Those of you who follow my aniblog, Medieval Otaku, know that I proposed to write an article each day for a fortnight. Having fallen behind, consider this Friday’s article. Deo volente, two more articles shall drop from my pen ere midnight tonight. (Yours truly is an incurable optimist.) Long waiting periods at NYC’s government buildings allowed me to complete a compilation of Hemingway’s essays titled A Moveable Feast. These articles were assembled by Hemingway’s fourth wife following his death and first published in 1964. My own 1977 edition has written over the top of it “By the author of Islands in the Stream.” This strikes me as odd for two reasons: 1) By April 1977, Hemingway’s fame had not apparently reached such a height that the average reader would know him sans connecting him to a more popular book of his; and 2) the understanding of which works rank highest in Hemingway’s canon (For Whom the Bell Tolls, The Old Man and the Sea, A Farewell to Arms, The Sun Also Rises, etc.) had not yet been established in its present form. A Moveable Feast stands as a memoir of Hemingway’s early life in Paris following the First World War while he was still married to his first wife, Hadley.
This collection of essays strikes me as curious for a variety of reasons. It immerses the reader in the “Lost Generation,” an appellation Hemingway himself detested, and in the lives of many important writers with whom Hemingway was associated: Gertrude Stein, Ezra Pound, and F. Scott Fitzgerald in particular. I was hoping that Hemingway at one point would meet Hilaire Belloc, but he seems to have mistaken Aleister Crowley for the distinguished writer. (Actually, comparing the two side by side, I can see how easily the mistake might be made. The two were only five years apart.) Hemingway’s description of Ezra Pound was perhaps the most interesting. The first thing most English students learn about Ezra Pound is that he wrote some very complicated poems called Cantos, the second is that he was a Fascist, and the third is to treat him like a leper. But, Hemingway recalls Ezra Pound as the most saintly man he ever met. Pound supported writers who sought his help whether he thought they had talent or not and spent many long nights talking writers down from suicide. The portrait painted by Hemingway is very compelling.
Then again, many essays are dedicated to Hemingway’s relationship to F. Scott Fitzgerald, whom Hemingway describes as an excellent friend when sober. One is shocked to learn just how much Fitzgerald’s wife went to sabotage her husband’s writing career. Also, the frankness of Hemingway and touchiness of Fitzgerald made it a sure thing that the two would eventually clash, leading to the deterioration of their friendship in 1926. Fortunately, Fitzgerald did not see these essays–many are hardly complimentary except for Hemingway’s praise of The Great Gatsby–as he died of a heart attack at the age of 44 in 1940.
But, candor makes these essays great. Some lines made me flinch, especially his remarks concerning prostitutes in Kansas. The lack of respect toward one veteran of the French dragoons also shocked me. The establishment where this veteran worked as a waiter forced all of its employees to shave. This former dragoon’s service earned him no exemption, despite having won the Croix de Guerre (the French equivalent of the Medal of Honor) and the Military Medal. How can one think to diminish the dignity of such a hero? But, this event and others goes a long way to show the rift between those who fought in the war and those who excused themselves from the cataclysm.
But, what else can I say? If you love Hemingway’s work and wish to know more about the man himself, you must read this work!