A Moveable Feast by Ernest Hemingway

This book contains material from the remises of my memory and of my heart. Even if the one has been tampered with and the other does not exist.

The version reviewed is the revised edition (“restored”) by Hemingway’s grandson in 2009. It wasn’t universally appreciated, mainly because people resist change, especially when it comes to a famous author’s famous work. I’m not going to go into the details here but go Google the topic for yourself and you can read the pros and cons of this version over that one. Let’s just say this version is kinder to young Hemingway’s grandmother.

Much of the back and forth debate is typical of family dynamics. Hemingway went through a lot of women and the original version of the book was published in 1964 by his fourth and last wife, who edited his work with an eye toward herself. It’s hard to fault her for being human and that seems to be the same truth for the new edition edited by the grandson.

Ernest Hemingway struggled with depression and underwent electroshock treatments at the end of his life. The most revealing insertion in this new edition is a quote added by Hemingway’s son Patrick who gave us this as his father’s last words on A Moveable Feast:

This book contains material from the remises of my memory and of my heart. Even if the one has been tampered with and the other does not exist.

Ok, on to the book.

This is Hemingway’s last book and at time of his suicide in 1961, the manuscript of his memoir-in-progress didn’t have a title, a finished introduction, or a final chapter. Hemingway’s fourth wife, Mary, and an editor worked together to shape the memoir that was published in 1964.

It’s a book, all about writing and being young in the Paris of the 1920s. Hemingway writes generously about Ezra Pound and unkindly about Scott Fitzgerald and downright viciously about Gertrude Stein. If you watched “Midnight in Paris”, you have a good sense of Hemingway’s writing and sentence structure. The character actor who plays him does a great job and the scene with him and Owen Wilson alone in the car is classic. Go watch that on YouTube even if you don’t watch the whole movie.

My mother (God rest her soul) was an old fashioned church lady who worked the inner sanctum of old lady politics with the best of them. The success or failure of many country preachers rested in her approval or lack thereof, and the one thing that would do them in fastest was “meddling” or worse, preaching a sermon and “naming names”. That means specifically talking about a named individual from the pulpit. It also however made the juiciest sermons. Herein lies the power of AMF. Hemingway names names.

He’s hard on just about everyone he knows, and harder on himself. He wrote

“What if you can no longer measure up, no longer be involved, if you have used up all your fantasies? A champion cannot retire like anyone else. How the hell can a writer retire? The public won’t let him. When a man loses the center of his being, then he loses his being. Retire? It’s the filthiest word in the English language. It’s backing up into the grave. If I can’t exist on my own terms, then existence is impossible. That is how I have lived and must live—or not live.”

Keep in mind, he did not finish this book.

In April of 1961 in Ketchum, one morning in the kitchen Hemingway’s fourth wife Mary found him holding a shotgun. She called a doctor who sedated him and admitted him to the Sun Valley hospital; from there he was returned to the Mayo Clinic for electro shock treatments. He was released in late June and arrived home in Ketchum on June 30.

Two days later, in the early morning hours of July 2, 1961, he unlocked the basement storeroom where his guns were kept, went upstairs to the front entrance foyer of their home, and pushed two shells into the twelve-gauge Boss shotgun. He put the end of the barrel into his mouth and pulled the trigger.

In A Moveable Feast Hemingway wrote

Standing there I wondered how much of what we had felt on the bridge was just hunger. I asked my wife and she said, “I don’t know, Tatie. There are so many sorts of hunger. In the spring there are more. But that’s gone now. Memory is hunger.

What he was hungry for we will never know. The feast, in the end was more elusive than moveable.