I have become rather obsessed with the Lost Generation of late, those who came of age and were displaced by The First World War. Hemingway, Ford, Fitzgerald, O’Hara, Steinbeck etc…, a cohort of individuals trapped by this event; they saw and experienced things we could not imagine. It is no wonder that they sought intellectual solitude in Paris, where they would not be judged as lazy or damaged, but were instead free to create.
Published posthumously in 1964, A Moveable Feast remains one of Ernest Hemingway’s most beloved works. It is his classic memoir of Paris in the 1920s, filled with irreverent portraits of other expatriate luminaries such as F. Scott Fitzgerald and Gertrude Stein; tender memories of his first wife, Hadley; and insightful recollections of his own early experiments with his craft. It is a literary feast, brilliantly evoking the exuberant mood of Paris after World War I and the youthful spirit, unbridled creativity, and unquenchable enthusiasm that Hemingway himself epitomized.1
A Moveable Feast journeys Hemingway’s time in Paris while married to his first wife, Hadley Richardson; it is beautifully written, you will fall in love with Hemingway’s Paris. While an interesting coverage of Hemingway’s progression as a writer, you cannot help but feel he skipped over a lot of detail; remembering his past with rose tinted glasses. Hadley Richardson must have been the love of his life, he looks back on her with great fondness; and on his second wife, whom he blames for losing Hadley, with great loathing. One of the many occasions where Hemingway excuses or explains away his own actions and blames another.
The deterioration of Hemingway’s friendship with Gertrude Stein was sad, but what seemed to be the natural progression of a student outgrowing his teacher. Hemingway (unlike with his alcoholic friend F. Scott Fitzgerald) did not explain or sympathise with Stein’s faults, merely mentioning how he tried to ignore them. This could be attributed to Fitzgerald’s generational link to Hemingway, whereas Stein was older and outside of that understanding. Hemingway paints Stein as quite an insecure and bitter personality, jealous of the male writers she surrounded herself with and uncomfortable when they surpassed the knowledge she bestowed on them. Hemingway’s description of Stein flutters between pleasantry and critical, it appears that he could not think of her fondly when they fell out so acrimoniously.
Each time Hemingway mentioned a writer I knew and had read I got a little excited. I was delighted that Ford Madox Ford was mentioned, even though it was not completely favourable. Ford was shell-shocked from The First World War, and thus a little unbalanced. Hemingway’s description of Ford initially appears a little dismissive and patronising, Ford’s shell-shock leaves him forgetful and unaware of it. Ford was, however, clearly a beloved member of their cohort, as Ezra Pound instructs that Hemingway be careful with Ford.
Hemingway and his contemporaries were lost at sea in 20s Paris, floating damages of the Lost Generation. Hemingway wrote A Moveable Feast as if his life were fiction, so I am unsure what details to trust; Hemingway’s fourth wife Mary edited and published A Moveable Feast posthumously. Some moments are remembered with overt fondness, as if they were perfection itself, others are remembered with fractured bitterness. Hemingway idealises the past and looks back fondly on his life with first wife Hadley. In his old age, with failed relationship after failed relationship behind him he looks back wistfully on Paris and sees Hadley as the only woman he probably ever loved and Paris as the only place in which he belonged.
“There is never any ending to Paris and the memory of each person who has lived in it differs from that of any other. We always returned to it no matter who we were or how it was changed or with what difficulties, or ease, it could be reached. Paris was always worth it and you received return for whatever you brought to it. But this is how Paris was in the early days when we were very poor and very happy.”