100 Years Later: Why ‘A Moveable Feast’ Still Captivates
You still can’t judge a book by its cover. Or its title.
I heard about “A Moveable Feast” when I worked in Paris. I even stayed on Rue Mouffetard, a few blocks away from Hemingway’s first Parisian apartment. Everything from street vendors to supermarkets captured my appetite.
It seemed everywhere I went there was a feast of options. For a long time, I had thought this was a book about joie de manger, without reading it. But, after I read it, I realized,
“A Moveable Feast” is not about food.
While “A Moveable Feast” by Ernest Hemingway takes place in Paris from 1921–1926, a great culinary city, it’s not a book about food.
Hemingway writes in cafes, goes to bars and restaurants — a type of American digital nomad without the digital. Today, you can follow in his footsteps and take a walking tour of Hemingway’s Paris.
The title was not chosen by Hemingway, but rather taken from a quote to a friend. It refers to Paris being a moveable feast: one’s Paris memories treasured for a lifetime.
“A Moveable Feast” is about hunger.
“A Moveable Feast” is a collection of Hemingway’s stories of living and working as a writer in Paris. It also includes interactions with his contemporaries Gertrude Stein, Wyndham Lewis, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Pablo Picasso, and more.
In “Hunger Was Good Discipline,” hunger is the catalyst for increased focus and “you learn from it” (p. 74). From the highs of getting paid to the lows of rejection as a journalist, Hemingway aspires to writing a novel as the potential next phase in his career. Yet…
“A Moveable Feast” is not classified a memoir.
Although it reads like a diary, especially the incredible road trip he takes with F. Scott Fitzgerald, the preface states: “If the reader prefers, this book may be regarded as fiction. But there is always the chance that such a book of fiction may through some light on what has been written as fact.”
There’s a sense of community and shared experiences of Paris in 1920s. Being a writer is a central theme and details of how the writers interacted and shared their work offer a fascinating look into this time period.
“A Moveable Feast” is about Hemingway.
Almost as good as the book, is the story behind the book.
In 1956, Hemingway retrieved two forgotten trunks from the basement of The Ritz, which would help him write A Moveable Feast. He wrote “A Moveable Feast” almost 30 years after the actual stories take place and completed the book in 1961. It was first published in 1964, posthumously.
Hemingway had a long relationship with Paris and seems comfortable with French culture. By writing “A Moveable Feast,” the impact Paris had on his life is memorialized.
“A Moveable Feast” is not glamorous.
Hemingway was no “Emily in Paris.”
When he goes to Shakespeare and Company for the first time, he didn’t have money on him to pay the fee, but was still allowed to borrow books. He also writes about not having hot water or a toilet inside his apartment at 74 rue Cardinal Lemoine.
The cliché American or Parisian characters don’t exist. Hemingway spoke a few languages, including French, and he gives cultural nuances throughout the book, from French words to relationships with Parisian business owners.
“A Moveable Feast” is rich.
Today, une génération perdue continues to captivate, 100 years later.
I can’t explain why it took me so long to read this book after working in Paris. At this time in my life, I find it impressive both in prose and content. I highly recommend to those interested in learning about Hemingway’s journey as a writer and as an American abroad.
A bittersweet and beautiful tribute to the influence Paris had on Hemingway, “A Moveable Feast” concludes: “Paris was always worth it and you received return whatever you brought to it. But this is how Paris was in the early days when we were very poor and very happy” (p. 207).
Hemingway, Ernest. A Moveable Feast. Scribner, 1992.
About the author: L.B. Lewis is the author of “Small Talk with Myself,” an award-winning, comedic memoir. She’s producing new content under Monte Cristo Studio, LLC and also available for collaboration in July 2023.