A Moveable Feast

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Themes and Colors
Creation vs. Critique Theme Icon
Hunger vs. Consumption Theme Icon
Success, Gossip, and Fame Theme Icon
Love, Sex, and Friendship Theme Icon
Happiness and Sadness Theme Icon
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in A Moveable Feast, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.
Success, Gossip, and Fame Theme Icon

During the time in which the book is set, Hemingway is still at an early stage of his career as a writer—he has yet to achieve the fame and critical recognition bestowed on him later in his life. Indeed, Hemingway writes that until receiving praise from F. Scott Fitzgerald, “I had felt that what a great writer I was had been carefully kept secret between myself and my wife and only those people we knew well enough to speak to.” However, A Moveable Feast was not published until after Hemingway’s death, once his reputation as one of the most important writers of the 20th century had already been established. To contemporary readers, the narrative thus contains subtle hints of Hemingway’s later success: it reads as an account of the early creative processes of a great writer, rather than simply the difficult and uncertain life of a young, impoverished, and ambitious artist.

Part of the reason that the book doesn’t seem to be simply an account of a young and striving artist is that many of its characters are already famous during the time at which the action takes place, and most of them had become even more famous by the time the book was published. Thus, part of the book’s allure is the glimpse it gives into famous lives. Instead of simply revelling in the celebrity of his famous friends, though, Hemingway is careful to underscore the part that these literary figures played in the artistic community in Paris. In writing A Moveable Feast, Hemingway is attempting to record his place within a milieu of famous and important people, and to emphasize the extent to which these people influenced his work and he influenced theirs. Hemingway notes that Gertrude Stein only praises the writing of people who have helped advance her own career, and, although he makes no similar admission about himself, it is clear that all the artists and writers in the book have artistic processes and commercial success that are inextricable from the influences and relationships of their community. They have a constant awareness of the way in which their fame, creative success, and social lives are fundamentally interlinked.

On the other hand, not all of what Hemingway records about the artists and writers that populate the book refers to their creative output. Often, Hemingway’s reflections on the people he knew in Paris resembles gossip more than anything else. This emphasizes the theme of celebrity, while drawing attention to the significance of details ordinarily considered superficial or frivolous. Hemingway and Scott discuss “the gossip and economics of being a successful writer,” a phrase that elevates gossip to the same level of importance as the more pressing, practical matter of monetary survival. At the same time, it can also demean the famous artists and writers depicted in the book by showing them in a more human (and often rather unflattering) light. Hemingway mentions that Sylvia Beach, the owner of Shakespeare & Company, “loved to make jokes and gossip,” and that Gertrude Stein “loved to talk about people and places and things and food.” These comments suggest that even the most serious and important figures in the book are not above indulging in gossip, and that this is perhaps because they live among such interesting, important, and famous people.

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Success, Gossip, and Fame Quotes in A Moveable Feast

Below you will find the important quotes in A Moveable Feast related to the theme of Success, Gossip, and Fame.
Chapter 1 Quotes

I've seen you, beauty, and you belong to me now, whoever you are waiting for and if I never see you again, I thought. You belong to me and all Paris belongs to me and I belong to this notebook and this pencil.

Related Characters: Ernest Hemingway (speaker)
Page Number: 18
Explanation and Analysis:

While Hemingway is writing at the café on the Place St.-Michel, a “very pretty” woman enters and sits near him. Hemingway looks up from his writing and stares at her, thinking that she belongs to him, even though she is a stranger. This feeling of ownership is rooted in Hemingway’s writing; the city around Hemingway belongs to him because he is representing it through writing, and thus he is “creating” it in a symbolically God-like manner. The link between literary creation and a sense of power and ownership highlights the most positive side of the life of the writer.

This is also an example of Hemingway’s notoriously large ego. Although Hemingway is frequently bashful about his own writing in A Moveable Feast, this passage indicates that he perhaps enjoys the power that comes from his success as a writer more than he tends to let on. Furthermore, this passage is also an example of the kind of subtle misogyny that many feminist critics argue Hemingway is guilty of expressing. While he does not behave in an overtly sexist, demeaning, or aggressive way to the woman, thinking that she belongs to him arguably suggests that Hemingway enjoys having power over women.


