Literature Study GuidesA Moveable FeastAdditional Paris Sketches Summary

A Moveable Feast | Study Guide

Ernest Hemingway

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A Moveable Feast | Additional Paris Sketches | Summary

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Summary

Birth of a New School

Hemingway is writing in a café when "a tall fat young man with spectacles" interrupts him and engages him in discussion. The man, a literary critic, complains about the difficulty of writing and criticizes Hemingway's work as "too stripped, too lean." Hemingway is irritated by the man's presence, "the worst thing that could happen" when one is trying to write, and he hopes the man won't return to the café. To placate him, Hemingway says he'll try to "fatten it up." In an alternate ending, Hemingway reflects on the trials of working uninterrupted in cafés and takes care of his son at home.

Ezra Pound and His Bel Esprit

Hemingway describes Ezra Pound's charitable initiative, called Bel Esprit, founded by Pound and wealthy American expatriate Natalie Barney to provide financial aid to struggling writers. Pound wants to help T.S. Eliot in particular, who is working at a bank. Hemingway works enthusiastically to get writers to donate to Bel Esprit. He's somewhat disappointed when Eliot's poem The Waste Land earns a major literary award, and Eliot no longer needs the funds. Hemingway then spends the money he was to contribute on horse racing and travel.

On Writing in the First Person

Hemingway discusses the merits and challenges of writing from the first-person perspective. A successful writer will make readers believe the story's events are happening to them, too. Hemingway doesn't understand critics who want proof the author has experienced everything the narrator has; writers need "imagination [and] the power of invention." He himself borrows from the experiences of his friends and the stories they have told him. For instance, listening to a former Italian officer's stories helped him determine whether his war fiction was authentic.

Secret Pleasures

While Hemingway is working as a journalist, he needs to dress formally and keep his hair short. However, he wants to grow his hair long as a way of identifying with the artists and bohemians in Paris's Left Bank. He is inspired by the long black hair of the Japanese painters who are Ezra Pound's friends, a feature very different from his own appearance. While other journalists and residents of Paris's more conservative Right Bank look down on his unkempt hair, Hemingway enjoys nonconformity and being "damned together" with his wife, Hadley Richardson. After Hemingway quits journalism, he and Hadley decide to live by their own "tribal rules" and grow their hair to the same length. The prospect excites them and gives them pleasure all winter, although Hemingway says, "Other people would think we are crazy."

A Strange Fight Club

Hemingway follows the career of Larry Gains, falsely billed by his manager as the Canadian heavy-weight boxing champion. When Hemingway meets Gains personally, he likes him and watches his fights at a Parisian venue called the Stade Anastasie. He quickly assesses Gains as "a true amateur" who "moved faster and farther and more uselessly than any heavyweight I had ever seen." Hemingway argues with Gains's trainer about how best to prepare Gains for an upcoming fight. Although Gains loses the fight, he and Hemingway remain friends.

The Acrid Smell of Lies

This sketch discusses writer Ford Madox Ford, who Hemingway claims "lied about things that left scars." He has never known Ford in a "good époque" or good period of his life, although other writers had and liked Ford better as a result. Ezra Pound, a friend of Ford's, says Ford lies only "when he is tired." Hemingway feels more sympathy for Ford after hearing that he relocated to Germany in a misguided attempt to divorce his wife. Now Ford is remarried and edits the respectable Transatlantic Review. Hemingway, however, still cannot stand Ford's bad breath and odor. The physical aspects of men matter a great deal to Hemingway throughout the book, both his own and many others.

The Education of Mr. Bumby

During the formative years of Hemingway's son Bumby's life, Bumby spends time with Touton, the husband of the family's maid. Touton teaches Bumby French phrases and life lessons, which Bumby later repeats to his father. They agree Touton is "a great man" and "a great soldier." Bumby also enjoys the bookstore of Sylvia Beach, whom he calls "Silver Beach," and is concerned about the health of "Monsieur Fitzgerald." After hearing Hemingway and Fitzgerald discuss World War I, Bumby begins to ask questions about warfare. Hemingway tells his son war is "very complicated," and there's no shame in being "demolished mentally by the war."

