During the time in which the book is set, Hemingway is still at an early stage of his career as a writer—he has yet to achieve the fame and critical recognition bestowed on him later in his life. Indeed, Hemingway writes that until receiving praise from F. Scott Fitzgerald, “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.” However, A Moveable Feast was not published until after Hemingway’s death, once his reputation as one of the most important writers of the 20th century had already been established. To contemporary readers, the narrative thus contains subtle hints of Hemingway’s later success: it reads as an account of the early creative processes of a great writer, rather than simply the difficult and uncertain life of a young, impoverished, and ambitious artist.
Part of the reason that the book doesn’t seem to be simply an account of a young and striving artist is that many of its characters are already famous during the time at which the action takes place, and most of them had become even more famous by the time the book was published. Thus, part of the book’s allure is the glimpse it gives into famous lives. Instead of simply revelling in the celebrity of his famous friends, though, Hemingway is careful to underscore the part that these literary figures played in the artistic community in Paris. In writing A Moveable Feast, Hemingway is attempting to record his place within a milieu of famous and important people, and to emphasize the extent to which these people influenced his work and he influenced theirs. Hemingway notes that Gertrude Stein only praises the writing of people who have helped advance her own career, and, although he makes no similar admission about himself, it is clear that all the artists and writers in the book have artistic processes and commercial success that are inextricable from the influences and relationships of their community. They have a constant awareness of the way in which their fame, creative success, and social lives are fundamentally interlinked.
On the other hand, not all of what Hemingway records about the artists and writers that populate the book refers to their creative output. Often, Hemingway’s reflections on the people he knew in Paris resembles gossip more than anything else. This emphasizes the theme of celebrity, while drawing attention to the significance of details ordinarily considered superficial or frivolous. Hemingway and Scott discuss “the gossip and economics of being a successful writer,” a phrase that elevates gossip to the same level of importance as the more pressing, practical matter of monetary survival. At the same time, it can also demean the famous artists and writers depicted in the book by showing them in a more human (and often rather unflattering) light. Hemingway mentions that Sylvia Beach, the owner of Shakespeare & Company, “loved to make jokes and gossip,” and that Gertrude Stein “loved to talk about people and places and things and food.” These comments suggest that even the most serious and important figures in the book are not above indulging in gossip, and that this is perhaps because they live among such interesting, important, and famous people.
Success, Gossip, and Fame ThemeTracker
Success, Gossip, and Fame 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.
"Do not worry. You have always written before and you will write now. All you have to do is write one true sentence. Write the truest sentence that you know." So finally I would write one true sentence, and then go on from there.
It was easy then because there was always one true sentence that you knew or had seen or had heard someone say. If I started to write elaborately, or like someone introducing or presenting something, I found that I could cut that scrollwork or ornament out and throw it away and start with the first true simple declarative sentence I had written.
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.
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.
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.”
You got very hungry when you did not eat enough in Paris because all the bakery shops had such good things in the windows and people ate outside at tables on the sidewalk so that you saw and smelled the food. Then you were skipping meals at a time when you had given up journalism and were writing nothing that anyone in America would buy, explaining at home that you were lunching out with someone, the best place to do it was the Luxembourg gardens where you saw and smelled nothing to eat all the way from the place de l'Observatoire to the rue de Vaugirard. There you could always go into the Luxembourg museum and all the paintings were heightened and clearer and more beautiful if you were belly-empty, hollow-hungry. I learned to understand Cezanne much better and to see truly how he made landscapes when I was hungry. I used to wonder if he were hungry too when he painted; but I thought it was possibly only that he had forgotten to eat. It was one of those unsound but illuminating thoughts you have when you have been sleepless or hungry. Later I thought Cezanne was probably hungry in a different way.
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.
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.
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.
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.