A Moveable Feast | Study Guide

Ernest Hemingway

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A Moveable Feast | Quotes


All you have to do is write one true sentence.

Ernest Hemingway, Miss Stein Instructs

This sentence encapsulates the perfection Ernest Hemingway sought in his work all his life. He edited to make his prose careful and methodical, eliminating "scrollwork or ornament" and developing his signature sparse style. Through learning and ruthless editing, he continued to use his fiction to discover and describe truth.


"We're always lucky," I said, and like a fool I did not knock on wood.

Ernest Hemingway, Shakespeare and Company

Ernest Hemingway has just had a loving conversation with his wife, Hadley Richardson, where they excitedly discuss their simple afternoon plans and vow to "never love anyone else but each other." The scene of domestic contentment becomes poignant to Hemingway the writer, because he knows the marriage will end and his luck will run out. While in Paris, though, he was young enough to think his good fortune would last forever.


The spring always came finally; but it was frightening that it had nearly failed.

Ernest Hemingway, People of the Seine

After describing the fishermen of the Seine and envying their outdoor lifestyle, Ernest Hemingway contemplates the cold spring rains, which sometimes hold off good weather in Paris. His description conjures menace and powerlessness in the "frightening" element of the unexpected cold. The next chapter will contrast spring's pleasant weather with Hemingway's bittersweet nostalgia and unsettled feelings. Nothing in his life is certain yet, and he still might fail.


Memory is hunger.

Hadley Richardson, A False Spring

Hunger is a feeling of lack and need, and Hadley Richardson describes memory as something similar: a longing for the good experiences of the past to return, while knowing they won't. Hunger and memory are both essential, clearly, to create art as Ernest Hemingway shows it in the book. She and Hemingway want to see their friend Chink again, for instance, but they aren't sure when he can get military leave and return to them. The book itself is full of partings and transitions, which the older Hemingway recalls with the "hunger" of memories.


But Paris was a very old city and we were young and nothing was simple there.

Ernest Hemingway, A False Spring

Ernest Hemingway contrasts the wise, experienced, "old" city of Paris with the naive and enthusiastic "young" couple and their simple pleasures. He and Hadley Richardson are characters in this fictionalized memoir, and they'll undergo character development and transformation. Young Hemingway learns everything is complicated in Paris and elsewhere—friendships, romance, advancing as a writer, and even "right and wrong."


I had learned already never to empty the well of my writing.

Ernest Hemingway, Une Génération Perdue

Ernest Hemingway's writing style, like his money-saving technique of skipping meals, involves deprivation. He stops writing when he is still full of ideas, so he won't be stuck the next day. This comment shows Hemingway is developing a distinct pattern to his work, part of his growth experience in Paris.


All of you young people who served in the war. You are a lost generation.

Gertrude Stein, Une Génération Perdue

Gertrude Stein repeats these words, originally heard from a garage manager to criticize sloppy work on a car, as an indictment of young veterans' lack of respect and discipline. Though Ernest Hemingway initially protests Stein's quotation as an easy dismissal of the veterans' experience, the phrase resonates with him, and he uses it as an epigraph for his Parisian novel The Sun Also Rises. The phrase Lost Generation later comes to describe most of the writers mentioned in the book and became a familiar expression among critics and readers to capture the sense of the time and the famous people.


In those days we did not trust anyone who had not been in the war.

Ernest Hemingway, Ford Madox Ford and the Devil's Disciple

Ernest Hemingway's use of "we" shows how he identifies with the larger group of World War I veterans, even those he doesn't know. He observes the veterans in the Closerie des Lilas with respect and curiosity; the war changed some of them physically and all of them psychologically. Their experience sets them apart from civilians forever, a fact Hemingway reinforces in "Evan Shipman at the Lilas" when he interacts with the veteran waiters. Hemingway shows how the veterans of the Lost Generation began to forge a new reality in their writing.


They say the seeds of what we do are in all of us.

Ernest Hemingway, With Pascin at the Dôme

The book shows capsule portraits of Ernest Hemingway's colleagues during their time in Paris, and in some cases he alludes to their transformations in the future. Here, he is discussing the painter Jules Pascin after a pleasant night spent drinking with Hemingway, who admires "those who make jokes in life" because they can hide their troubled destinies or "seeds" under "better soil." Jokers, he implies, aren't always happy; they pretend to be happy to disguise their despair. Years later, Pascin hanged himself.


His talent was as natural as the pattern ... made by ... dust on a butterfly's wings.

Ernest Hemingway, Scott Fitzgerald

This passage shows Ernest Hemingway's respect for what he believed to be F. Scott Fitzgerald's natural talent. His actual experience with Fitzgerald as a colleague was mixed, and he disliked several of Fitzgerald's books. But he saw the power of Fitzgerald's writing contrasted with the author's vulnerability. He uses the light, fragile, and temporary image of a butterfly to show how delicate and tenuous Fitzgerald's talent was, and how open he was to destruction from both himself and those around him.


I wished I had died before I ever loved anyone but her.

Ernest Hemingway, Additional Paris Sketches

Ernest Hemingway sees Hadley Richardson, his first wife, standing at the train tracks with their son to greet him. Even though Hemingway has already begun an affair, he rediscovers his feelings for his wife in this wholesome, uncomplicated image. The quotation shows the conflict and remorse Hemingway attempts to portray as he dramatizes his affair and the hold Hadley still has on his life.


It was always Paris and you changed as it changed.

Ernest Hemingway, Additional Paris Sketches

Paris is part of Ernest Hemingway's sense of self; he associates his own life with the life of the city. Paris is where he came of age and grew into the disappointments of young adulthood. In this statement Hemingway alludes to deep personal loss and devastation ("Paris was never to be the same again") without describing the circumstances clearly. He recognizes he and the city will continue to transform as he remains a part of it, and it is deep within himself as writer and man.


Even if the one has been tampered with and the other does not exist.

Ernest Hemingway, Additional Paris Sketches

Ernest Hemingway refers to his memory as what has been "tampered with" and his heart as what "does not exist." Earlier in the sketch he writes, "Some people say there is no such thing" as a heart. He is revealing what the book means to him as an imperfect record of his life and grappling with whether this life has any meaning. The memories, like the notebooks containing his writing, have been in storage in a suitcase. As he presents them to the reader, he realizes he is taking a part of himself out of the "storage" of memory and presenting it for general consumption, itself a great risk for a writer.


Such a work of fiction may throw light on what has been written as fact.

Ernest Hemingway, Additional Paris Sketches

Because Ernest Hemingway is writing about real people, places, and events, he realizes he is competing with factual accounts. He considers the book a work of fiction based on reality, not a straightforward autobiography. There may be embellishments and passages left out; people may be misrepresented. But as a fiction writer, Hemingway knows fiction tells certain truths that nonfiction does not. He wants his text to enhance rather than detract from competing factual accounts of the same time, and in so doing, open the way for truth to emerge about people and events.


How good a book is should be judged ... by the excellence of ... material [the writer] eliminates.

Ernest Hemingway, Additional Paris Sketches

Ernest Hemingway is known for his minimalist writing style. What is unwritten in his work is as important as what is on the page; no words are unnecessary. Here, Hemingway states a maxim that helped him be his own editor. The restored 2009 edition of A Moveable Feast shows the material Hemingway eliminated, which he believed was the truest barometer of his editing skill; he meant for the book "to distill rather than to amplify." The process is one of reduction, cutting away to leave an essence with real meaning.

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