Form and function of Paris representation in Hemingway’s "A Moveable Feast"

Seminar Paper 2007 15 Pages

American Studies - Literature



1. Introduction

2. Paris is the town best organized for a writer to write in
2.1. Places
2.2. Cultural experience
2.3. Food and drinks
2.4. People

3. Conclusion

4. Bibliography

1. Introduction

A Moveable Feast deals with the years 1921 to 1926 spent by Hemingway as a young man at the beginning of his literary carrier in Paris. He started to write it in 1958 and it actually remained unfinished when he committed suicide in 1961.

Taking into account the fact that at that time Hemingway had already written all his best books, that in 1953 he was awarded The Pulitzer Prize and in 1954 – the Nobel Prize for Literature, one could suppose that the book was written by a successful and confident author who looked back at his young years with a gentle smile (sort of “how it all started”) probably not without nostalgia. But if one takes a closer look at Hemingway’s biography one finds out that the Paris book was being written by the “the rapidly ageing Ernest” [Svoboda, p.159] in the midst of health problems and family pressure, probably foreseeing the end of his literary career, suffering from continuous depressions and paranoia. Add to all this repercussions of the two plane crashes which he survived and the loss of the mother, Pauline Hemingway and his close friend and editor Charles Scribner and you will be able to imagine (probably quite remotely) what Hemingway’s state of mind really was while he was writing the book in question.

What could be the message of the book written under such circumstances – at the top of the literary career and facing the gap of despair? Was it an attempt to explain to himself what he had done wrong with his life, to calculate what had been lost and what had been gained during Paris years or to prove that in spite of increasing difficulties with writing he is still a great writer? Was he trying to show what had made him the kind of writer he was and (as he desperately hoped) still kept him on the top or was he simply recollecting the old happy times in order to forget the present frustration? And what is the function of the main character of the Paris book – Paris itself?

In the following work we shall try to answer the last question as well as we can.

2. Paris is the town best organized for a writer to write in

For most Americans it was World War I that made them probably for the first time in their lives take a serious notice of and excited interest to what was going on in the continent of Europe, which had usually been vaguely referred to as the Old World before. After the war was over Europe and especially the capital of France experienced what could be called an invasion of Americans and among them American intellectuals and artists.

Die Twenties erleben eine Auswanderungswelle amerikanischen Talents in die französische Hauptstadt. In der Emigration von Künstlern und Schriftstellern spiegelte sich die Überzeugung, dass die Rebellion gegen die als banal empfundene Realität der amerikanischen Gesellschaft nach dem ersten Weltkrieg einen radikalen Bruch … erforderte. … Was diese so unterschiedlichen Gruppen von Amerikanern nach Paris brachte, war nicht nur die Anziehungskraft der französischen Hauptstadt als Geburtsstätte des Modernismus, sondern auch ihr Ruf als Zentrum moralischer Libertinage. [Daufenbach, p.291]

Among those “artists and writers” there was a young couple: Ernest and Hadley Hemingway.

The Hemingway, who came to stay in Paris in 1922, was 21 years old. He had just got married and was a correspondent for Toronto Star, “an obscure Midwest journalist” [Kennedy p. 128], whose favourite authors were “O. Henry, Kipling and Stewart Edward White.” [Reynolds 1990, p. 6] Part of their influence remained with him forever, but in Paris writing was a game with new rules: “Die Bedeutung von Paris als Brennpunkt modernisti-scher Produktivität ließ die Stadt zu einem „laboratory of ideas“ werden“. [Daufenbach, p. 300]

Already in America Hemingway started writing a war novel and had several stories on his mind. However, Paris changed all of that. For the first time he read Russian Literature: Gogol, Turgenev, Tolstoy, Dostoevsky, and Chekhov; he read the French, Stendhal and Flaubert. In Paris, he first read Joyce and T.S. Eliot, and his reading changed everything. For the first time he saw the difference between slick fiction and master craftsman-ship. Paris had much to teach the young writer. Within two years the young Hemingway would have disappeared, replaced by the more experienced writer of the mid-Twenties. A Moveable Feast may be regarded as an account of how Ernest Hemingway learned to write.

Während der Pariser Jahre entwickelte er sich vom Journalisten zum Schriftsteller, vervollkommnte seinen Stil und wurde zu dem, was er selbst später als „a true writer“ bezeichnete. Hemingways auf den ersten Blick fast schmucklos wirkender, lakonischer Prosastil, den er damals in Paris kreierte, etablierte sich als eine der dominie-renden Stilformen moderner Literatur… [Daufenbach, p. 299]

Arguably it is namely this development that is the main topic of A Moveable Feast, which point we shall demonstrate in the present paper, and Paris was the stage and the participant of this process. Let us now have a look on the way Hemingway described “the place best organized for a writer to write in”.

The representation of Paris in the novel is diverse. The mosaic picture consists of a great number of elements:

1. Places: streets, squares, bridges, cafés, houses, museums, restaurants, bridges, etc.
2. Cultural experiences: books, pictures
3. Food and drinks and, certainly,
4. People: famous and simple, rich and poor, talented and dull.

This list is, certainly, far from being exhaustive but the scale of the paper does not allow us to go into much detail. We shall nevertheless do our best to examine the most characteristic examples illustrating each point listed above.

2.1. Places

A Moveable Feast abounds with precise description of Paris’ streets, squares, quays, parks, and the river. It is namely this precision that enables us to see them though the author’s eyes with everything that was to see, hear, feel, and smell there.

Sometimes the picture is sad and gloomy, almost tragic: “All the sadness of the city came suddenly with the first cold rains of winter, and there were no more tops to the high white houses as you walked but only the wet blackness of the street and the closed doors of the newspaper shops, the midwife – second class – and the hotel where Verlaine had died, where I had a room on the top floor where I worked.” [ A Moveable Feast (AMF) p. 10]

Then it could be peaceful, pastoral, and idyllic: “In the spring mornings I would work early while my wife still slept. The windows were open wide and the cobbles of the street were drying after the rain.



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Form Paris Hemingway’s Moveable Feast



Title: Form and function of Paris representation  in Hemingway’s "A Moveable Feast"