A Moveable Feast | Study Guide

Ernest Hemingway

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A Moveable Feast | Scott Fitzgerald | Summary

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Summary

Ernest Hemingway admires F. Scott Fitzgerald's natural writing talent. Hemingway met Fitzgerald "just after a good time in his writing if not a good one in his life." Their first meeting is one of many strange encounters Hemingway has with Fitzgerald. Older than Hemingway, Fitzgerald has a boyish demeanor and "a face between handsome and pretty." Yet his delicate mouth worries Hemingway, indicating that Hemingway senses something perhaps unstable in Fitzgerald. He introduces Hemingway to his friend Dunc Chaplin, a Princeton baseball player. Hemingway likes Chaplin but isn't sure what to think of Fitzgerald, who is praising Hemingway's work in a time when "praise to the face was open disgrace," and Hemingway is embarrassed. After the three have shared a lot of champagne, Fitzgerald asks Hemingway personal questions about his sex life.

Later in the night something strange happens. Fitzgerald pales and his face becomes "a true death's head, or death's mask." Hemingway wants to get him medical attention, but Chaplin says Fitzgerald will be fine. A few days later Hemingway sees Fitzgerald at the Closerie des Lilas and asks how he is. Fitzgerald denies anything was wrong with him. The two talk, and Fitzgerald gives Hemingway advice about publishers, agents, and "the gossip and economics of being a successful writer." Fitzgerald is shy about his excellent writing, his reticence giving Hemingway more respect for him. Hemingway watches to see if Fitzgerald is affected by the whiskey they're drinking, but Fitzgerald this time seems normal and charming. As they talk and drink, Hemingway is shocked at Fitzgerald's manipulation of stories to get them sold and published, considering it "whoring." Fitzgerald defends himself by saying he needs the money to write more serious books.

The two decide to go to Lyon together to pick up Fitzgerald's car, confirming the meeting place and time. Hemingway is excited to travel with "an older and successful writer," but when Hemingway gets to the train station at the appointed time, he can't find Fitzgerald. Confused, he boards the train alone, thinking they'll meet up later. Still, he's taken aback also on practical grounds; he thought Fitzgerald was paying for the trip.

In Lyon, with no word from Fitzgerald, Hemingway goes to a café and meets "a man who ate fire for a living." Hemingway and his new friend have dinner together, and when he finds out Hemingway is a writer, the fire-eater says he knows "horrible and incredible" stories from his travels.

The next morning Fitzgerald arrives at Hemingway's hotel. He'd taken a later train, and both apologize for the confusion. Hemingway wants to keep the peace because can tell Fitzgerald has already started drinking. They go to a garage to get Fitzgerald's car, which strangely has no top: Fitzgerald's wife, Zelda, didn't want the damaged top of the car replaced. The two men are rained on all day as they drive through Lyon but enjoy themselves nevertheless. Fitzgerald believes he has "congestion of the lungs," and they debate the history of the disease. When Fitzgerald asks Hemingway if he fears death, Hemingway unsatisfactorily replies, "More at some times than at others."

They escape from heavy rain to a café. Fitzgerald is convinced he's dying. Hemingway tries to calm him down, but Fitzgerald insists on a thermometer. Hemingway isn't angry with him "any more than you could be angry with someone who was crazy." He's concerned about the strong effect small amounts of alcohol have on Fitzgerald, because drinking regularly is an accepted part of their life. (Hemingway admits to "ignorance of alcoholics then.")

While he reads the paper, fascinated by the elaborate French crime reports, Fitzgerald urges Hemingway to tell the waiter his disease is serious. Hemingway remembers Evan Shipman and his close relationship with the waiters at the Closerie des Lilas. Fitzgerald, on the other hand, from his disturbed nature, mocks and insults the French every chance he gets.

Fitzgerald grows more agitated until he gets a thermometer. Hemingway hoped drinking would make him relax, but it has had the opposite effect. Fitzgerald's temperature is normal, and he claims to feel better. He wants to call his wife; they've never spent a night apart. As he continues to drink, he tells Hemingway about his dramatic life with Zelda Fitzgerald. Hemingway appreciates his friend's storytelling skills, envisioning the scenes, but is alarmed by a "truly sad story" about Zelda at St.-Raphael. At dinner Fitzgerald passes out at the table and has to be carried to his room. Hemingway decides he'll say he needs to return to Paris the next morning.

