Ernest Hemingway, A Moveable Feast
A posthumous look at Hemingway’s years in Paris
Published in 1961, three years after Hemingway’s death, this collection of short, sharp-edged pieces looks back on the writer’s years as a struggling writer in Paris. As perhaps no other author, Hemingway has the gift of making writing seem like manual labor, a hardscrabble existence lived in cold flats and cheap cafes, enlivened by the occasional plate of mussels or bout of marital relations.
As the author’s own account of his birth as a writer, the pieces in A Moveable Feast — collected by his fourth wife, Mary, and controversially re-edited by his grandson, SÃ©an in 2009 — are naturally prone to self-mythologizing, but the book is also loaded with pungent details, not to mention plenty of literary gossip. He recalls visiting Gertrude Stein and her female lover with a frankness that surprises even today, and describes the English novelist Ford Madox Ford as an obsequious foul-smelling boor who provokes an almost insurmountable urge to punch him in the face.
Of course, prose style is why most readers come to Hemingway, and A Moveable Feast reads like a dream, with an ease belying its precision. He describes the process of pruning each paragraph down to its essence: “If I started to write elaborately, or like someone introducing or presenting something, I found I could cut that scrollwork or ornament out and start with the first true simple declarative sentence I had written.” Even experienced writers would do well to frame that notion and hang it over their desks.