A Moveable Feast


Ernest Hemingway

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A Moveable Feast Study Guide

Welcome to the LitCharts study guide on Ernest Hemingway's A Moveable Feast. Created by the original team behind SparkNotes, LitCharts are the world's best literature guides.

Brief Biography of Ernest Hemingway

Ernest Hemingway was born into a well-educated, creative family in Oak Park, a conservative suburb of Chicago. His father was a doctor with a passion for the outdoors, and his mother was an amateur musician who encouraged her son to learn to play the cello. Hemingway’s passion for literature was already evident in high school, where he loved English and wrote for the school newspaper. After graduating from high school, Hemingway spent six months working as a reporter for The Kansas City Star before signing up to be a volunteer ambulance driver in Italy in 1918. While in Europe, Hemingway witnessed a munitions factory explosion and was himself badly wounded by shrapnel, experiences that traumatized the 18-year-old. While in the hospital, he met “Chink” Dorman-Smith, whom he describes in A Moveable Feast as his best friend. After the end of the First World War, Hemingway took a job as a reporter for the Toronto Star Weekly. He moved to Chicago, where he met Hadley Richardson, who became his first wife. Hemingway was given an appointment as a foreign correspondent for The Toronto Star and the young couple moved to Paris, where most of A Moveable Feast takes place. In Paris, Hemingway found himself at the center of a hotbed of artistic activity. He developed friendships with many of the most important writers of the early 20th century, including Gertrude Stein, Ezra Pound, Ford Madox Ford, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and James Joyce. In 1926, Hemingway began having an affair with Pauline Pfeiffer (loosely sketched in A Moveable Feast); he married Pauline the following year after divorcing Hadley. Hemingway left Paris in 1928, moving to Key West, Florida. He continued to travel the world, visiting the Caribbean and East Africa, and in 1937 he went to Spain to report on the Spanish Civil War. He later divorced Pauline to marry Martha Gelhorn, a war correspondent he met in Spain, although in 1945 he left her for another journalist, Mary Welsh. Hemingway was in Europe for much of the Second World War and he witnessed the liberation of Paris, during which time he saw many of his old friends. Following the war, Hemingway survived two plane crashes and, in 1954, was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature. In 1957 he discovered a trunk of old notebooks from his time in Paris, and he began revising this material to become A Moveable Feast. By this time, Hemingway’s mental health had deteriorated as a result of lifelong alcoholism and a possible genetic disease. He was intensely paranoid and in poor physical condition. He shot himself in 1961 at his home in Ketchum, Idaho.
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Historical Context of A Moveable Feast

The events of the book take place in the shadow of the First World War. Hemingway and many of the other male characters served in the war, and this experience—along with the alcoholic nihilism that results from it—leads Gertrude Stein to term them the “lost generation,” a phrase that is still in common use. The war had a tremendous impact on European society and culture, and a widespread sense of shock and devastation can be found in many works of art produced in the postwar period. Empires dissolved, governments were overthrown, and ordinary life was characterized by instability. The philosophical, moral, and aesthetic systems of the past suddenly seemed irrelevant, and this led to a sudden influx of social and cultural experimentation. At the same time, the postwar period also saw an economic boom, particularly in the United States, resulting in the lavish, hedonistic culture of the “roaring 20s.” The exchange rate between the US dollar and French franc meant that it was possible for Americans to live in Paris on very little money, and this is a major reason why Paris became a haven for American expatriate artists in this period.

Other Books Related to A Moveable Feast

Hemingway mentions a number of literary works within the text, which—although they differ in both style and content from A Moveable Feast—provide useful insight into the artistic climate of Hemingway’s Paris. These books include Gertrude Stein’s “unbelievably long” The Making of Americans and F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby, which Hemingway admires. Hemingway also mentions reading the work of Anton Chekhov, Ivan Turgenev, Leo Tolstoy, Fyodor Dostoevsky, D.H. Lawrence, Henry James, Katherine Mansfield, and (on Stein’s recommendation) Marie Belloc Lowndes. A Moveable Feast is itself closely connected to Stein’s Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas. Both texts play with the autobiographical genre (though Stein’s Autobiography is more experimental than A Moveable Feast), and both document the Parisian artistic community of which Hemingway and Stein were both members. A Moveable Feast is also part of a broader genre of writing by American expatriates in Paris. Other examples of texts in this genre include Sylvia Beach’s Shakespeare and Company, Adam Gopnik’s Paris to the Moon, and James Baldwin’s Giovanni’s Room and Notes of a Native Son.
Key Facts about A Moveable Feast
  • Full Title: A Moveable Feast
  • When Written: 1920s, revised 1957-1961
  • Where Written: Paris and Cuba
  • When Published: 1964
  • Literary Period: Modernism
  • Genre: Memoir
  • Setting: 1920s Paris, France
  • Climax: Scott and Hemingway’s trip to Lyon
  • Antagonist: The book has no consistent antagonist, although Hemingway expresses a strong dislike for Wyndham Lewis, “the measuring worm,” and for the young man in the café.
  • Point of View: The book is written from Hemingway’s own perspective, though much of the narrative is in the second person, addressing Hemingway’s younger self as “you.”

Extra Credit for A Moveable Feast

Last words. Shortly before committing suicide, Hemingway wrote the following foreword to A Moveable Feast: “This book contains material from the remises of my memory and of my heart. Even if the one has been tampered with and the other does not exist.”

“Paris is a Celebration.” Following the terrorist attacks in Paris in 2015, A Moveable Feast—titled “Paris is a Celebration” in French—rose to number one on the French Amazon site.