A Moveable Feast is a partial memoir, Hemingway’s look back on his life before he published any novels. At the time, he lived in Paris with his wife in poverty, rubbing elbows with other writers at the time in what’s known as the ex-pat community in France. This memoir spends a lot of time with certain authors and related persons in specific: Gertrude Stein, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ford Maddox Ford, James Joyce, Sylvia Beach, and Ezra Pound.
Originally, for the Lost Generation Classic Circuit, I meant to read The Great Gatsby. I tried reading it last summer and didn’t get very far. I read long enough to get to where Tom breaks his girlfriend’s nose because she says his wife’s name, and that was it for me. By that point I already hated all the characters and that scene sickened me so much I couldn’t go on. But I felt like I should give it another try. I picked up the audio version and managed to listen to half of the book before giving up again and begging Rebecca to let me switch over to this book for the tour instead. I’m happy to say that A Moveable Feast was a far more pleasurable and satisfactory read, and beyond that, I got to learn all about the origins of the term “The Lost Generation”! Apparently, the phrase came from the owner of a repair garage where Gertrude Stein was getting her car repaired, speaking to one of the workers who didn’t do a satisfactory job. That was news to me!
It was wonderful to read about all these authors. There are many I’ve never read before – Stein, Ford, Pound, and Fitzgerald too if half of Gatsby doesn’t count – and reading more about their personalities, particularly through Hemingway’s biased and unreliable narration, made me want to know more about their works. It was also a great capture of the cultural thoughts of the time. I was particularly amused by Stein’s self-interested assertion that male homosexuality is bad because men are disgusted by their actions afterwards, but female homosexuality was just peachy. There’s a lot of contradiction, hypocrisy, and dishonesty portrayed in this book, but at the same time, Hemingway captures it all in a way that makes everyone seem flawed but human, rather than disgusting.
As usual, Hemingway’s prose is stark and blunt in A Moveable Feast. I’m happy to say that reading this one seems to confirm my theory that I tend to like his later works far more than his younger ones. I was worried that I was simply outgrowing him, but apparently it was just A Farewell to Arms that didn’t agree with me. I’m glad I got over that worry and tried this one, not only because it was a pleasant relief after Gatsby, but because it made me fall in love with Hemingway all over again.