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Chapter 2 Quotes

"Do not worry. You have always written before and you will write now. All you have to do is write one true sentence. Write the truest sentence that you know." So finally I would write one true sentence, and then go on from there.

It was easy then because there was always one true sentence that you knew or had seen or had heard someone say. If I started to write elaborately, or like someone introducing or presenting something, I found that I could cut that scrollwork or ornament out and throw it away and start with the first true simple declarative sentence I had written.

Related Characters: Ernest Hemingway (speaker)
Page Number: 22
Explanation and Analysis:

Hemingway has explained his writing routine, noting that he always makes sure to stop at a certain point each day and put his writing materials away in order to clear his head before beginning again the next day. Hemingway has thus far only described times in which his writing is going well, but in this passage he explains the tactic he uses when faced with writer’s block at the beginning of a new story. Hemingway’s advice to himself is a distinct contrast to the idea of artistic creation popular in the 19th century, particularly among the Romantics. The Romantic notion of artistic creation emphasized the importance of intense, unpredictable flashes of inspiration, and suggested that great art was the product of innate genius rather than a deliberate craft that could be learned.

Hemingway, however, expresses the belief that the creation of art can be simple and “easy.” Contrary to the stereotype of the tortured artistic genius, Hemingway takes a practical and rather casual attitude to writing. More than anything, Hemingway is concerned with truth, valuing it so highly that he believes writing “one true sentence” is enough to instigate the creation of a whole story.

Chapter 5 Quotes

I knew how severe I had been and how bad things had been. The one who is doing his work and getting satisfaction from it is not the one the poverty is hard on. I thought of bathtubs and showers and toilets that flushed as things that inferior people to us had or that you enjoyed when you made trips, which we often made.

Related Characters: Ernest Hemingway (speaker), Hadley Hemingway
Page Number: 42
Explanation and Analysis:

Hemingway has bought a racing paper and decided that after he finishes work, he and Hadley will go to the races. He has received money from the Toronto Star, but Hadley worries that they still don’t have enough money to bet. Hemingway assures her that they will figure it out, and he apologizes for being “tight and mean about money.” Hemingway regretfully thinks about the way in which their poverty has been “hard on” Hadley. He suggests that it is easy for him to live without money, because he gets “satisfaction” from working as a writer.

It is clear from this passage that Hemingway feels responsible for providing for Hadley, and he seems conflicted between his own nonchalance about material possessions and his desire to give Hadley a comfortable, pleasant life. While he knows that his lifestyle is hard on his wife, he also feels that his simple existence is distinct from true poverty: lacking money is hardest on people without passion and purpose, he suggests, and thus his writing means that he is spared the pain of poverty. He looks on his lack of money as a sign, even, of his dedication to something better than materialism, which suggests that there is something he enjoys about being poor.

Chapter 7 Quotes

In the three or four years that we were good friends I can not remember Gertrude Stein ever speaking well of any writer who had not written favorably about her work or done something to advance her career except for Ronald Firbank and, later, Scott Fitzgerald. When I first met her she did not speak of Sherwood Anderson as a writer but spoke glowingly of him as a man and of his great, beautiful, warm Italian eyes and of his kindness and his charm. I did not care about his great beautiful warm Italian eyes but I liked some of his short stories very much.

Related Characters: Ernest Hemingway (speaker), Gertude Stein, F. Scott Fitzgerald
Page Number: 59
Explanation and Analysis:

Hemingway has already described being annoyed by Stein’s dismissals of authors he admires, but he has also noted that he enjoys her book recommendations tremendously. In this passage, he notes that Stein’s comments about writers they know tend to be dictated by whether or not they have advanced her own career. Generally, unless a writer has supported Stein’s career, she focuses on their personal qualities and avoids discussing their work. Like many of Hemingway’s descriptions of the characters in the book, this is a rather harsh assessment (even if it is also true).

