A Moveable Feast

A Moveable Feast Chapter 17 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
The chapter opens with a quote discussing the talent of an unknown man. The speaker of the quote remarks that he is lucky to have met this man after a time of productive writing, even if it was not a good time in the man’s personal life. The narrative switches back to Hemingway’s usual first person voice and he explains that when he first meets Scott Fitzgerald “a very strange thing” happens. Hemingway is at the Dingo bar when Scott enters accompanied by the famous pitcher Dunc Chaplin. Scott has an attractive, boyish face, with “very fair wavy hair” and “excited eyes.” Hemingway is intrigued to finally meet Scott, but embarrassed when Scott starts praising Hemingway’s writing. They drink a bottle of champagne and Hemingway is happy when Scott’s “speech” comes to an end. However, then comes a “question period,” which begins by Scott asking if he may call Hemingway “Ernest.”
Although the man mentioned in the opening of the chapter is not named, it is reasonable to assume from the chapter’s title that it is F. Scott Fitzgerald. The fact that there is a preliminary introduction to Hemingway’s sketch of Fitzgerald sets this chapter apart from the rest of the book. The introductory passage emphasizes Fitzgerald’s fame and arguably speaks to the likelihood that the reader will already have knowledge of Fitzgerald’s character and reputation before reading the chapter. Hemingway’s handling of the theme of fame suggests a desire to play with the reader’s existing impression of the more famous characters in the book.
Themes
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Scott then asks Hemingway if he and Hadley slept together before they were married; Hemingway replies he doesn’t remember, and Scott is astounded. It is at this point that the strange thing happens. While Hemingway is looking at Scott, Scott’s face transforms from its usual appearance into a “death mask.” When Scott doesn’t reply, Hemingway suggests that they call an ambulance, but Dunc Chaplin replies that Scott is alright. Hemingway puts Scott and Dunc into a taxi and continues to worry about Scott until he sees him again at the Lilas a few days later. Hemingway apologizes for his behavior, but Scott has no idea what he is talking about; he says he was simply bored by the British people there and decided to go home. Hemingway remarks that there weren’t any British people there, but then realizes he is wrong and he admits that Scott is right. Scott scolds Hemingway for trying to make “mysteries” just because he’s been drinking.
In life and in art, Hemingway and Fitzgerald are foils to one another. This means that the differences between them helps illuminate their respective characteristics. Scott is clearly more romantic and sentimental than Hemingway, which is why he is so shocked that Hemingway can’t remember if he and Hadley had sex before marriage. Hemingway’s vision that Scott’s face transforms into a “death mask” again sets him apart from Hemingway, who is “marked for Life.” However, although Hemingway is convinced that something terrible happened to Scott and that he misremembered the night at the Dingo, it was in fact Hemingway himself who misremembered.
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Scott and Hemingway talk about the café they are in and about Scott’s recent writing. Scott wants Hemingway to read The Great Gatsby, and the way Scott talks about it belies how good it actually is. Scott tells Hemingway that the book is not selling very well, although it has received critical acclaim. However, Scott isn’t bitter about it, and instead is “shy and happy” about the book. They sit outside on the terrace of the Lilas and drink whisky sodas. Scott explains that his wife, Zelda, has abandoned their car because of “bad weather” and asks if Hemingway would like to join him on a trip to Lyon to pick up the car. It is late spring and Hemingway likes Scott, so he agrees to accompany him on the trip. Hadley also thinks the trip is a “splendid idea.” As Scott is an older writer, Hemingway thinks that he will have much to learn from him. Hemingway is shocked to hear that Scott writes good stories and then adapts them for submission to the Post; he wants to persuade Scott to abandon the practice, but feels he does not have the authority to do so because he has not yet written a novel himself.
Scott is the older and more accomplished writer, but he doesn’t always act like it. He seems to have a more frivolous and light-hearted attitude about life than Hemingway, who takes everything very seriously. This sense of carelessness is present both in Scott’s revision of his stories for the Post and in Zelda’s decision to abandon the car. Hemingway is drawn to Scott because of his good nature, but he is wary of Scott’s approach to life. At the same time, Hemingway is also very aware of his status as a younger and less experienced writer, and thus he tends to concede to Scott’s ideas and decisions. However, it is also possible that Hemingway exaggerates Scott’s more reckless qualities (such as his alcoholism) as a way of making it seem as if Hemingway does not possess the same attributes.