Scott and His Parisian Chauffeur

In 1928 Hemingway and his second wife, Pauline Pfeiffer, are in the United States traveling with Scott and Zelda to the Fitzgeralds' Delaware home. Fitzgerald is drunkenly talking to strangers on the train despite Hemingway's attempts to stop him. The Fitzgeralds' chauffeur, a former Parisian taxi driver, picks up the couples. When the car overheats, the driver tells Hemingway that Monsieur and Madame Fitzgerald won't let him fill the radiator or add oil to the motor because American cars don't need such attention. Hemingway protests: the motor is boiling. Fitzgerald, who has been sleeping, wakes and tells them to stop "that silly oil chatter." The chauffeur will attend to the car without its owners' knowledge. The Fitzgeralds give the driver wrong directions until they finally fall asleep.

The Pilot Fish and the Rich

Hemingway reflects on his second winter skiing in the Vorarlberg region of western Austria, the year when "the rich showed up." The rich are accompanied by a man Hemingway calls a "pilot fish," who panders to his wealthy companions, introduces Hemingway to them, and then leaves. The pilot fish is rich himself and secretly despicable, but in the winter everyone loves and trusts him, even Hemingway.

The rich are drawn to an attractive, loving couple, who were unnoticed the year before, not quite "up and coming" enough to draw attention. The couple enjoy themselves and trust the rich, not knowing the destruction they will leave in their wake. Another group of rich people brings more danger in the form of "an unmarried young woman" who befriends Hemingway and Hadley, moves in with them, and seduces Hemingway. Loving two women at once is "the most destructive and terrible thing," Hemingway says. Despite his bond with his wife, their shared experiences, and their child, the "relentless" other woman wins out.

After returning from a business trip to New York, however, Hemingway sees his first wife and falls back in love with her. Hemingway hates his rich companions and the pilot fish for encouraging him in wrongdoing. He and Hadley still had a lovely first winter in Schruns, but this winter ends the first part of Paris.

Nada y Pues Nada

Hemingway says he has provided an account of "when Hadley and I believed we were invulnerable." He compares breaking legs in carefree skiing to breaking your heart in life and says writing reveals secrets: "Nothing is ever lost."

Hemingway remembers his last visit to Evan Shipman in Cuba when Shipman was dying of pancreatic cancer. The two compare sentimental memories of their time in Europe and in the wars. Shipman has enjoyed talking about Paris especially, and he tells Hemingway to continue writing, saying, "You write for all of us." Soon Shipman's pain gets worse, and he asks Hemingway to call for a doctor. Hemingway keeps his promise to Shipman not to forget about the writing.

Hemingway describes the book as "remises or storage places" for his memory and his heart, although his memory has been "tampered with" and his heart doesn't exist.

Fragments

The "Fragments" section is a series of introduction drafts Hemingway wrote for the book. Most are only one or two paragraphs long and begin with the sentence, "This book is fiction," as Hemingway obviously continues to keep exploring the significant question of how much "truth" is to be contained in this book of memoirs, and where to separate from "fact." As part of this process, Hemingway identifies Hadley as the "heroine" and hopes she understands why he has written what he has. He explains why he edited several parts of the stories out; he can't fit all of Paris into the book. He wants the fictional account to supplement, not replace, facts. He acknowledges a work of fiction can "eliminate and distort" but tries its best to be reliable. Hemingway admits his memories may differ from the memories of others who lived through the same events.

Analysis

Birth of a New School

The dialogue-based story reads as a humorous exchange between a now well-known Ernest Hemingway and an anonymous critic, but it is also filled with a certain bitterness at criticism, probably based on real interactions with readers. It shows both the antagonism between writers and critics and the stress Hemingway was feeling at becoming a member of the "new school" of Parisian writers.