Hemingway expresses a sense of disapproval of this habit of Stein’s, particularly when noting that he himself does not “care about [Anderson’s] great beautiful warm Italian eyes but I liked some of his short stories very much.” This statement echoes Hemingway’s earlier suggestion that Stein has frivolous tendencies. At the same time, throughout A Moveable Feast Hemingway himself gives detailed descriptions of people’s physical appearances, including his fixation with hair. One of the defining attributes of the book is Hemingway’s attention to the ordinary lives and physical presence of the famous artists and writers he lives among in Paris. Hemingway’s comments about Stein thus arguably reflect his own anxieties about the politics of navigating an enriching (yet occasionally competitive and shallow) artistic milieu.

She was angry at Ezra Pound because he had sat down too quickly on a small, fragile and, doubtless, uncomfortable chair, that it is quite possible he had been given on purpose, and had either cracked or broken it. That finished Ezra at 27 rue de Fleurus. That he was a great poet and a gentle and generous man and could have accommodated himself in a normal-size chair was not considered. The reasons for her dislike of Ezra, skillfully and maliciously put, were invented years later.

Related Characters: Ernest Hemingway (speaker), Gertude Stein, Ezra Pound
Page Number: 60
Explanation and Analysis:

Hemingway has argued that Stein only praises the writing of people who advance her own career, and that she absolutely refuses to discuss James Joyce due to her intense feeling of competition with him. In this passage, Hemingway notes that Stein also developed a powerful grudge against Ezra Pound after he broke one of her chairs, even though it’s possible that she gave it to him in the hope that he would break it. Once again, Hemingway expresses disapproval of Stein’s seemingly arbitrary rejection of Pound, arguing that Stein “invented” reasons for disliking him years after deciding to do so.

Hemingway clearly thinks that Stein behaves in an unfair manner to Ezra, who Hemingway characterizes as being “gentle and generous,” not to mention a talented writer. It is also possible to detect a note of resentment in Hemingway over how much control Stein wields in the artistic and literary community in which they both operate. Because so much of the creative activity of Paris at the time orbits around her home at 27 rue de Fleurus, Stein is able to manipulate this community with greater control than perhaps any other individual. It only takes one fragile chair in order to excommunicate a person from this circle, which almost certainly made Hemingway feel that his own place in Stein’s good graces was precarious.

When I got home and into the courtyard and upstairs and saw my wife and my son and his car, F. puss, all of them happy and a fire in the fireplace, I said to my wife, “You know, Gertrude is nice, anyway…”
"Of course, Tatie.”
"But she does talk a lot of rot sometimes.”
"I never hear her,” my wife said. “I’m a wife. It’s her friend that talks to me.”

Related Characters: Ernest Hemingway (speaker), Hadley Hemingway (speaker), Jack “Bumby” Hemingway, Gertude Stein, Alice B. Toklas
Page Number: 62-3
Explanation and Analysis:

Hemingway has spent the day with Gertrude Stein, during which time she made her comment about the “lost generation.” Hemingway feels irritated by her words, thinking: “who is calling who a lost generation?” However, when he gets home to his family he takes a gentler tone, reminding himself (and Hadley) that he does like Stein, even if she “talks a lot of rot.” Hadley’s response underlines the sharp gender divide that governs life at 27 rue de Fleurus.

Although Stein and Toklas are both women, Stein insistently elevates herself to the level of the male artists and writers by insisting that Hadley and the other “wives” socialize only with Stein’s own “wife,” Toklas. While this may seem unjust, it is also arguably itself the product of the homophobic and sexist culture that forced Stein to fight bitterly to put herself on an equal footing with the straight men.

Chapter 8 Quotes

You got very hungry when you did not eat enough in Paris because all the bakery shops had such good things in the windows and people ate outside at tables on the sidewalk so that you saw and smelled the food. Then you were skipping meals at a time when you had given up journalism and were writing nothing that anyone in America would buy, explaining at home that you were lunching out with someone, the best place to do it was the Luxembourg gardens where you saw and smelled nothing to eat all the way from the place de l'Observatoire to the rue de Vaugirard. There you could always go into the Luxembourg museum and all the paintings were heightened and clearer and more beautiful if you were belly-empty, hollow-hungry. I learned to understand Cezanne much better and to see truly how he made landscapes when I was hungry. I used to wonder if he were hungry too when he painted; but I thought it was possibly only that he had forgotten to eat. It was one of those unsound but illuminating thoughts you have when you have been sleepless or hungry. Later I thought Cezanne was probably hungry in a different way.

