Friday, July 6, 2012

Hemingway's A Moveable Feast

La Closerie des Lilas
Hemingway loved to write here and called it "one of the best cafés in Paris."
It is so easy to fall into Ernest Hemingway's Paris. Although the pieces in A Moveable Feast were written about the Paris of the 1920s, the pictures he creates of the streets, the cafés, the people, the food, the shops, are still as fresh and complete as ever.  Nothing escapes his notice: waiters, trees, goatherds, race tracks, train stations, bookstalls, weather.

Hemingway wrote these sketches of Paris long after he and Hadley lived there. Long after the suitcase full of his stories was stolen from the platform at the Gare de Lyon; long after he and Gertrude Stein had conversations about homosexuality, art and writing; long after he spent time among the shelves of books at Shakespeare & Company with Sylvia Beach; and, long after The Lost Generation - Une Génération Perdue - had aged into another generation.

No matter what I may think of Hemingway's personal life - his attitudes and actions - and I have had a somewhat love/hate relationship with them - I have to admit he is one heck of a writer. It has been quite a while since I read these snapshots of Paris and the prose is so bristling and evocative of the city that I had to put the book aside and make myself an espresso - un petit café, if you will.

A selection of first lines:

Then there was the bad weather. - A Good Café on the Place St.-Michel

When we came back to Paris it was clear and cold and lovely. - Miss Stein Instructs

In those days there was no money to buy books. - Shakespeare and Company

When spring came, even the false spring, there were no problems except where to be happiest. - A False Spring

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. - Hunger Was Good Discipline

The blue-backed notebooks, the two pencils and the pencil sharpener (a pocket knife was too wasteful), the marble-topped tables, the smell of early morning, sweeping out and mopping, and luck were all you needed. - Birth of a New School


  1. Oh how I enjoyed this post. I've been listening to The Paris Wife, which is so so, but has piqued my interest in Paris and the ex pats of the time, thinking I should read The Moveable Feast. Now I feel even more inclined to read it.

    I heard today that A Farewell to Arms has been released with the 39 other endings. I'm intrigued.

    1. I am so glad you responded to this post.

      I definitely think you would enjoy A Moveable Feast. The writing is superb and the glimpses into the lives of The Lost Generation are fascinating. I often wonder how it would have been to live in Paris then. It seemed as if everyone knew everyone.

      Thirty-nine endings? Mon dieu! I wonder what Hemingway would think of that.

      I started reading The Paris Wife earlier in the year, but put it aside. I knew it would end badly.

      I do hope you have seen Midnight in Paris. If you can get past Owen Wilson acting just like Woody Allen, it is wonderful to see the writers and artists of ex-pat Paris come alive.

    2. Oh dear. I didn't realize that the 39 endings were Hemingway's. I thought someone just came up with them. I am not sure that I want those in my head. If the first ending was good enough for Hem, it is good enough for me.

  2. Although I just read A Moveable Feast last summer (loved it), your post makes me want to reread it right away!

    1. Thanks JoAnn. Please do read it again. I can't say enough good things about it. Talk about being swept away!

  3. I've had A Moveable Feast on my TBR for quite some time. Paris is such a perfect setting for a blogfest, so many of us love it, and so many authors do too. Something to attract everyone.

    1. Absolutely Louise. I love the idea of spending an entire month just reading, watching, eating, and listening to all things French. C'est très amusant.