Monday, February 23, 2015

The Last Time I Saw Paris-Ernest Hemingway’s A Moveable Feast

Book Review

From The Pen Of Frank Jackman

A Moveable Feast, Ernest Hemingway, MacMillan Publishing, New York, 1964

A while back I wrote a short review of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s last work, the unfinished The Last Tycoon, which was published posthumously in 1941 where I commented that the publisher had done something of a disservice to the great writer’s name by publishing something that was not completed and that would not, on the internal evidence presented by the incomplete story-line, add to his place in the American literary pantheon (he made it in any case under either  the old “dead white men” version or the modern, more inclusive multicultural previously omitted and forgotten groups pantheon on the strength of The Great Gatsby alone). I stated that at most the publication would over the long haul be grist for academic studies and not the general reading public and so it has proved except for the brief flare-up around the initial publication and the much later film version of the book. I also mentioned in that review a comparison with the book under review, Ernest Hemingway’s A Moveable Feast, also published posthumously in 1964 which had been completed and could with the normal editing make sense to publish.

I noted that, moreover, the subject matter of Hemingway’s efforts, his take on the post-World War I American (and that of others) ex-patriate scene in Paris among the “lost generation” during the decade of the 1920s provided plenty of useful information about those times for the general reader as well as some interesting tidbits and leads for the academic reader. I think that is the key different in the publishing history of the two works.       

Hemingway, a “veteran” of World War I, newly and apparently happily married to his first wife, Hadley, felt alienated from the American scene back home, felt alienated from his journalistic career undertaken to make a living, and joined the exile to Paris to see what it was all about, and maybe write some things, who knows maybe the great American novel (he had the ego for such a project, no question, although in the race for his generation’s great American novel Fitzgerald got the better of him). Hemingway became something of the prototypal creative artist living in “splendid squalor” in the crowded quarters of literary Paris with its cafes and cabarets. So much of the book, maybe too much, is spent on his travels around Paris and France, his various skiing expeditions, and endless descriptions of the foods and wines, cheaply bought, that he, his wife and his various comrades and travelling companions ate.            

But that is filler. What grabbed this reader were the descriptions of his writing and reading work habits which were pretty regular despite the wine, women, and song aspects that he tells us about. And of that great bookstore/lending library run by Sylvia Beach which must have been something to have been part of back then. Of course this little book is a goldmine of information about “being at the creation” of the modernist artistic movement which blossomed in Paris in the 1920s when he name drops meeting almost every important cultural figure who passed through that town.  Joyce, Ford Maddox Ford, Picasso, Ezra Pound and on and on met usually at the home of fellow exile, Gertrude Stein, who is even today underestimated as a gifted writer.  And to put paid to this book plenty of gossipy stuff including a ton of information about his hot and cold relationship with that F. Scott Fitzgerald who name I invoked at the start of this review.  Thanks for publishing this enjoyable, readable, informative book.    


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