Hemingway reflects on the time he spent in Austria, claiming that the first year was an “innocent” year, the second was the year of the avalanches, and the third year was a “a nightmare and a murder year disguised as the greatest fun of all.” It is in this last year that “the rich show up.” Hemingway claims that these rich people have a “pilot fish,” a person who goes places ahead of them and talks them up before their arrival. He argues that the rich wouldn’t have come the year before, and that they need the pilot fish to provide them with “certainty.” The pilot fish is a friend of Hemingway’s, and Hemingway trusts him, yet in later years Hemingway’s memories of this time come to horrify him. He is charmed by the rich, which makes him “trusting” and “stupid.” He reads part of a novel he has written aloud, which he calls “dangerous” and “as low as a writer can get.” The rich love it, which at the time pleased Hemingway, but in hindsight he finds this abhorrent and unprofessional.
Perhaps the first thing to note about this chapter is that it is written in a rather different style from the rest of the book. Whereas Hemingway’s style is generally rather clear and “straight,” the writing in this chapter has an abstract, veiled quality that can at times make it difficult to understand what Hemingway is saying. This veiled quality is likely due to the fact that Hemingway is writing such a severe denunciation of the anonymous “rich” and their “pilot fish.” (Although it is also true that Hemingway denounces many other characters in the book without hesitating to include their full names.) The entire tone of this chapter is characterized by an intense, painful feeling of regret over both the personal and professional consequences of this winter in Austria.
Hemingway notes that before “these rich” arrived, “we had already been infiltrated by another rich using the oldest trick probably that there is.” This “trick” involves a young single woman befriending a married woman with the aim of marrying her husband. The husband ends up loving both women, and the one who is most “relentless” succeeds in keeping him. Hemingway confesses that it may sound silly, but that loving two women at once is “the most terrible and destructive thing that can happen to a man.” At first the man’s wife trusts him, then the man starts lying to “everyone,” and eventually he breaks all the promises he initially made to his wife. Hemingway then begins to describe himself and Hadley in the third person, noting that they shared everything, were always happy together, and they loved their child and their life together. However, when the third person comes to interrupt this existence, there is a terrible “split inside you” and every moment becomes torturous. Whenever the man is with one of the women he misses the other, and it is eventually “necessary” to end the original marriage.
The fact that Hemingway continues to speak in an abstract way, alternating between the second and third person, emphasizes that this memory is so painful that he cannot even bear to speak about it directly. It also reads as an attempt to preserve the dignity of Hadley (and perhaps also Pauline). In many ways, this chapter is akin to a long apology letter to Hadley, and it is for this reason that many have speculated that Hemingway’s last wife, Mary, chose to leave it out of the original published version of “A Moveable Feast.” Yet, although the chapter is apologetic and at times self-castigating, Hemingway also underemphasizes his own personal responsibility by writing in an abstract, second- and third- person style.
Hemingway leaves Austria for New York. His new life with Pauline gives him a “wrenching, kicking happiness,” defined by selfishness and betrayal. When Hemingway sees Hadley and Bumby again, he feels overwhelmed with love and regret. Hemingway then considers that maybe the rich and the pilot fish weren’t so bad; he resents them for encouraging and supporting him when he was making bad choices, but he’s not sure if he should blame them for this. He feels horrified by how Pauline deceives Hadley, who is her friend, but knows he is also responsible. After this episode, “Paris was never the same again,” and Hemingway never returns to the hotel in Austria. He concludes that everything breaks, even the heart, and that he doesn’t “know about that now” but does know that during the early years in Paris “we were very poor and very happy.”
The chapter ends on a defeated note, albeit with a general tone of acceptance. More than most other chapters in the book, “The Pilot Fish and the Rich” emphasizes Hemingway’s retrospective perspective and his feelings of guilt and regret that accompany his account of his life as a young man. At the same time, this is also one of the only points at which Hemingway explicitly expresses feelings of nostalgia. He indicates that the early years in Paris were an innocent, happy, and perhaps naïve time, and that the years that followed destroyed this innocence and good fortune.