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Hadley is happy that Hemingway is going on the trip, though she isn’t impressed by Scott as a writer (Hemingway notes that “her idea of a good writer was Henry James”). Hemingway is selling stories and is saving money for future travels. When he arrives at the Gare de Lyon he does not see Scott, who has their tickets. As the time of their train’s departure approaches Hemingway gets on the train, hoping that Scott is already aboard. He explains the situation to the conductor and buys a second-class ticket. While on the train, Hemingway drinks a bottle of wine and thinks it was stupid of him to accept a trip that was ostensibly being paid for. Feeling angry, he “demote[s]” Scott from “Scott” to “Fitzgerald.” Once he arrives in Lyon, Hemingway discovers that Scott has left Paris but has not provided details of where he is staying in Lyon. Hemingway goes to a café and has a drink with a professional fire-eater, who then takes him to a cheap but good Algerian restaurant. The two men discuss Hemingway’s writing, and the fire-eater suggests to Hemingway that the fire eater tell Hemingway stories for Hemingway to write out, and that they split the profits. Hemingway pays for the meal and leaves, saying he will see the fire-eater soon.
Once again, Hemingway and Fitzgerald are shown to be opposites; while Hemingway spends time reflecting on whether or not he should go to Lyon and even consults Hadley, Scott seems to treat the whole thing rather carelessly, as evidenced by the fact that he doesn’t show up at the train station without giving an explanation. It is important to note that Hemingway quickly grows angry at Scott, without knowing if there is a reasonable explanation for his behavior. Although Hemingway is a loyal friend to some extent, it often only takes a minor event for him to end a friendship completely (such as in the case of his friendship with Gertrude Stein). Friendship is thus an important but brittle facet of Hemingway’s life. Unlike other characters such as Ezra, his capacity for forgiveness is limited.
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Hemingway notes that Lyon is not “cheerful” at night; he adds that it is the kind of town you enjoy if you have money. Scott has left no word at the hotel, so Hemingway happily falls asleep while reading Turgenev. In the morning, the front desk calls to say there is a man to see Hemingway, and Hemingway requests that they send him up. Scott doesn’t come up, but when they meet at the desk he immediately apologizes. Hemingway forgives him, wanting to mend their relations for the rest of the trip. Scott tells him that Zelda is sick and that “the whole trip has been disastrous so far.” They eat a “big American breakfast” in the hotel, and Scott insists that they eat lunch there too. Hemingway thinks to himself that this lunch costs “four or five times” what it would if they ate elsewhere. It is clear that Scott has been drinking before coming to meet Hemingway, and Hemingway suggests they both get a whisky. After this, Hemingway pays for the room and drinks using the money he has been saving for Spain, even though Scott tried to pay for everything. Hemingway plans to borrow money if necessary from Sylvia Beach.
Hemingway often treats Scott’s statements with a subdued sense of disbelief. It is clear that Hemingway is skeptical of the notion that Scott genuinely didn’t know where Hemingway’s hotel was, but he says nothing—perhaps abiding by his principle of not contradicting his elders. Yet Hemingway’s behavior raises the question of whether it is more respectful to interrupt someone when you don’t believe them—and in doing so let them correct you, as Scott does earlier in the chapter—or to keep quiet, thereby clinging to your own interpretation of events. Hemingway at first seems vaguely disapproving of the fact that Scott has been drinking so early in the morning, yet then decides to join him. Does he do so to give Scott company, as he claims, or simply because he also wants a drink?
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The men go to the garage and Hemingway is surprised to see that Scott’s car has no top; this is because Zelda hates car tops and instructed Scott to have it cut off. The mechanic says he tried to fix the car top, but Scott wouldn’t let him. On the drive back they are “halted by rain possibly ten times.” Once they finally arrive back in Lyon, they have a lavish lunch of roast chicken and wine, which they drink from the bottle. Scott confesses to Hemingway that he is worried about his health, having recently heard of two people dying from “congestion of the lungs.” The men debate illnesses and their prevalence in Europe versus other parts of the world. Hemingway assures Scott that “a good white wine” fights congestion of the lungs, and urges him to drink more. Scott asks Hemingway if he is afraid to die, and Hemingway replies “more at some times than at others.” Later, Scott admits that he wouldn’t mind dying of congestion of the lungs but is worried about who would look after Zelda and their daughter Scotty. Although Hemingway doesn’t imagine it would be possible, he assures Scott that he will take care of Zelda and Scotty if necessary.
This passage reveals the extent to which Scott’s life is entirely beholden to Zelda. Although Hemingway loves Hadley, he mostly lives his life quite independently of her, making decisions and pursuing actions according to his own desires and interests. Scott, on the other hand, seems to be controlled by Zelda. The decision to drive a car without a top is clearly impractical, yet Scott never questions that the car should be any other way. Similarly, Scott doesn’t even seem to be afraid of dying on personal grounds, only in terms of how it would affect Zelda and Scotty. It is clear that Hemingway is alarmed by this strong attachment, and he arguably sees it as a sign of weakness in Scott. However, Hemingway’s loyalty to and admiration of Scott lead him to keep these views to himself.
