Literature Study GuidesA Moveable FeastMiss Stein Instructs Summary

A Moveable Feast | Study Guide

Ernest Hemingway

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A Moveable Feast | Miss Stein Instructs | Summary

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Summary

After some time away from the city, the Hemingways return to a wintry Paris. Ernest Hemingway enjoys walking in the snow and working in his warm, pleasant room in the hotel. When he's stuck, he challenges himself to write "one true sentence" and "cut that scrollwork or ornament out and throw it away ... Up in that room I decided that I would write one story about each thing that I knew about." Relying on the one true declarative sentence, he learns to stop thinking about his work when he leaves the room to allow his subconscious to work as he listens to others talking.

In the afternoons he goes to the Musée du Luxembourg to see the impressionist paintings and learn from them, particularly from the painter Paul Cézanne. If the light is gone in the museum, he visits Gertrude Stein in her studio apartment, full of art "like one of the best rooms in the finest museum." He met Stein in March 1922 soon after his move to Paris. Stein and her companion are hospitable, serving good things to eat and drink, although Hemingway says the companion is frightening. They like Hemingway and Hadley Richardson, though they treat them like "good, well mannered and promising children," even forgiving them "for being in love and being married—time would fix that." When at the Hemingways' apartment, Stein critiques Hemingway's fiction, calling one of his stories "inaccrochable," too explicit, like a painting one cannot hang. Hemingway doesn't always agree with Stein, but he respects her opinion. She indicates that in time he may be "some new sort of writer." She suggests he choose between buying clothes and buying art, which is far more important than clothes, and to buy the work of his contemporaries that he can afford now.

Later Stein invites Hemingway to come by her studio in the evening, where she shows him her manuscripts. Stein writes daily with the hope of publication and official recognition. Some of her earlier writing was too experimental for most readers to understand, but she won over critics with her personality. Now Hemingway has helped her publish a longer book, more accessible to readers but less enjoyable to Stein, and causing much work for Hemingway who had to review proofs.

One afternoon Stein decides to instruct Hemingway about certain aspects of sex. Hemingway admits he's had prejudices of his own about homosexuality. He discusses the violence and aggression he's seen in men and male culture. Hemingway once thought an old male friend was trying to "corrupt" him. Stein thinks the man was more pitiable than dangerous, but she's not so generous about another writer Hemingway brings up, calling him a "corrupter." Stein says Hemingway really doesn't know anything about "criminals" or male and female homosexuality. Hemingway is relieved when they change the subject. As he leaves Stein's house, he thinks he'll have to work hard the next day. He believes "work could cure almost anything."

Analysis

Ernest Hemingway's internal monologue reflects his search for truth. He is trying to be more disciplined as a writer and wants to get his editing process down to a science. Even in fiction, or especially in fiction, he wants to tell the truth. His quest for the "true simple declarative sentence" shows how his signature sparse writing style evolved, with only the essentials: minimal use of adjectives, minimally extended descriptions, and no "scrollwork or ornament."

As a young writer, he is learning. From painters, Paul Cézanne in particular, he is learning to create "dimensions" in stories. From his mentor, Gertrude Stein, he is told buying art will serve him better as a writer than buying expensive clothing because he can learn more from art. Hemingway is deciding how he wants to present himself to the world because making connections to magazine editors and published writers is nearly as important as the work itself.

He is both respectful and wary of Stein, admiring the sense of luxury and beauty she cultivates in her apartment but recognizing her eccentricities as off-putting. Stein's home at 27 rue de Fleurus was a famous salon, or gathering place, for writers and artists to discuss intellectual topics. People went there to see and be seen. As Hemingway mentions, Stein excluded the wives of the mostly male literati from conversations. The wives would sit with Stein's "companion," her lover Alice B. Toklas. (Hadley will later explain not participating in a conversation at Stein's apartment is because "I'm a wife.") Stein, the older authority, looks down on naive young couples and believes "time would fix" their love.

Hemingway's portrayal of Stein isn't always kind. She is condescending, writing experimental fiction readers don't always understand but still longing for fame. According to Hemingway, her book The Making of Americans is long and needlessly repetitive, and he does her a favor by getting editor Ford Madox Ford to publish it in installments. Yet young Hemingway reveres Stein enough to show her all of his writing and to help her. Stein accurately predicts Hemingway will be a new sort of writer, and in his own rhythmic writing he will later imitate Stein's prose style, which he says "went on endlessly in repetitions."

Stein's critical phrase inaccrochable literally means "unhangable," referring to a painting not fit to be displayed for an audience. In this sketch Hemingway learns how much his work can push the boundaries of what is considered moral and acceptable. He senses that his conversation with Stein about sex becomes "dangerous." Stein was openly homosexual, but in the 1920s, homosexuality (both male and female) was still feared, reviled, and misunderstood by many. Both Hemingway and Stein equate male homosexuality with illness, violence, power, and perversion. The word inaccrochable returns, only this time Hemingway uses it to describe sexual slang he knows words in but cannot use in writing at that time. Hemingway associates masculinity with a certain amount of violence and aggression; he is an avid follower of competitive sports such as boxing and racing. Their dialogue is contrasted with Hemingway's direct and loving sexual relationship with his wife: "We were happy in the night with our own knowledge we already had."
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