Ezra Pound and His Bel Esprit

Poet T.S. Eliot, not previously discussed in the book, was a major modernist writer and fixture of the Parisian literary scene. This section shows Hemingway's deep respect for Ezra Pound's generosity; Pound helped jump-start Hemingway's own career after all, and Hemingway wanted to give something in return. It places Hemingway clearly at the center of a group of important literary figures of the times and also demonstrates unity and cooperation among the circle of writers, who could be supportive of one another as well as competitive.

On Writing in the First Person

This brief sketch seems tailored to guide aspiring fiction writers and to credit the muses of Hemingway's own fiction, particularly the soldiers who told him their war stories. It also underscores the importance of the "eye and the ear" for writers—they look and they listen. Hemingway served in World War I as an ambulance driver, although he had wanted to go into combat, and novels such as A Farewell to Arms use wartime themes. The depth and breadth of his fiction, the reader sees here, come, in part, from Hemingway's observational skills, conversational memory, and wide circle of acquaintances. The writer's aim, according to Hemingway, is not to narrate facts only or just as they happened but to distill experience into an authentic and purer narrative.

Secret Pleasures

Hemingway is enthralled in this sketch with the countercultural aspects of the bohemian lifestyle. Ezra Pound's fascination with Japanese culture is an example of new, cosmopolitan interests surging through Paris at the time, which made it even more important as a cultural nexus point. A barber he has heard about sees longer hair as "a revolt against the years of the war," a phrase that could also describe the Lost Generation itself. Hemingway's hair reflects his identity as he is transitioning from a journalist with some money to spare to a fiction writer who avoids spending time in the expensive and more conservative Right Bank.

Hemingway and Hadley Richardson demonstrate their bond by sharing a secret together, one giving them an emotional and almost sexual thrill. What they are doing seems almost illicit, and they take pride that no one else seems to understand. Hemingway reflects on the bond of his first marriage, which he thought at one time would never end. But he recognizes love's dangers: "Our pleasures ... can mean all happiness or can mean the end of the world."

A Strange Fight Club

Hemingway enjoyed boxing, and as a journalist, wrote about fights. Here, he positions himself as an expert in the sport, debating with the trainer and assessing Gains's technique. In "Ezra Pound and the Measuring Worm," Hemingway takes on a similar authority as he tries to teach Pound to box. This sketch shows Hemingway's eclectic interests and his desire to master the details of the sports he follows, even if he doesn't compete as an athlete. Hemingway's interest in "machismo" and conventionally masculine pursuits also threads through his fiction, this sporting anecdote being one of the clearest examples in the book of how important it was for him to explore and define his masculinity.

The Acrid Smell of Lies

Hemingway emphasizes his dislike for Ford Madox Ford in two different sketches in A Moveable Feast. "Ford Madox Ford and the Devil's Disciple" is more scathing and mocking, but this sketch reflects a somewhat greater understanding of Ford's character and situations. Although Hemingway is a harsh judge of Ford's lies, he admits his antipathy toward Ford may be personal and not shared by the entire literary community. He describes his reaction to Ford's odor as "completely unreasonable." He acknowledges Ford's skill as an editor, too.

The Education of Mr. Bumby

This section shows Hemingway teaching his son about the legacy of the war and sheds light on Hemingway's family life. His adventures in fatherhood are not discussed much in the main narrative, but here he describes how the city of Paris and the acquaintance of writers and veterans provide his sensitive, intelligent son with a cosmopolitan "education" and broad perspective on the world. Hemingway also strives to explain life's complexities to his son. Bumby orders beer, hoping to teach F. Scott Fitzgerald to "control himself" while drinking, for instance, but his father says it's not so simple.

