A Moveable Feast and The Paris Wife

“If you are lucky enough to have lived in Paris as a young man, then wherever you go for the rest of your life, it stays with you, for Paris is a moveable feast.” -Ernest Hemingway to a friend, c. 1950

Following the recommendation of my dear friend and writing teacher, Janet Hulstrand, I have obtained a copy of ‘A Moveable Feast’ by Ernest Hemingway to read prior to ‘The Paris Wife’ by Paula McLain. The first, published in 1964 is primarily a memoir about the author’s life in Paris during the twenties, as seen through his own perspective. The second, published this year, is a work of fiction that draws on Hemingway’s life and times during the same Paris years, with the added bonus of being told through the voice of his first wife, Hadley Richardson.

Somehow I managed not to read a single word in ‘The Paris Wife’, waiting for the Hemingway original, which I now have. In honor of this, I have opened a bottle of French wine, Domaine des Nazins Brouilly. It is perfect for an afternoon of reading Hemingway; a little dry with definite cherry notes. I am channeling my inner love for France, Paris particularly. And so I begin a journey back in time.

Writing about writing in a cafe and a lovely stranger there he says, “You belong to me and all Paris belongs to me and I belong to this notebook and this pencil.”

Then he finishes writing his story and orders raw oysters and white wine. It was my favorite lunch the first time I went to Paris. How decadent to sit in a red velvet banquette, in a Paris cafe, eating oysters and drinking wine. He returned that memory to me within a half dozen pages.

“All you have to do is write one true sentence. Write the truest sentence that you know.”

Hemingway’s words are a feast for me and I can’t stop reading. Page after page of insight pulls me in deeper as the room grows dark and I have to turn on lights.

“I had learned already never to empty the well of my writing, but always to stop when there was still something there in the deep part of the well, and let it refill at night from the springs that fed it”

Hemingway takes us through his Paris, although he warns us that others may have had different experiences and that everyone drinks in the City of Lights from a unique cup. Even his own words are subject to change, as his grandson edited a different version of this same book, and it was published in 2009. I took the advice of my wise instructor, but you can decide for yourself. Read her blog: http://wingedword.wordpress.com/2010/02/20/will-the-real-moveable-feast-please-stand-up/
In it she outlines her reasons for sticking to the 1964 edition, which was published after Hemingway’s death and edited by his widow, Mary.

I was particularly struck by his words near the end when he sees Hadley after being unfaithful to her.

“I wish I had died before I ever loved anyone but her.”.

I don’t think Paris or life was ever the same for him again. So poignant! Yes, I read the whole book last night! What a treat. And now I can begin ‘The Paris Wife’.

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1 Comment

  1. Renee, what a wonderful post! My main reason for advising you to read A Moveable Feast first was so that you would have the original context of the Hadley/Hemingway story before reading The Paris Wife. But of course A Moveable Feast is also full of wonderful insights about writing and the writing process and I should have known how much you would enjoy that. Thanks for sharing your experience with me and all your other readers. And now, enjoy The Paris Wife! (You’ll probably get to finish it before I do 🙂

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