Hemingway in love in A Moveable Feast

You find Hemingway in love in A Moveable Feast, his account of his life in Paris as a young man in the early 1920s.

I loved the book when I first read it many years ago and am looking it up again today since it’s his birthday. (Hemingway was born on July 21, 1899 in Oak Park, near Chicago, and died on July 2, 1961, in Ketchum, Idaho.)

Hemingway wrote simply and vividly about his life in Paris. He was poor, earning little as a foreign correspondent for the Toronto Star in Paris. But he was young and happily married. You can see Hemingway in love in A Moveable Feast.

Shakespeare and Company

He recalled how poor he was in a chapter called Shakespeare and Company, about a famous bookstore in Paris:

In those days there was no money to buy books. I borrowed books from the rental library of Shakespeare and Company, which was the library and bookstore of Sylvia Beach at 12 rue de l’Odeon. On a cold windswept street, this was a warm, cheerful place with a big stove in winter, tables and shelves of books, new books in the window, and photographs on the wall of famous writers both dead and living. The photographs all looked like snapshots and even the dead writers looked as though they had really been alive. Sylvia had a lively, sharply sculptured face, brown eyes that were as alive as a small animal’s and as gay as a young girl’s, and wavy brown hair that was brushed back from her fine forehead and cut thick below her ears and at the line of the collar of the brown velvet jacket she wore. She had pretty legs and she was kind, cheerful and interested, and loved to make jokes and gossip. No one that I ever knew was nicer to me.

I was very shy when I first went into the bookshop and I did not have enough money on me to join the rental library. She told me I could pay the deposit any time I had the money and made me out a card and said I could take as many books as I wished…

I started with Turgenev and took the two volumes of A Sportsman’s Sketches and an early book of D. H. Lawrence, I think it was Sons and Lovers, and Sylvia told me to take more books if I wanted. I chose the Constance Garnett edition of War and Peace, and The Gambler and Other Stories by Dostoevsky…

Hemingway in love

And then he went home, where we see Hemingway in love with his wife, Hadley. See how young and innocent they were. He wrote:

Home in the rue Cardinal Lemoine was a two-room flat that had no hot water and no inside toilet facilities except an antiseptic container, not uncomfortable to anyone who was used to a Michigan outhouse. With a fine view and a good mattress and springs for a comfortable bed on the floor, and pictures we liked on the walls, it was a cheerful, gay flat. When I got there with the books I told my wife about the wonderful place I had found.

‘But Tatie, you must go by this afternoon and pay,’ she said.

‘Sure I will,’ I said. ‘We’ll both go. And then we’ll walk down by the river and along the quais.’

‘And afterwards we’ll read and then go to bed and make love.’

‘And we’ll never love anyone else but each other.’ ‘No. Never.’

It’s touching, these words of young lovers, of Hemingway in love with his wife.

A Moveable Feast was not all happy innocence, love and tenderness, however. It’s about more than Hemingway in love. Hemingway was a writer who wrote down his impressions, both good and bad, about what he saw, about other writers – Gertrude Stein, Ezra Pound, Ford Madox Ford, F Scott Fitzgerald, all featured in A Moveable Feast – about his own life. His own marriage to Hadley, his first wife, with whom he was so much in love as a young man, did not end happily. He cheated and she and he both remarried.

There Is Never Any End to Paris

A Moveable Feast hints at the trouble to follow. In the last chapter, There Is Never Any End to Paris, Hemingway alludes to his infidelity. He had to leave his wife and his son, nicknamed Bumby, in Schruns in Vorarlberg, Austria, to go to New York, but from New York he did not return directly to Austria. First he went to Paris to be with the girl he was in love with. But then see how emotional and passionate he became when he saw his wife and son in Austria. The writing is so vivid, you see Hemingway in love:

It was necessary that I leave Schruns and go to New York to rearrange publishers. I did my business in New York and when I got back to Paris I should have caught the first train from the Gare de 1’Est that would take me down to Austria. But the girl I was in love with was in Paris then, and I did not take the first train, or the second or the third.

When I saw my wife again standing by the tracks as the train came in by the piled logs at the station, I wished I had died before I ever loved anyone but her. She was smiling, the sun on her lovely face tanned by the snow and sun, beautifully built, her hair red gold in the sun, grown out all winter awkwardly and beautifully, and Mr. Bumby standing with her, blond and chunky and with winter cheeks, looking like a good Vorarlberg boy.

‘Oh Tatie,’ she said, when I was holding her in my arms, ‘you’re back and you made such a fine successful trip. I love you and we’ve missed you so.’

I loved her and I loved no one else and we had a lovely magic time while we were alone. I worked well and we made great trips, and I thought we were invulnerable again, and it wasn’t until we were out of the mountains in late spring, and back in Paris, that the other thing started again.

That was the end of the first part of Paris. Paris was never to be the same again although it was always Paris and you changed as it changed. We never went back to the Vorarlberg and neither did the rich.

There is never any ending to Paris and the memory of each person who has lived in it differs from that of any other. We always returned to it no matter who we were or how it was changed or with what difficulties, or ease, it could be reached. Paris was always worth it and you received return for whatever you brought to it. But this is how Paris was in the early days when we were very poor and very happy.

Paris is a moveable feast

That’s how the book ends, recalling Hemingway in love with his first wife, Hadley. Hemingway started writing A Moveable Feast in the late 1950s, after recovering his notebooks from his Paris days, which he had left behind in a Paris hotel. But he did not live to see his memoir in print. The book was published in 1964 after his death by his fourth wife, Mary Hemingway.

Hemingway told a friend: “If you are lucky enough to have lived in Paris as a young man, then wherever you go for the rest of your life, it stays with you, for Paris is a moveable feast.”

The book is certainly a moveable feast, giving pleasure whenever you open it.

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