The young Hemingway as he looked in Paris. Photo taken at the Hemingway house, 2017.

The young Hemingway as he looked in Paris. Photo taken at the Hemingway house, Key West, FL, March, 2017.

On the memoir bookshelf in my home office sit at least 100 memoirs.  Many of these are classics I read long ago without thinking of them as memoirs.  Some, like the one I focus on now, are famous books that fit the category but that I have never read.  Thinking about genre has allowed me to find and rediscover books and read them with a new eye for form and substance.

Several people have told me that Ernest Hemingway’s A Moveable Feast is on the list of their top ten memoirs. Now I understand why.

But first I must admit that I could not escape the thought, reading this book, that an ailing man in his 60’s who will soon commit suicide is writing it.  (He finished the book in the fall of 1960.  On July 2, 1961, he pulled both triggers of a double-barreled shotgun aimed at his head.)  Oh yes, and did I mention that, as I write these words, I am almost as old as the old man.

Hemingway the old man breathes in this book.  We see the old man as he looks at his young first wife Hadley almost as if to say that she was the mold for all the other women who followed.   We see the old man as we read the deep appreciation for Sylvia Beach and her generous lending policies and nurturing spirit toward struggling young writers at her bookstore, Shakespeare and Company.

The word portraits the old man paints of Gertrude Stein and her “companion” (never mentioning the name of Alice B. Toklas) and of Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald bring them to life as complex human beings with great talent and greater failings.  Hemingway the competitor assessing other competitors comes through even though in 1960 both Stein and Fitzgerald are dead.  This memoir destroys Gertrude Stein’s claim to have invented the phrase, “The Lost Generation” and shows Fitzgerald’s alcoholism and his wife to be the enemy of his art.

Ironically, the alcoholism and difficulties with women Hemingway sees in Fitzgerald, as well as the fierce protection of reputation and competition with other writers he describes in Stein, apply equally to himself.  How self-aware and reader-aware could he have been?  We cannot know, and, because the book succeeds brilliantly in other ways, we do not care.

Throughout, Hemingway employs the metaphor of eating and drinking to describe how important writing was to him when he was living in Paris from the ages of 22 to 27.  He quotes Hadley as saying, “Memory is hunger.”  The scenes in this memoir alternate between the gnawing of near starvation and the relish of simple food and drink–tangerines, chestnuts, oysters, little goujon fish pulled out of the Seine and consumed bones and all.  We feel the immense appetites of the young man as he writes, walks, talks, gossips, gambles, and makes love.  This feast moves to the reader, and we understand why the phrase joie de vivre is untranslatable, except, perhaps, by this young American writer in Paris.

Hemingway hated formula writing.  He fumed when Fitzgerald admitted he changed his stories to fit standard tastes for Saturday Evening Post editors and readers.  But he had his own formula for the writing process, which is one of the biggest gifts to other writers:  “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 to let it refill at night from the springs that fed it.”

The practice of writing while hungry, going to the deep well of memory and imagination, then resting and forgetting, eating and drinking, returning and writing again–all that was established in Hemingway at the age of 22.  He recognized that the best feasts are not only moveable but they are so because deep, mysterious wells fill up the writer’s cup so that the feast continues day to day and place to place.

“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, 1950

Shirley Showalter


  1. Saints and Spinners on January 21, 2009 at 9:56 am

    Only moments ago, I was writing to a friend about how Hemingway was able to make me want to eat oysters in A Movable Feast, even though in reality, I do not like oysters at all. It's time to revisit the book. It's one of my favorites by Hemingway.

  2. Shirley on January 21, 2009 at 6:22 pm

    Synchronicity! I feel the same way about those oysters. That's the power of language.

  3. GutsyWriter on January 22, 2009 at 10:31 am

    Hi Shirley,I sent you two awards in my posting today. If you have time to respond, great, if not, don't worry. I just thought you deserved them. Take Care,Sonia aka GutsyWriter.

    • Shirley Showalter on March 15, 2017 at 1:33 pm

      I’m touched, Sonia. I will come visit you on your blog and let you know I appreciate your thinking of me. And I want to get to know some of the great group of people who follow you!

  4. Lijo on January 22, 2009 at 2:50 pm

    This memoir destroys Gertrude Stein’s claim to have invented the phrase, “The Lost Generation” and shows Fitzgerald’s alcoholism and his wife to be the enemy of his art.Did Gertrude Stein really ever claim she invented the phrase? If I recall it correctly she told the story behind it in the autobiographie of Alice B. Toklas just as Hemingway did in A Moveable Feast…(with the garage owner), or did I mix something up there?Is it wrong to dislike Hemingway because of the way he portraied Stein and Fitzgerald? I've got to admit , it's quite entertaining, yey, but I think its an awful thing to do to former (and dead) friends. Saints and Spinners: Really? I found it disgusting with the muscle and all…. 😉

  5. Shirley on January 22, 2009 at 8:07 pm

    Lijo, Your question is a good one about what Stein claimed. I did not look up what she said in The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas, so you may be right about her attribution there. I recall from my grad school days reading somewhere that Hemingway did not like that people gave Stein credit for coining this phrase. I may have overstated that she herself made the claim, so thanks for giving me this chance to rethink my words above. I looked up the origin of the phrase and found this article online: Thanks for the visit.

  6. fjbnheipsssf on February 1, 2009 at 2:07 am


    Anyway, you should do your best ;)…

  7. Linda on February 18, 2009 at 2:33 pm

    Hi Shirley:Thanks for sharing. I love this book. I love how it triggers the senses. For a more analytical and contemporary take on Paris, you might want to check out Paris to the Moon.Linda

  8. shirleyhs on February 18, 2009 at 6:14 pm

    Good to see you here, Linda. I would love to check out Paris to the Moon.