The next day they enjoy their drive through Paris, and Hemingway deliberately limits his drinking. When he arrives home, he tells Hadley Richardson he's learned "never to go on trips with anyone you do not love." He and Hadley agree they're lucky and knock on wood for luck.

A day or two later Fitzgerald brings Hemingway a copy of The Great Gatsby, which Hemingway thinks is a fine book and shows even more promise. He knows Fitzgerald has a "sickness," and he'll have to help him, but he will soon meet Zelda and learn "the terrible odds" Fitzgerald is facing.

Analysis

When most readers think of the parties, decadence, and despair of the Roaring Twenties—also called the Jazz Age because of a new fascination with the musical genre—they think of the fiction writer F. Scott Fitzgerald. He and his wife, Zelda Fitzgerald, lived a busy and drama-filled life in Paris, carefree on the outside and very troubled within.

Ernest Hemingway's admiration for and disappointment in Fitzgerald are clear in this chapter. Fitzgerald was an established novelist, while Hemingway was still a hopeful, emerging writer. Like Ernest Walsh, Fitzgerald cultivates a persona of fragility and illness. The "death mask" that worried Hemingway is merely the aftereffects of too much alcohol, according to Dunc Chaplin, but Hemingway has seen something more: a predictor of self-destruction. Fitzgerald is both afraid of and fascinated with death. For instance, he has researched congestion of the lungs without ever getting the condition. Obsessed with illness and death, Fitzgerald even asks Hemingway, a man he hardly knows, to look after his wife and daughter if he dies of the disease that he doesn't have.

Hemingway, using his writer's powers of observation, judges character through looks. He interprets Fitzgerald's boyish appearance as a sign of vulnerability and inability to defend himself. He pays attention to Fitzgerald's physical mannerisms as well as his words, watching almost paternally for signs of illness.

The portrait of Fitzgerald becomes less flattering as the two travel to and from Lyon. Fitzgerald stands Hemingway up on the train connection with no plausible explanation other than miscommunication, aggressively questions him about his marriage, is rude to the waiters and insulting to the French, and exaggerates his own misery. Still, Hemingway finds Fitzgerald endearing despite efforts to remain objective. He opens the passage by praising Fitzgerald's natural and rare talent. Hemingway most likely cannot help but revere someone he believes is a great writer, even if that person's behavior is eccentric and unappealing. In fact, Hemingway creates his own persona of a committed, disciplined writer, working fairly regular hours, and returning home to blissful domesticity. Whether his memory is accurate is something unsure.

This sketch reveals actual and implied comparisons between Hemingway and Fitzgerald as they view their art and live their lives. When they talk about selling stories, Hemingway, just venturing into the sales and marketing aspect of fiction writing, chastises Fitzgerald for making artistic compromises to sell his work. Fitzgerald, older and seemingly more practical, defends his practice—if he doesn't sell, he doesn't earn money and can't keep writing. While Fitzgerald is pacing himself this way, Hemingway can't imagine writing a novel. Further, Fitzgerald tries to live as if he were wealthy, whereas Hemingway lives as if he were poorer than he is. Their attitudes toward France and its inhabitants differ as well. Lyon is a "big, heavy, solid-money town" to Hemingway, who balks at paying for the trip. Fitzgerald looks down on working-class people, saying waiters are "rotten clean through," and doesn't feel the need to preserve the condition of his vehicle, as he is careless with money.

Fitzgerald's attachment to Zelda Fitzgerald and the complicated story of their meeting show the underlying sadness at the heart of the Fitzgeralds' glamorous relationship. Hemingway pities him and feels lucky in his own marriage by comparison. This time, though, he acknowledges the futility of knocking on wood. He can't save Fitzgerald or himself from the turbulence of their futures. But he claims he will do whatever in his turn he can to help him, given Fitzgerald's enormous talent.

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