By Chet Yarbrough
Written by: Ernest Hemingway
Narration by: James Naughton
“A Moveable Feast” is a remembrance of things past by Ernest Hemingway. It reveals an author who achieves greatness, wealth, and fame in the early twentieth century. “A Moveable Feast” is a reminiscence of Hemingway’s youth when first love blooms and life is a feast. Hemingway recalls when he felt immortal. He lives life with abandon. He lives poor while struggling as a writer in the Paris of the 1920s. In his early twenties, with a beautiful wife and young son, Hemingway is a newspaper and short story writer struggling to become a novelist.
Remembering the past, Hemingway sees his future through the eyes of artists like Picasso and Miró and literary modernists like Gertrude Stein, Ezra Pound, James Joyce, and F. Scott Fitzgerald. He relishes the art of Picasso and learns from Stein and Pound about the qualities of fine art and literature. He is acquainted with James Joyce, T. S. Eliot, and F. Scott Fitzgerald.
Hemingway listens and learns and then chooses his own way. To pare his writing, he emulates newspaper qualities of economy and precise wording. He ignores the advice of Stein by refining ugly American words, including the colloquial swearing of the great unwashed.
Joyce is struggling to have Ulysses published. Eliot is recognized as a great poet by Pound. Pound solicits donations from Hemingway and others to allow Eliot to abandon a humdrum job to exclusively write poetry. Lucky for Eliot, he is discovered by a wealthy patron that abates his need to work while writing. The penurious Hemingway uses the collected money (meant for Eliot) to help himself.
Hemingway meets F. Scott Fitzgerald in Paris. He is invited on a road trip to recover Fitzgerald’s car. The car is being fixed outside of Paris. Fitzgerald misses the train they were to take to the town where the car is being fixed. Hemingway furiously looks for Fitzgerald but is unable to find him and presumes they will meet at their destination. Finally, Fitzgerald arrives and they begin their return to Paris by car. The car’s top has been damaged and removed; so there is no protection from the rain. To Hemingway, the trip is a disaster but it offers potential for a friendship with an already famous and financially successful author.
Fitzgerald is noted by Hemingway to be an amazing story-teller. He tells Hemingway about “The Great Gatsby” and how he plans to give Hemingway an early copy. On the trip back to Paris, Hemingway notes that Fitzgerald lives life with vulnerabilities that will hasten his death. Fitzgerald is mesmerized by Zelda, his wife. Hemingway greatly admires Fitzgerald’s ability but is less enamored of Zelda. Hemingway implies she is a “ball buster” who emasculates her husband by telling him he fails as a great lover because he has an inadequate penis. Hemingway tells the reader Fitzgerald asks him to assess his masculine parts. Hemingway complies but is unable to convince Fitzgerald his parts are fine. (One is reminded of some critic’s characterization of Hemingway’s misogyny and hyper-masculinity.)
Hemingway receives an early copy of “The Great Gatsby” and is astounded by Fitzgerald’s talent. The disastrous road trip is forgiven and Hemingway makes an effort to become Fitzgerald’s friend. He is largely successful until Fitzgerald asks Hemingway to be completely honest with him about Zelda’s masculinity comment. Hemingway induces Fitzgerald to accompany him to a museum to look at naked Greek statues to prove there is no difference between Fitzgerald’s and other men’s anatomies. After this excursion, Hemingway notes they become estranged, never to fully recover their friendship. Some years later, Zelda is placed in a psychiatric hospital and F. Scott Fitzgerald dies. Zelda is killed in a hospital fire several years after F. Scott Fitzgerald’s untimely death.
As this memoir of Hemingway’s life progresses, Pound is acknowledged as a good-hearted friend and patron of the arts. No mention is made of Pound’s anti-Semitism. Stein is characterized as formidable intellectually but thin-skinned and highly opinionated. Joyce and Eliot are mentioned in passing but one can hear in Hemingway’s words his underlying respect.
“A Moveable Feast” is published posthumously and one suspects Hemingway would have re-written it before being satisfied with its form. Never-the-less, Hemingway’s writing skill shines through. There seem few wasted words.
Hemingway’s poignant reminder of the mistake he makes in changing wives when his fame begins to grow seems slightly off-center. Hemingway seems to feel Hadley Richardson, his first wife, is the great love of his life because she shares his struggle to become a great writer. This is where one wonders what a re-write might have clarified. Remembrance of things past are never as good, or as bad as they seem.
Hemingway admirers will never know if “A Moveable Feast” would have been rewritten. On July 2, 1961, Hemingway retrieves his favorite double-barreled shot-gun, points it at his head, and pastes the room with blood and brain. As Bette Davis said, “Old age aint’t no place for sisies!”