however, does not get the “hint,” or even the outright command. Hemingway considers going to some other café, but he has set up shop in this one and does not like to start all over in a...
(The entire section is 818 words.)
Summary and Analysis Chapters 22 and 23
Hemingway speaks of the difficulties of writing in the first person. The main problem is that readers believe that the experiences he is recording actually happened to him as the writer. Hemingway admits that sometimes he himself will believe that he actually experienced those events, since he has to put himself into the place of the narrator. His writing is so intense that he actually lives out the experiences in his mind and has trouble identifying what is real and what is fiction. He would also use his own actual experiences, as well as the experiences of others, in order to make his writing seem alive. The people he met in Italy, especially during the war, provided much material for his future...
(The entire section is 872 words.)
Summary and Analysis Chapters 24 and 25
Hemingway becomes connected to a “Negro” heavyweight boxer from Canada by the name of Larry Gains. On his return from a trip, Hemingway found a letter from an acquaintance on the editorial staff of the Toronto Star (for which he often wrote while in Paris) asking him to look after Gains while he was in Paris. Though he is skeptical, disbelieving that Jack Renault had been displaced as Canada’s reigning heavyweight champion, Hemingway arranges to meet Gains, and he notices especially his long hands. The length of Gains’s hands made it difficult for him in the past to win a fight because he could not find boxing gloves that fit. Hemingway then begins to work with Gains to get him ready to...
(The entire section is 908 words.)
Summary and Analysis Chapters 26 and 27
Hemingway gives a presentation of his son, “Bumpy,” who was born during the Paris years. Hemingway took Bumpy with him to the cafés while he wrote. When he and Hadley went to Schruns in Austria, Bumpy went along, but he was left behind when his parents went to Spain. At that time, he would stay with the servant and her husband, whom he called “Touton.” Touton had been an officer in the French army and played a large part in Bumpy’s formative years.
Often, however, Hemingway would take him to the café where he did his writing, where the child kept quiet and observed the people as they passed. He spoke fluent French and had great depths of insight into the people he saw. He...
(The entire section is 878 words.)
Summary and Analysis Chapters 28 and 29
Hemingway describes his ski trips to the Vorarlberg. During the second year, many of his friends and acquaintances were killed by avalanches. This was also the year that the rich tourists showed up. He states that the rich have a “pilot fish,” a person who goes before them to check out the best locations. Hemingway describes a conversation with one such “pilot fish” who is evidently trying to cover up his dislike for his employers by stating that he really does like them. He assures Hemingway that he too will like them, but of course Hemingway does not. He is upset that the coming of the rich has upset the gentle harmony and peace of the skiing community. Eventually he discovers that the...
(The entire section is 977 words.)