  9. […] review I wrote of the first version of the book (seen here at left) can be found here. I am not sure I will read the new […]

  10. Marian Beaman on March 15, 2017 at 10:07 am

    What a wonderful way to get more mileage out of excellent posts. I have checked my book review folder but cannot find a Hemingway review there though I have read A Moveable Feast. Here is a quote from my stash: First Light. “When I am working on a book or story I write every morning as soon after first light as possible. There is no one to disturb you and it is cool or cold and you come to your work and warm as you write.” – Ernest Hemingway

    Off to the airport now!

    • Shirley Showalter on March 15, 2017 at 10:19 am

      I love it that you are headed to PA as I have just left Hemingway and Key West behind me.

      I want you to know that I checked out how far Jacksonville was from Miami and saw no way to squeeze out a visit to your new place in our too-short vacation. Another time, I hope.

      Thanks for adding your quote about the morning to the “formula” from Hemingway above. I suspect that we can both identify with early morning as our best time to write.

      Thanks for showing up here and for affirmation to connect MMM messages to older posts while I am taking a break from writing new ones. I am not nearly as organized as you are, either in the ways I prepare to write posts or in how I organize documents in Word. I love the search function, both on this blog and in Word, for that reason. But when my memory no longer tells me what to search for, I’ll be sunk!

  11. Dolores Nice-Siegenthaler on March 15, 2017 at 11:34 am

    I haven’t read much of Hemmingway, though I appreciate all his contributions, and I enjoy reading your review. That Hemmingway touches on something basic and soulful is clear to me, and I feel how the moveable feasting fits in with the scripture I am spending time with in Lent, (Isaiah 55), where everyone who thirsts is invited to the waters.

    • Shirley Showalter on March 15, 2017 at 11:49 am

      Thank you so much, Dolores, for this connection between the idea memory as hunger in A Moveable Feast and the Isaiah 55 invitation. You connect this pastiche of recent experience, remembered post, remembered feast (in the memoir), and a larger, infinite, kind of slaking of thirst.

      Many blessings as you continue to ponder and thank you for making this wonderful connection to Lent.

  12. Sherrey Meyer on March 15, 2017 at 11:47 am

    Shirley, enjoyed this Hemingway book several years ago. Perhaps should read it again. Look forward to your Lenten posting idea.

    • Shirley Showalter on March 15, 2017 at 11:52 am

      Thanks, Sherrey! The Hemingway associations are like other experiences with art — they can connect and then reconnect at different times with totally different results. Hope you caught Dolores’ comment above.

  13. Theresa Haislip on March 15, 2017 at 1:08 pm

    So interesting to see your Hemingway post as I just watched the 2016 film “Genius” which is about his amazing editor, Max Perkins. The actor playing H in the film quite resembles the portrait you posted today! Enjoyed reading all the palatable comments above.

    And since I have brought up films, I should add that “A Moveable Feast” and the eating of pears plays a major role in the movie “City of Angels”(1998), which though perhaps not theologically sound I still find inspiring and beautiful.

    • Shirley Showalter on March 15, 2017 at 1:31 pm

      Hi Theresa, so good to see you here. I enjoyed Genius when it first came out. I’m a true sucker for visits to author homes and biopics about them. Just watched Hemingway and Gellhorn (streams free on Amazon Prime) yesterday and enjoyed it. Thanks for the reminder of the pear scene in City of Angels. I’m always eager to find good movie suggestions.

      I’d love to learn more about you. Are you a blogger?

  14. Kathleen Pooler on March 16, 2017 at 11:15 am

    Shirley, IMMOVEABLE FEAST and Ernest Hemingway are my favorites. Your review makes me want to reread it. I love your creative idea of staying in touch while also taking a writing break. Blessings to you on your Lenten journey.

    • Shirley Showalter on March 16, 2017 at 11:47 am

      Thank you, Kathy. So nice to have feedback. We’ll see if these little synchronicities from past posts and current life pop up again. Next week Stuart and I take off for the South West. Maybe I’ll just send a postcard from Sedona next week. Trying to be still enough to listen.

      Lenten blessings to you, too, Kathy, and thanks for being in touch.

  15. Elaine Mansfield on March 16, 2017 at 1:29 pm

    I haven’t read this book for a very long time. You make me want to read it again–and that’s what a good review does. (I just looked through other comments and saw that I’m not the only one who said that.) On the other hand, his macho style made me cringe even as a young woman, so it would be interesting to see how I’d react now.

    Have a wonderful trip. I’m getting plowed out after a 2 1/2 day fierce storm (the storm that was supposed to hit NYC came inland and dumped here). I’m a macho firewood carrier and snow shoveler. Winter exercise. Blessed Lenten season and blessed sunshine to you.

    • Shirley Showalter on March 16, 2017 at 5:46 pm

      Ah yes, his macho style. It was absolutely overpowering. And it doesn’t improve with age — his or ours. I came home and read Naomi Woods’ well-researched novel called Mrs. Hemingway and watched the very compelling movie (free streaming on Amazon Prime) of Hemingway and Gellhorn.

      I would not have wanted to be any on the wives.
      Nor do I envy Hemingway himself.

      The idea of writing that the Jazz Age conjurs up of boozing and womanizing has been challenged, thankfully, in our own time. But still one wonders about creativity, muses, the animus, anima, shadows. One can’t admire, but it’s also hard to turn away from all that passion.

      I love the image of you as the macho firewood carrier.

      I’m looking at sunshine and wishing you the same.

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