A Moveable Feast


Ernest Hemingway

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A Moveable Feast: Chapter 4 Summary & Analysis

Hemingway describes the walk from his apartment to the Seine. Along the riverside streets are stalls that sell American books cheaply. At one of the bookstalls, a woman sells English books for a few francs because “she had no confidence in books written in English.” She tells Hemingway that these books are a “gamble,” and it is hard to tell if they are good. She is able to tell if French books are good because if they are they will be bound well, but all English books are bound poorly. Hemingway often walks through these riverside streets when he is “trying to think something out.” He watches people fishing, noting that the fish they catch—goujon—are delicious and can be eaten whole, including the bones. The best place to eat them is an open-air restaurant called La Pêche Miraculeuse, which serves “a splendid white wine.” He says that the restaurant is “straight out of a Maupassant story” and that from there, the Seine looks like a painting by Sisley.
Hemingway’s conversation with the bookseller illuminates a way of assessing the quality of a book that is strikingly different from the frame Hemingway himself uses. In Hemingway’s world, literature is assessed through critique and discussion of the writing itself. For the woman, however, it is obvious whether a book is good simply by looking at the binding. This highlights a different, more practical aspect of literature as an industry, rather than simply as an artistic pursuit. The idea of craft is further emphasized by Hemingway watching the fishermen. When he is struggling over a question in his own work, Hemingway is soothed by watching the fishermen do their work.
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Hemingway enjoys watching the fishermen but he does not fish himself; he “would rather save… money to fish in Spain.” He never feels lonely when he is walking by the river, and walking along he waits for the spring to come. He notes that “the only truly sad time in Paris” is when the cold rain suddenly comes back, a reminder that spring has not yet arrived. He knows that the spring will come eventually, but he finds it “frightening” when—for a moment—it seems like it will not.
Hemingway’s emotions are deeply affected by the world around him. He is cheered and stimulated by the sight of the fishermen and the approach of spring, but this happiness is fragile; it depends on the warm weather and can turn to a crushing sadness when the cold rain returns.
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