Book Review: A Moveable Feast by Ernest Hemingway

A Moveable Feast
Ernest Hemingway

In 1928, Ernest Hemingway stored two steamer trunks at the Ritz Hotel in Paris and didn’t retrieve them until 1956. Inside the trunks were notes and papers from his days in Paris, during the time when he wrote his first novel, The Sun Also Rises, and was married to his first wife, Hadley Richardson.

Seeing these notes prompted Hemingway to begin working on a memoir of his days in Paris, where he was part of the expatriate community of writers, artists and creative minds, known now as the “Lost Generation”, a term attributed to Gertrude Stein.  By the 1950s, however, Hemingway was suffering from many conditions, injuries resulting from two serious plane crashes, poor eyesight, depression and different paranoias.  He committed suicide in 1961, leaving the book unfinished.  After his death, his fourth wife, Mary Welsh, edited the manuscript and the first edition of A Moveable Feast was published in 1964.

My interest in the Lost Generation started a few years ago after I read The Sun Also Rises and then read more about Paris in the 1920s and of the talented writers and artists who lived there and met in the city’s cafés.  Then I read The Paris Wife by Paula McLain, a terrific historical fiction about Hemingway’s first wife, Hadley Richardson.  After that, it only made sense to go back to the source, A Moveable Feast.

It’s fascinating to me that so many talented people were all together in Paris.  Did they know they were part of this creative burst?  Some of the well-knowns were F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ezra Pound, James Joyce and Gertrude Stein.  Others included Wyndham Lewis, Ford Maddux Ford, and Ernest Walsh, names I didn’t know, but enjoyed reading about.

The book reads a lot like Hemingway’s fiction.  His simple writing style is identical.  Hemingway presents a vivid picture of this time period and, in particular, talks easily about his relationships with Hadley, Stein, and Fitzgerald.  I liked reading about his disciplined approach to writing and his desire for perfection.  He was very focused on writing what he called “true” sentences and was not happy unless he had put in a productive time writing, often in cafés or in a sparse rented room.  I think he makes it very clear how hard writing is and how devoted and conscientious a writer must be.

I always worked until I had something done and I always stopped when I knew what was going to happen next.  That way I could be sure of going on the next day.

Hemingway and Hadley seemed very happy in their marriage, despite being poor.  He describes an easy and affectionate relationship.  This is, of course, before his affair with Pauline Pfeiffer, who would become his second wife.  He seems to deeply regret hurting Hadley and writes:

The bulldozing of three people’s hearts to destroy one happiness and build another and the love and the good work and all that came out of it is not part of this book.  I wrote it and left it out.  It is a complicated, valuable and instructive story.  How it all ended, finally, has nothing to do with this either.  Any blame in that was mine to take and possess and understand.  The only one, Hadley, who had no possible blame, ever, came well out of it finally and married a much finer man than I ever was or could hope to be and is happy and deserves it and that was one good and lasting thing that came of that year.

His relationship with the American writer and art collector, Gertrude Stein, gave him confidence, but lasted only a few years.  In the book, Hemingway explains the friendship and tries to understand why it ended.

Hemingway also discusses his friendship with F. Scott Fitzgerald, including Scott’s marriage to Zelda.  He recognizes a great talent, but even before Hemingway meets Zelda, he can see Fitzgerald’s life and marriage spiraling.  After reading The Great Gatsby, Hemingway understands his role as a friend.

When I had finished the book I knew that no matter what Scott did, nor how preposterously he behaved, I must know it was like a sickness and be of any help I could to him and try to be a good friend.  He had many good, good friends, more than anyone I knew.  But I enlisted as one more, whether I could be of any use to him or not.  If he could write a book as fine as The Great Gatsby I was sure that he could write an even better one.  I did not know Zelda yet, and so I did not know the terrible odds that were against him.  But we were to find out soon enough.

Other topics include horse racing, boxing, eating, drinking and writing in cafés, skiing in the Austrian Alps and the story of how Hadley lost all his papers and previous manuscripts on a train.  I very much enjoyed reading about Hemingway during this time, although I’m sure it is subjective.  I had read that Hemingway was very difficult to live with – that seems to be left out here, except for one reference to his own hot temper.

My earlier impression of an aimless group of hard-drinking and pleasure-seeking writers and artists changed a bit after reading his account and I recommend the book to anyone who wants to know more about Hemingway and this group.

Some side notes:

You might like these other Hemingway books and short stories:

The Sun Also Rises
A Farewell to Arms
The Old Man and the Sea
“A Clean, Well-Lighted Place”
“Hills Like White Elephants”
“The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber”

You can find a lot of information about Hemingway online.  Click here to view his Wikipedia page.

A sad history of suicide has plagued generations of Hemingways, beginning with Ernest Hemingway’s father.  Hemingway’s sister and brother also took their own lives, as did his granddaughter, Margaux.  In an effort to understand and avoid this trap, Margaux’s sister, Mariel made a documentary entitled “Running from Crazy”.  You can read a CNN article about this 2013 film here.

