Friday, July 07, 2006

A Moveable Feast

Readers who know I'm a writer may find this hard to believe, but I'm not all that familiar with the work of Hemingway. In my high school years, The Old Man and the Sea was required reading, but most of what I remember of the story comes from the movie of the same name. I've always been a voracious reader, since early childhood. Certain books and authors made a lasting impression on me: Mazo de la Roche; Gene Stratton Porter; Colleen McCullough; D.H. Lawrence. But Hemingway did not make my preferred reading list. Ditto Faulkner, Camus, Fitzgerald, Gertrude Stein, and Ezra Pound. That brings me back to the main topic, which is
A Moveable Feast by Hemingway.

I had preconceived notions of Hemingway's writings, based on nothing, really. Assumptions I guess. I'm not a fan of terse prose, of which I assumed Hemingway was master. His mystique was lost on me. Author Michael Corrigan strives mightily to expand my horizons as a reader so finally convinced me to read either A Moveable Feast or The Sun Also Rises. I chose the former because it entails Hemingway's memories of Paris in his early years with first wife Hadley, before the fame, before the subsequent wives. Paris in the 1920s appealed to me.

What I discovered was not terse, dry prose at all, but words carefully chosen and lovingly crafted. Through Hemingway's eyes, I found the true essence of Paris as it was in that time and will never be again. In his day, an expatriate in Paris could live on five dollars a day and still have the money to travel. At his side, I walked the streets he loved and saw them as he did -- the trees and parks, quais and bistros, shabby flats. And I participated in intimate conversations with 20th century literary icons, laughed at the oddities of personality, empathized with their doubts.

Critics have called A Moveable Feast an irreverent portrait of such literary icons as Stein, Fitzgerald, and Ford Madox Ford. I found these portraits to be anything but irreverent. In fact, Hemingway's depth of compassion for dysfunctional friends and peers amazed me. In most cases he empathized, sympathized, made allowances and gentle observations in his recollections. And always, he focused on improving his own writing without envying the successes of his peers. Only the very rich were roasted. He spared the rich nothing in his memories of traveling and enjoying life on a shoestring. Hemingway believed the very rich ruined pristine places for common travelers, and robbed people of their innocent pleasures through wickedness and excess.

So hmmmm. Hemingway was not the man or writer I expected him to be. I can see now why his persona was so appealing to a generation of readers and why so many writers wish to emulate his sparcity of prose. I can't decide which Hemingway book to read next, but am leaning towards For Whom the Bell Tolls.

1 comment:

justin said...

The Sun Also Rises is probably my favorite novel, period. This is coming from someone who thought Old Man was a dry chore to read in high school.

I can recommend it highly, especially if you like Hemingway-on-his-contemps-in-1920s-Paris.

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I enjoy good writing by writers and poets who are not famous. My mother said I was born a hundred years too late. The older I get, the more I realize how right she was.

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