Although A Moveable Feast is autobiographical, its main focus is arguably not Hemingway himself, but rather his relationships with others. The descriptions of Hemingway’s friendships with other artists and writers emphasize his role within an important creative community, but they also form significant meditations on the nature of friendship itself. Hemingway is clearly preoccupied with what it means to be a good friend. He describes the details of Gertrude Stein and Alice Toklas’ hospitality, and hementions that “Ezra Pound was always a good friend and he was always doing things for people.” Elsewhere, Hemingway describes Pound as “the most generous writer I have ever known” and Hemingway says that Pound is “kinder and more Christian about people than I was.” Hemingway expresses no reluctance in judging those around him (sometimes rather harshly), yet nonetheless he seems to be self-conscious about his tendency to be hard on his friends.
As important as friendship is shown to be in the book, it is also cast as being rather fragile. Pound, for example, is banned from Gertrude Stein’s house for sitting down too quickly and breaking “a small, fragile and, doubtless, uncomfortable chair, that it is quite possible he had been given on purpose.” Despite their initial closeness, Hemingway’s relationship with Stein also falls apart, a fact that Hemingway ultimately attributes to the inherently unsustainable nature of friendship between men and women (especially “ambitious” women).
Indeed, while Hemingway does document his friendships with Stein and Sylvia Beach, overall the connections he foregrounds are those between himself and other men, such as Ezra, Scott, and Mike Ward. Feminist critics have attributed this to Hemingway’s misogyny, evidence of which can be found in Hemingway’s sneering dismissal of women such as Katherine Mansfield and Natalie Clifford Barney. On the other hand, Hemingway’s friendships with men—particularly those of his own age—must also be seen within the context of the war. When Stein uses the now famous term “lost generation” to describe the men of Hemingway’s age who were youths during the First World War, she emphasizes a bitter and haunted connection that binds these men together. This idea is emphasized with Hemingway’s own statement that “in those days we did not trust anyone who had not been in the war,” his use of the term “we” further illuminating the notion of a generational community.
A Moveable Feast also details Hemingway’s relationships with his first wife, Hadley, and (to a lesser extent) his second wife, Pauline. Overall, Hemingway creates the impression that he and Hadley are a happy, loving couple, although he provides little substantive detail about his feelings for her. In this respect, there is a strong contrast drawn between the Hemingways and Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald. Hemingway is clearly disdainful of Scott’s intense, all-consuming, and destructive love for Zelda, and he personally dislikes and distrusts Zelda for inhibiting Scott’s ability to work. (He fails to mention the fact that Zelda herself is also a writer, and that Scott obstructs and suppresses her writing at least as much as she does to him.) The contrast between the Hemingways and the Fitzgeralds is further emphasized when Scott confesses that the only woman he’s ever slept with is Zelda, and Hemingway admits that he can’t remember if he and Hadley had sex before marriage. Fitzgerald is shocked that Hemingway could have forgotten such an important fact, but Hemingway is characteristically nonchalant about the matter.
This conversation about premarital sex emphasizes the impression that Hemingway is somewhat sexually repressed. Although he does describe his affair with (and subsequent marriage to) Pauline, Hemingway fails to include any explicit or identifying detail, instead relying on detached observations: “To really love two women at the same time, truly love them, is the most destructive and terrible thing that can happen to a man when the unmarried one decides to marry.” Indeed, it is when describing love that Hemingway adopts his most abstract tone, constructing vague philosophical statements such as: “Our pleasures, which were those of being in love, were as simple and still and mysterious and complicated as a simple mathematical formula that can mean all happiness or can mean the end of the world.”
Hemingway is also fairly forthcoming about his strong aversion to homosexuality. In a climate of increased sexual experimentation and fluidity, Hemingway sets himself apart by openly expressing a “prejudice” about homosexuality to Stein, a lesbian. When Stein protests that “you know nothing about any of this really, Hemingway,” he grows quiet and admits “I was glad when we talked about something else.” Whereas other writers in Hemingway’s era were eager to experiment with the representation of sexuality in literature and art, in A Moveable Feast Hemingway’s focus falls far more on platonic, intellectual, and fraternal relationships than it does on sexual desire.
Love, Sex, and Friendship ThemeTracker
Love, Sex, and Friendship Quotes in A Moveable Feast
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.
The wives, my wife and I felt, were tolerated. But we liked Miss Stein and her friend, although the friend was frightening, and the paintings and the cakes and the eau-de-vie were truly wonderful. They seemed to like us too and treated us as though we were very good, well-mannered and promising children and I felt that they forgave us for being in love and being married––time would fix that––and when my wife invited them to tea, they accepted.
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.
Standing there I wondered how much of what we had felt on the bridge was just hunger. I asked my wife and she said, "I don't know, Tatie. There are so many sorts of hunger. In the spring there are more. But that's gone now. Memory is hunger."
She did not like to hear really bad nor tragic things, but no one does, and having seen them I did not care to talk about them unless she wanted to know how the world was going. She wanted to know the gay part of how the world was going; never the real, never the bad.
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.
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.
"All of you young people who served in the war. You are a lost generation…”
"Really?" I said.
"You are," she insisted. “you have no respect for anything. You drink yourselves to death. . .”
"'Was the young mechanic drunk?” I asked.
"Of course not."
"Have you ever seen me drunk?”
"No. But your friends are drunk.”
"I've been drunk" I said. “But I don’t come here drunk.”
"Of course not. I didn't say that.”
"The boy's patron was probably drunk by eleven o’clock in the morning." I said. “That’s why he makes such lovely phrases. "
"Don't argue with me, Hemingway,” Miss Stein said. “It does no good at all. You're all a lost generation, exactly as the garage keeper said."
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.”
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?
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.
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.
The winter of the avalanches was like a happy and innocent winter in childhood compared to that winter and the murderous summer that was to follow. Hadley and I had become too confident in each other and careless in our confidence and pride. In the mechanics of how this was penetrated I have never tried to apportion the blame, except my own part, and that was clearer all my life. The bulldozing of three people’s hearts to destroy one happiness and build another and the love and the good work and all that came out of it is not part of this book. I wrote it and left it out. It is a complicated, valuable and instructive story.
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.
In Europe then we thought of wine as something as healthy and normal as food and also as a great giver of happiness and well-being and delight. Drinking wine was not a snobbism nor a sign of sophistication nor a cult; it was as natural as eating and to me as necessary, and I would not have thought of eating a meal without drinking either wine or cider or beer.
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.
They knew nothing of our pleasures nor how much fun it was to be damned to ourselves and never would know nor could know. Our pleasures, which were those of being in love, were as simple and still as mysterious and complicated as a simple mathematical formula that can mean all happiness or can mean the end of the world. That is the sort of happiness you should not tinker with but nearly everyone you knew tried to adjust it.
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.