The Restored Edition of Hemingway’s memoir was edited by his grandson Seán Hemingway, who is a curator of ancient art at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.  Seán also wrote the introduction.  Hemingway’s son Patrick (from his marriage to Pauline Pfeiffer) wrote the foreward.  This edition is different from the first, in that the chapters are ordered differently and a few extra sections are added, including transcriptions of Hemingway’s false starts for his introduction.  Some people were critical of Mary Welsh’s introduction and her editing and this newer version seeks to share all the parts of his manuscript.  I enjoyed reading an interesting article about The Restored Edition of A Moveable Feast from

Hemingway had a hard time with marriage and was married four times. Read more about his wives on Wikipedia:

Hadley Richardson
Pauline Pfeiffer
Martha Gellhorn
Mary Welsh

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Ernest Hemingway – love him or hate him?


I’m getting ready to read A Moveable Feast, Ernest Hemingway’s memoir of Paris in the 1920s.  During this time, Hemingway wrote both The Sun Also Rises and A Farewell to Arms and became part of the expatriate community in Paris, which included Gertrude Stein, Ezra Pound, F. Scott Fitzgerald and John Dos Passos.  This group is commonly known as the “Lost Generation”, a description Hemingway made popular when he wrote The Sun Also Rises, and a phrase to whom he credits Gertrude Stein.


Hemingway died in 1961 and A Moveable Feast was published in 1964.  My copy of the book includes a foreward by Hemingway’s son, Patrick and an introduction by Seán Hemingway, the author’s grandson.

Now you either love Hemingway or you hate him.  I happen to think he is one of the greatest writers of all time, but many readers become frustrated with his style.  I have always liked his simple dialogues, word choices and descriptions because I think they make the characters and events all the more moving.  I recently read a review of The Old Man and the Sea  in which the reviewer commented that she thought she would like it better now that she was older but she still hated it!

I’m still working on reading all his books and short fiction, but you can check out my opinions of these:

“A Clean, Well-Lighted Place”
A Farewell to Arms
“Hills Like White Elephants”
The Old Man and the Sea
“The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber”
The Sun Also Rises

What do you think of Papa Hemingway?

the paris wife
If you enjoy reading about Hemingway and the Lost Generation, you may like The Paris Wife by Paula McLain.


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Who’s That Author? F. Scott Fitzgerald

Who's that author final

F. Scott Fitzgerald
F. Scott Fitzgerald

F. Scott Fitzgerald (1896 – 1940) is considered one of the greatest American writers in the 20th century. He is also considered a member of the Lost Generation and wrote much of his fiction during the Roaring Twenties. The Jazz Age is a term he coined and represents the reckless nature of these times. The short story entitled, “Babylon Revisited” was adapted into the 1954 movie The Last Time I Saw Paris, starring Elizabeth Taylor and Van Johnson.

In addition to many short stories, Fitzgerald completed four novels:

This Side of Paradise (1920)
The Beautiful and the Damned (1922)
The Great Gatsby (1925)
Tender Is the Night (1934)
The Love of The Last Tycoon, an unfinished novel, was published after his death.

Be sure to visit these reviews and related posts about Fitzgerald:

The Great Gatsby
The Great Gatsby movies – what a difference!
“Babylon Revisited”

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Short story review from The Short Stories of Ernest Hemingway – “A Clean, Well-Lighted Place”

Welcome to an occasional feature on Book Club Mom. Short review of short fiction. I found this collection at our library’s used book sale.

“A Clean, Well-Lighted Place”
Ernest Hemingway

“A Clean, Well-Lighted Place” was first published in 1933 and is a simple story of an old man sitting on the terrace outside a café, drinking late into the night. He likes the café and visits it regularly and there’s a dignified sadness about him. Although he is deaf, the old man finds a distinct peace in the evening quiet as he sits “in the shadow of the leaves of the tree.”

Hemingway leaves the reader to imagine why the man spends every night drinking alone. “Last week he tried to kill himself,” the waiter informs another.

The waiters, one young and one old, watch the old man. The young waiter is impatient for the man to finish. “I wish he would go home. I never get to bed before three o’clock. What kind of hour is that to go to bed?” The older waiter understands the drinking man, however, and feels a connection to him and others who need a well-lit place to spend the lonely hours of night. “You have youth, confidence, and a job,” he tells the younger waiter. “You have everything.”

When old man leaves and the younger waiter goes home, the older waiter hesitates to close the café, reluctant “because there may be some one who needs the café.” He is alone and feels the nothingness of life, a preview of existentialist thought. Although the existentialism movement did not become popular until the middle 1900s, Hemingway has introduced this idea in his story, a tie-in to the aimless feelings of the Lost Generation.

I like this story because Hemingway uses simple dialogue to show the different viewpoints of the two waiters. And what Hemingway leaves out is just as important. He leaves the reader to guess why the old man is alone, what he has lost, why he tried to kill himself, how he became deaf. Likewise, Hemingway only hints at why the older waiter is lonely, leaving the reader to imagine.

“A Clean, Well-Lighted Place” is a quick read, but one that keeps you thinking.

Have you read this one?

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