Bumby's role in this anecdote may well represent Hemingway's view of writing in the first person, as expressed in the third sketch of this section. If Hemingway has combined brief anecdotes from Bumby's childlike observations with Hemingway's adult ones, the distillation is less convincing here than in other sketches. In recalling his son's early years, Hemingway may seem to attribute too much to a child's analytical powers and vocabulary, but for many writers it is not easy to incorporate their own children into works of fiction and present a sense of distance from the role of parent.

Scott and His Parisian Chauffeur

Unlike the previous sketches, this darkly comic account about of the Fitzgeralds' drunken incompetence takes place in the United States during Hemingway's marriage to his second wife, Pauline Pfeiffer. Fitzgerald persists in his distaste for anything French, recalling the "ridiculous Renault," the car he and Hemingway drove in Lyon. Throughout the book, Hemingway attempts to portray Fitzgerald as a complex character with "complicated tragedies, generosities, and devotions." This sketch shows a somewhat more innocent, domestic side of F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald who are intoxicated but at this moment not competing with one another. It shows, too, that their damaged lives seem taken up with petty disagreements (if not outright competition) and absurd fixations.

The Pilot Fish and the Rich

Hemingway depersonalizes this highly personal story by using "you" in some parts; the protagonist is simply "you" and does not name responsible parties. The "unmarried young woman" who seduces him is his second wife, Pauline Pfeiffer. Although Hemingway's account gives Pfeiffer considerable and obvious agency in breaking up his first marriage, he takes a large responsibility upon himself. The younger Hemingway is confused, distracted by work, and torn between two women; the older Hemingway is remorseful.

In the natural world, the lone pilot fish protects itself from predators by traveling with sharks. The sharks do not eat it because the pilot fish eats pieces of unwanted food and parasites that can endanger the sharks. In this story the "pilot fish," an enigmatic character, may refer to the novelist John Dos Passos. An American writer whose novels are also associated with the Lost Generation, Dos Passos spent time in Europe in the 1920s as a war correspondent. Hemingway's portrait of Dos Passos is scathing, implying he introduced a naive Hemingway to a crowd of manipulative rich "groupies" who then brought Pfeiffer into his life.

The story is a vague but regretful account of the end of his marriage, and it was cut from the book's first edition. During the affair with Pfeiffer, he lost the hopes that sustained him in Paris. His life changed permanently, but he still wants to memorialize "when we were very poor and very happy" as a time of creativity and joy, essential to his life as an artist and as a man.

Nada y Pues Nada

The title of the sketch is Spanish for "nothing and then nothing." Faced with Evan Shipman's death and contemplating his own, Hemingway is thinking about his legacy. This sketch was written three weeks before Hemingway's suicide as a possible final chapter to A Moveable Feast and ends on a bleak note. Though Hemingway offers his stored memory and his heart to the reader, he is not confident either is genuine. The tampering with his memory may be a reference to shock treatments Hemingway had received for depression.

He compares his own melancholy to Shipman's more positive memories and desire for Hemingway to record "such strange places in such strange times." The sketch serves as an elegy for Hemingway's career and his friendships, such the one with Shipman. By the early 1960s many of the characters in A Moveable Feast had died, and Hemingway had not been with Hadley for many years. He wonders how much he can claim to "possess" his memories and secrets if they involve other people and how much he should reveal. The answer is in his final dialogue with Shipman; he has to keep writing to keep them all alive.

Fragments

Hemingway's false starts to the introduction show his thought process in creating the book. He admits he is an unreliable narrator, or at least a narrator affected by bias. The reader should proceed with caution, not accepting his portrayals as absolute or complete truth. Here, the narrator's voice is more removed and formal than it is in the main sketches. Hemingway almost takes on an editor's voice, explaining why he needed to cut certain plot elements, such as his affair with Pfeiffer.

But the most important character is Paris: "There is never any end to Paris," for it will keep producing stories without Hemingway. Events in Paris will continue as long as people are alive to tell them, and how significant Hemingway's part will be is something he will never know during his life. He has outlived many, but he knows his time is near as well.

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