Related Characters: Ernest Hemingway (speaker)
Related Symbols: Cafés
Page Number: 65
Explanation and Analysis:

This passage opens the chapter entitled “Hunger Was Good Discipline,” in which Hemingway explains that, although his poverty means he is often forced to go hungry, there are actually positive elements to this experience. The title of the chapter initially suggests that hunger forces Hemingway to write in order to earn enough money to eat, but the actual content of the chapter—including this passage—slightly contradicts this notion. Hemingway is evidently somewhat resigned to the fact that he is “writing nothing that anyone in America would buy,” and he seems to have accepted hunger as an inevitable aspect of his life as a writer, rather than something he must fight against.

On one level, hunger separates Hemingway from the world around him—he must lie to his friends about going home for lunch and he cannot go into the cafés and eat the delicious food that taunts him with its nice smell. However, hunger also connects him to the artistic world of Paris in a more fundamental way. Due to the side-effects of intense hunger, Hemingway feels a sense of euphoric sensual connection to his environment, and particularly to the paintings at the Luxembourg museum. Furthermore, Hemingway’s hunger places him in a lineage of artists and writers who were forced to go without food in order to create work. In this sense, hunger allows Hemingway to “understand Cezanne much better,” and leads him to conjecture that Cezanne must have been hungry, too.

Outside on the rue de l’Odeon I was disgusted with myself for having complained about things. I was doing what I did of my own free will and I was doing it stupidly. I should have bought a large piece of bread and eaten it instead of skipping a meal. I could taste the brown lovely crust. But it is dry in your mouth without something to drink. You God damn complainer. You dirty phony saint and martyr, I said to myself. You quit journalism of your own accord. You have credit and Sylvia would have loaned you money. She has plenty of times. Sure. And then the next thing you would be compromising on something else. Hunger is healthy and the pictures do look better when you are hungry. Eating is wonderful too and do you know where you are going to eat right now?

Related Characters: Ernest Hemingway (speaker), Sylvia Beach
Related Symbols: Alcohol
Page Number: 68
Explanation and Analysis:

Hemingway has gone to see Sylvia Beach at her bookshop, Shakespeare and Company. Sylvia expresses concern about how thin Hemingway is and asks if he is eating; Hemingway lies to her and tells her he is about to go home for lunch. Afterward, Hemingway feels an intense sense of shame and regret about having “complained” and lied. He curses himself and thinks that he is a “dirty phony saint and martyr.” This passage is significant in a number of ways, in part because it contradicts Hemingway’s initial argument about hunger. Whereas at the beginning of the chapter Hemingway praised the advantages of hunger, framing it as something that improved his life, in this passage he feels guilty and ashamed about skipping meals.

Rather than simply being about hunger itself, this passage can be interpreted as an expression of Hemingway’s insecurities about being a writer. Although he has achieved some critical recognition, Hemingway’s status as a writer is still rather fragile. This leads him to doubt the choice he makes and question the legitimacy of his identity (hence calling himself a “dirty phony saint.”) Hemingway’s internal conflict and uncertainty is conveyed in the final part of the passage, where he acknowledges that there is value in both hunger and eating. Although this is perhaps true, it leaves Hemingway in a state of uncertainty and self-doubt that reflects a broader anxiety about his ability to achieve success as a writer.

Chapter 11 Quotes

Ezra Pound was always a good friend and he was always doing things for people. The studio where he lived with his wife Dorothy on the rue Notre-Dame-des-Champs was as poor as Gertrude Stein's studio was rich. It had very good light and was heated by a stove and it had paintings by Japanese artists that Ezra knew. They were all noblemen where they came from and wore their hair cut long. Their hair glistened black and swung forward when they bowed and I was very impressed by them but I did not like their paintings. I did not understand them but they did not have any mystery, and when I understood them they meant nothing to me. I was sorry about this but there was nothing I could do about it.

