An interesting NPR radio article about a new revision of Hemingway’s classic take on Paris in the 1920s . . . Fits well with my ongoing study of sacred texts. Not that I consider his book sacred. It just makes me think yet again about how survivors and “winners” may rewrite what is left to them to rewrite, with no one there to defend it. History is shaped by the winners and the survivors, often to suit their own agenda, ambitions, sense of mission, honor, etc. Sacred texts the world over have been revised over the centuries to suit new political and economic realities, new power centers, new leaders and their vanities. For that reason, and for many others, it’s always struck me as a mistake to view any work as inerrant. Too many editors, kings and queens, emperors and popes, widows and various descendants may well get between the reader and the original.
Maureen Corrigan writes:
As anyone who’s ever read A Moveable Feast knows, it’s a vivid book, all about writing and being young in the Paris of the 1920s, a place then green-gold with promise. Hemingway writes generously about Ezra Pound and unkindly about Scott Fitzgerald and downright viciously about Gertrude Stein.
Some of Hemingway’s very harshest passages are reserved for Pauline Pfeiffer, the rich woman who would become his second wife, whom he saw as deliberately destroying what he’d come to idealize as a wonderful first marriage to wife number one, Hadley. On the penultimate page of the original last chapter of A Moveable Feast, Hemingway wistfully writes of being temporarily reunited with Hadley after a dalliance with Pauline: “When I saw my wife again standing by the tracks as the train came in by the piled logs at the station, I wished I had died before I ever loved anyone but her.”
Understandably, Pauline’s descendants never liked how she lives on in literary posterity and so her grandson, Sean Hemingway, encouraged by his uncle, Patrick Hemingway (Pauline’s son) edited this so-called “restored” edition of A Moveable Feast in which the anti-Pauline sections are muffled and shuffled and some new minor chapters have been added.
Ms. Corrigan also reminds us that it may be a good idea to cast a skeptical glance on works classified as “memoir”. All too many writers of fiction, especially, when they delve into autobiography, embellish things. And the best writers write so well, it’s easy to be carried away by the art. Fast and loose as it may be.
Regardless, A Moveable Feast is one of my favorite books by Hemingway, though I would not call it among his best, as the author does here. Still, it’s a wonderful ride, a great trip to take again and again.