Behind the Book: Hemingway classic restored
“If you are lucky enough to have lived in Paris as a young man then wherever you go for the rest of your life, it stays with you, for Paris is a moveable feast.”
Most people do not realize that the title of Ernest Hemingway’s A Moveable Feast was not chosen by my grandfather or that significant revisions to his final manuscript were made after his death in 1961. People do not realize this because the book was presented as completed in 1960. However, it was never finished in Hemingway’s eyes and it is clear that he worked on it practically until his death.
The title, of course, is wonderful. In many ways Mary Hemingway, my grandfather’s widow and my godmother, did a fine job editing the book, but she made changes to the text that we know the author did not want and passed them off as his own. The Restored Edition of A Moveable Feast is based on my grandfather’s last manuscript with his notations and emendations. Even without a final chapter, it is, I believe, a truer representation of the book that he intended to publish.
Some years ago, my uncle Patrick Hemingway suggested I re-examine the original manuscripts for A Moveable Feast. He always suspected that Mary Hemingway had purposefully deleted parts of the book about his mother, Pauline, downplaying her role as another Mrs. Ernest Hemingway. In a sense, he was right, as readers of the Restored Edition will see, but it is more complicated than that. For example, the order of the chapters was changed and, perhaps most significantly, only part of an ending was re-crafted from one that Hemingway had considered, but decided not to use.
In Paris in the 1920s, Ezra Pound had told Hemingway that writing your memoirs meant you were at the end. Hemingway preferred to write fiction since it allowed a writer of his talents to craft more perfect stories out of his experience and invention. Although Hemingway avowed many times that he would only write about himself as a last resort, he experimented with memoir throughout his life. There is, of course, Green Hills of Africa, which holds a special place among his works for me as the account of my grandfather and grandmother’s safari in East Africa. What distinguishes A Moveable Feast though, and what is more characteristic of memoir, is the significant length of time between what happens in the book and when the author wrote it. My favorite title that Hemingway considered for the book is “How Different It Was When You Were There.” I think that this was a humorous jab—and the humor in Hemingway’s writing is undervalued—at the volumes of writing that had already been published on that historic time in Paris by people who were not there. Our perception is very different in media res and we feel this in Hemingway’s vignettes, which are personal, idiosyncratic recollections, intimate and emotive.
It was thrilling for me to work directly with my grandfather’s manuscripts. Readers of the Restored Edition can share in that excitement since a selection of the actual manuscript pages have been reproduced in the book. Hemingway wrote his first drafts in longhand, and you do not have to be a handwriting analyst from the FBI to appreciate his bold, fluid penmanship. Despite the author’s own comments in the book about the difficulty of the writing process and the need for revisions, many of his first drafts are remarkably clean, poignant testaments to his continued abilities as a writer later in life.
The Restored Edition includes a section with 10 chapters that Hemingway wrote for the book but decided not to include, acting “by the old rule that how good a book is should be judged by the man who writes it by the excellence of the material that he eliminates.” These sketches were not finished to the author’s satisfaction, and in several cases it was necessary for me to transcribe them from his handwritten drafts. The additional sketches cover a wide range of experiences that extend beyond the chronological parameters of the book. The final sketch finishes with a particularly moving reflection on the very end of Hemingway’s life—a wrenchingly honest self-appraisal by an embattled genius who sees his faculties slipping away from him. This material was understandably much too raw for Mary Hemingway to include in the first posthumous edition, but knowing what we do—some 50 years later—about the depression and paranoia Hemingway faced in later life, it is a profound, humanizing endnote to Ernest Hemingway, the man who has become an iconic legendary figure.
On July 14, the 45th anniversary of the book’s publication and the 50th anniversary of the original manuscript submission, a new, restored edition of A Moveable Feast is being published by Scribner. Seán Hemingway, a writer and editor who is Ernest Hemingway’s grandson, introduced and edited the new volume.