France on Friday
Book: A Moveable Feast: The Restored Edition (Released 6/28/2009)
A Moveable Feast: The Restored Edition: The Restored Edition underlines the sometimes ignored fact that even in memoirs, which purport to tell the truth, the author artfully arranges the truth. In fact, the editors do as well.
When A Moveable Feast was first published, it was already fogged by memory. A famous author, conscious of his “brand” to use today’s term, looked at notes he had made 30 years before. Hemingway, who did not consciously write travel literature, tinkered with the notes from 1957 up until his death in 1961. His fourth wife Mary then made adjustments to the manuscript, some that minimized the importance of former wives, and published it in 1964. And the book quickly became a travel guidebook to Paris.
Scholars and Hemingway’s grandson Seán Hemingway, the present editor, found those adjustments to be understandable, but unfortunate. Here we are presented with a different ordering of the chapters, and additions of whole finished chunks of writing, fragments that cast light on Hemingway’s thinking, and some editorial reversions to the Hemingway original notes.
While it may be impossible to recreate the Paris of the 1920’s for today’s travelers, Hemingway guides us to cafes and museums and parks that still exist. Granted the cafes may charge more because they appear in literary works and once-cheap hotels and apartments may be cashing in on the Hemingway slept here signs. But rather than thinking of it as “a good place to work” as Hemingway did, we get all starry-eyed wanting to recreate the days of the Lost Generation.
Keep in mind, if you truly want to recreate the experience, you do not go looking for celebrities. Hemingway and his friends were largely unknowns.
A Book for Writers
The most striking change from a writer’s point of view comes in the tiny pronoun “you.” In his original drafts, Hemingway used 2nd person throughout rather than first person, which was edited into the original publication.
Judging by the titles he considered, the book, in Hemingway’s eyes, was not about Scott Fitzgerald or Gertrude Stein or the Lost Generation. It was not a travel guide to Paris. The book was about writing.
He talks about the problem of concentration, of developing plot and believable characters, where to find material, how to make a good sentence. I could go on and on –just, please, if you are a writer– read it.
A Book For Scholars
From an historic point of view, it is interesting to see all those rough drafts.
For Hemingway scholars, it is fortunate that his notes and drafts survive in the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library in Boston. I found particularly haunting a 1961 chapter that he apparently decided not to include–the last written for this manuscript–called Nada y pues Nada in this edition. He had been suffering from various mental problems and had experienced electric shock therapy which removed some of his memory before he wrote this piece about a friend who was dying. It emphasizes the importance to keep on writing.
No, I thought. I would not forget about the writing. That was what I was born to do and had done and would do again.
And in what he apparently considered for the final sentence of his book
But there are remises or storage places where you may leave or store certain things such as a locker trunk or duffel bag containing personal effects or…..this book contains material from the remises of my memory and of my heart. Even if the one has been tampered with and the other does not exist.
The debate continues as to whether this edition improves on the original, or is merely a continuation of a family feud. Although I come down on the side of the former, it really does not matter. Good reading for the traveler or the writer, in any case.