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At the hotel, Scott lies on the bed. Hemingway checks his temperature and his heartbeat and promises him that he is “perfectly O.K..” Hemingway suggests that he order them a lemonade and whisky, but Scott remains anxious and insists that Hemingway ring for a thermometer. Hemingway feels tired of the “literary life” and of Scott and his antics. He can’t feel anger at Scott but instead feels anger at himself for getting involved in the situation; he knows that “drunkards” die from pneumonia but he doesn’t believe that Scott is a true drunkard because he is strongly affected by such small amounts of alcohol. Hemingway notes that in European culture drinking is very normal, and that at the time he didn’t really understand alcoholism. Eventually the waiter brings the whiskies, lemon juice, and water, but he tells Hemingway that the pharmacy is closed and therefore he was unable to get a thermometer. Scott protests that the waiter did not understand the seriousness of the situation and that the only way to get through to waiters is through tipping. Scott hates the French, the Italians, and “often” the English. Hemingway gives him the whisky and aspirin, which he takes with “admirable calm.”
This is one of the most comic scenes in the novel, although it is also laced with the book’s most serious themes. Hemingway ends up playing the role of a devoted, long-suffering spouse to the melodramatic Scott, who exhibits no physical symptoms yet is convinced that he is dying. Scott’s behavior, while amusing, is also representative of an important divide between him and Hemingway. Hemingway views Scott as loveable but simultaneously self-centered, reckless, and ignorant. Scott exemplifies a level of destructive privilege and irrationality that Hemingway is careful to avoid. Note also that Hemingway positions himself as part of European culture, while emphasizing that Scott doesn’t like and understand many European peoples.
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Hemingway feels happy, before realizing that Scott finds him “too happy.” Scott accuses him of being “a cold one” and demands he take his temperature. The waiter brings Hemingway the only thermometer in the hotel; Hemingway takes Scott’s temperature and assures him it is 37 degrees, which is normal. Scott insists that Hemingway take his own temperature as well. Hemingway promises Scott that they are both fine, failing to tell him that the thermometer isn’t working. Hemingway advises Scott to stay in bed and have a “light supper,” but Scott wants to call Zelda to tell her he is alright. He tells Hemingway that this is the first night they’ve spent apart since being married. Hemingway doesn’t quite believe this, but says nothing. Scott downs his whisky sour and the waiter brings two more drinks. After Scott calls Zelda, he enthusiastically tells Hemingway about how he first met her during the war. Hemingway notes that he later tells different versions of this story “as though trying them for use in a novel.”
Hemingway emphasizes the way in which Scott resembles a literary character by highlighting Scott’s comic characteristics, his melodramatic attachment to Zelda, and his tendency to narrate his own life as if it were a work of literature. Scott is thus one of the best examples of the blending of art and life in the book. While Hemingway is surrounded by artists and writers, his personal life is fairly non-dramatic and conventional. Scott, on the other hand, exaggerates even minor events in his life (such as his supposed fatal illness) in order to make his experience seem more eventful. In this way, Scott has a more romantic view of life, whereas Hemingway is a pragmatic realist.
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Scott tells Hemingway a story about Zelda falling in love with a “French naval aviator” at St.-Raphael, and Hemingway finds it hard to understand how Scott stayed with her. For dinner, they eat snails and drink wine; then Scott’s call from Zelda comes, and afterward he doesn’t want to eat anything. Scott passes out at the table and Hemingway, now alone at dinner, resolves to “cut all drinking to the minimum” starting the next day. The next day they drive to Paris and Scott happily tells Hemingway all about the writer Michael Arlen. At meals Hemingway orders “the lightest wine possible” and tells Scott that he can’t drink much because he wants to write. Back at home, Hemingway is delighted to see Hadley, and Hemingway tells her that he learned to never go on trips with people you don’t love. The couple remark again about how lucky they are and knock on wood. Soon Scott sends Hemingway a copy of The Great Gatsby and Hemingway is impressed, but he also notes that at that time he didn’t know “the terrible odds” that were against Scott in the form of Zelda.
Once again, Hemingway and Hadley are a foil to Scott and Zelda. Compared to Scott and Zelda’s tumultuous and tortured relationship, Hemingway and Hadley’s marriage appears simple, harmonious, and almost childishly innocent. Both Hemingway and Hadley are excited about the future and want nothing more than to preserve their current happiness as long as possible. Scott, meanwhile, is tortured by thoughts of death and is driven to destructive habits through his relationship with Zelda. Meanwhile, Hadley clearly has a positive impact on Hemingway’s work and is deeply invested in his professional success; Zelda, on the other hand, is framed as a hindrance to Scott’s development as a writer.
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