Related Characters: Ernest Hemingway (speaker), Gertude Stein, Ezra Pound, Dorothy Pound
Related Symbols: Hair
Page Number: 87
Explanation and Analysis:

This is the opening of Chapter 11, entitled “Ezra Pound and the Measuring Worm.” Ezra Pound is one of the few characters whom Hemingway represents in an almost entirely sympathetic, admiring way, and it is clear that Hemingway aspires to be as good a friend as Ezra (even as he acknowledges that he is not quite as generous and open-hearted). This passage is also a key example of Hemingway’s fixation with hair. The hair of the Japanese painters is alluring insofar as it is outside of the customs that Hemingway is used to, and is thus akin to a new and avant-garde form of art.

Hemingway’s resistance to the Japanese painters’ work, though, suggests that he is not as open-minded as Ezra. He claims that there is “nothing I could do about it,” but is this really true? Such a statement appears suspect, particularly in the environment in which Hemingway is living, in which artistic, social, political, and moral conventions were constantly being questioned and people were adamant about experimenting with new ways of being. Hemingway’s words indicate that, even though he is open to embracing unfamiliarity in certain contexts, he is still somewhat restricted and traditional in his worldview.

Chapter 12 Quotes

The way it ended with Gertrude Stein was strange enough. We had become very good friends and I had done a number of practical things for her such as getting her long book started as a serial with Ford and helping type the manuscript and reading her proof and we were getting to be better friends than I could ever wish to be. There is not much future in men being friends with great women although it can be pleasant enough before it gets better or worse, and there is usually even less future with truly ambitious women writers.

Related Characters: Ernest Hemingway (speaker), Gertude Stein, Ford Madox Ford
Page Number: 87
Explanation and Analysis:

This is the opening of Chapter 12, entitled “A Strange Enough Ending.” On one level the end of Stein and Hemingway’s friendship is surprising: up until this point in the book they have appeared to be very close, even if there are occasionally tensions between them (such as those arising from Stein’s comment about the “lost generation”). However, in this passage Hemingway presents the end of his and Stein’s relationship in a rather casual way and even implies that it was inevitable. Hemingway emphasizes that he does favors for Stein, not mentioning how or if she does the same for him. This creates an image of their friendship as rather one-sided, which contradicts the historical fact that Stein was a generous and supportive mentor to Hemingway.

Furthermore, Hemingway’s comment that his friendship with Stein was doomed from the beginning due to gender confirms his misogynist tendencies. While elsewhere in the book he criticizes Stein for separating the men and their wives at 27 rue de Fleurus, in this passage it is clear that Hemingway does the same in his personal life, albeit perhaps in a less formal way. Not only does Hemingway believe that friendships between men and women can’t last, he is also specifically suspicious of Stein for being a “truly ambitious woman writer.”

Chapter 17 Quotes

Until then I had felt that what a great writer I was had been carefully kept secret between myself and my wife and only those people we knew well enough to speak to. I was glad Scott had come to the same happy conclusion as to this possible greatness, but I was also glad he was beginning to run out of the speech.

Related Characters: Ernest Hemingway (speaker), Hadley Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald
Page Number: 127
Explanation and Analysis:

Hemingway has described meeting F. Scott Fitzgerald at a bar called the Dingo. He notes that Scott is a handsome man with a “pretty” face, and he explains that during their conversation, Scott begins to enthusiastically praise Hemingway’s writing. This embarrasses Hemingway, but in this passage he admits that he is also happy to hear that Scott recognizes his skill as a writer, which he previously considered to be a secret confined to those close to him. This statement is somewhat playful and humorous, but it is clear that Hemingway is also serious.

