Tuesday, November 17, 2009

A Moveable Feast by Ernest Hemingway

On F. Scott Fitzgerald:

His talent was as natural as the pattern that was made by the dust on a butterfly’s wings. At one time he understood it no more than the butterfly did and he did not know when it was brushed or marred.
Later he became conscious of his damaged wings and of their construction and he learned to think and could not fly any more because the love of flight was gone and he could only remember when it had been effortless.

A Moveable Feast is a minor work by Hemingway, a travelogue/memoir of his years in Paris as a young writer. Apparently Hemingway hung around the cream of the literary crop, even before he changed from a writer of manly fiction to the towering literary figure he eventually became, because A Moveable Feast is full of amusing anecdotes about various writers Hemingway knew and associated with. Among the highlights:

- Gertrude Stein was insecure to the point of rudeness, and was virtually unwilling to compliment any work but her own, which she held in very high regards.

- Ford Maddox Ford stunk and was annoying.

- James Joyce was friendly but reclusive. Also, apparently, Irish.

The first half of the book, from which most of these stories come, is enjoyable but light, a list of the things Hem's doing and the people he's spent time with. The second half takes a darker turn, and spends most of its time delving into Hemingway's relationship with F. Scott Fitzgerald, author of The Great Gatsby. Like virtually all the writers in A Moveable Feast, Fitzgerald was insecure, even, at one point, asking Hemingway to check his prostate to ensure that all was well. Hemingway obliged, which finally gives credence to my theory that real men administer prostate exams. For all interested parties: the prostate was fine, and I think Fitzgerald was just showing off.

Once the humorous stories end, though, Fitzgerald's tale takes a sad turn, as pressure to follow up Gatsby and even greater pressure at home keeping Zelda, his psychologically-disturbed and insanely-jealous wife, happy, drove him further and further into drinking, leading to his premature death at the age of 44. Throughout Fitzgerald's decline, Hemingway's descriptions are matter-of-fact and all the more heartbreaking for that.

Interestingly, A Moveable Feast was published posthumously, and Fitzgerald's surviving family recently collaborated with the publishers to release a new edition of Feast with some Fitzgerald's less flattering biographical bits excised. I say they're making a mistake. Nothing humanizes a man like his weaknesses, and A Moveable Feast is a tribute to Paris, to writing, to love, and to friendship.


Christopher said...

I think the idea of FMF stinking is hilarious.

Carlton Farmer said...

Ditto what Christopher said.