Much of A Moveable Feast examines the uncertainty that defines life as a young writer whose reputation has yet to be established. As much as Hemingway professes embarrassment about Scott’s praise, he is simultaneously reassured that the older, critically acclaimed writer publically acknowledges Hemingway’s own talent. It’s worth remembering the validation that Hemingway takes from Fitzgerald’s praise, as Hemingway proceeds to criticize and even belittle Fitzgerald throughout the remainder of the book. This passage marks the emotional complexity of Hemingway’s relationship to Fitzgerald—on the one hand, he admires Fitzgerald and requires his validation, and, on the other hand, he finds Fitzgerald to be silly and badly behaved.

He had many good, good friends, more than anyone I knew. But I enlisted as one more, whether I could be of any use to him or not. If he could write a book as fine as The Great Gatsby I was sure that he could write an even better one. I did not know Zelda yet, and so I did not know the terrible odds that were against him. But we were to find them out soon enough.

Related Characters: Ernest Hemingway (speaker), Hadley Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald
Related Symbols: The Seasons
Page Number: 151
Explanation and Analysis:

Hemingway has returned from his (rather stressful) trip with Scott to Lyon, and has told Hadley all about it. A couple of days later, Scott brings a copy of The Great Gatsby for Hemingway to read, and Hemingway is impressed. In this passage, Hemingway argues that The Great Gatsby is an excellent book but that it proves Scott can write an even better book. This could be interpreted as something of a backhanded compliment, although the overall impression is that Hemingway genuinely admires Scott and wishes him well. Indeed, Hemingway demonizes Zelda for inhibiting Scott’s ability to succeed as a writer, placing far more blame on her for Scott’s problems than he does on Scott himself. Again, this is an indication of Hemingway’s rather sexist distrust of women.

Paris Sketches 1 Quotes

Creation's probably overrated. After all, God made the world in only six days and rested on the seventh.

Related Characters: Ernest Hemingway (speaker), Young man in café
Page Number: 173
Explanation and Analysis:

While trying to work at a café, Hemingway is harassed by a young man who wants to talk to him about writing. Hemingway is aggressively dismissive of the young man, but they nonetheless engage in playful (though hostile) conversation. Hemingway suggests that the young man learn to become a critic, claiming that “creation’s probably overrated.” This statement is facetious, yet there seems to also be an element of sincerity in it. Hemingway often adopts a (possibly falsely) humble and self-denigrating attitude about his own creative work, and later in the chapter he admits that part of him hoped that the young man would become a famous critic. The notion that creation could be overrated also hearkens back to Hemingway’s rejection of the Romantic model of artistic creation (sudden inspiration coming sporadically to a tortured genius) in favor of a more pragmatic and quotidian idea of the artist’s life and work. Like God, Hemingway believes in consistent hard work balanced by rest and enjoyment of the other aspects of his life. Here, he seems to suggest that there’s no mystery in creation and it’s not something to be revered: it’s just like any other kind of work.

Paris Sketches 7 Quotes

Everyone had their private cafés there where they never invited anyone and would go to work, or to read or to receive their mail. They had other cafés where they would meet their mistresses and almost everyone had another café, a neutral café, where they might invite you to meet their mistress and there were regular, convenient, cheap dining places where everyone might eat on neutral ground.

Related Characters: Ernest Hemingway (speaker)
Related Symbols: Cafés
Page Number: 203-204
Explanation and Analysis:

Hemingway has explained that he often takes his young son Bumby to cafés where Bumby sits silently while Hemingway works. Bumby enjoys watching people while sitting in the café, and here Hemingway explains that everyone in Paris has different kinds of cafés, which they frequent for different reasons. Although it is clearly an overstatement that “everyone” has a café where they go to meet their mistress or to work, this statement emphasizes the sense of community that arises through café culture.

It also illustrates the way in which cafés are a kind of hybrid space between private and public life. Many of the activities people pursue in cafés are rather private, from opening mail to eating to meeting a mistress. However, cafés are obviously public places where there is always a chance of striking up a conversation with a stranger or running into someone you know. Indeed, Hemingway at times seems to struggle with finding a balance between working in cafés and avoiding unwanted interruptions. No café is ever truly “private,” even if one is less likely to see people one knows there. However, this risk of interruption seems to be made worth it by the advantages of working in such a bustling, stimulating environment, wherein one is surrounded by the inspiration of other people’s existence.