Ernest Hemingway

A Moveable Feast Analysis | Ernest Hemingway

“Write drunk, edit sober” is a piece of much-quoted advice given by Ernest Miller Hemingway – American author and journalist, who belongs to the ‘Lost Generation’.  Was it his motto? Was alcohol, along with a nourishing meal, very important in the author’s life and writing career? Indeed, the protagonists of Hemingway’s novels and short stories on some level reflect his own life and habits – they loved, fought and drank very hard.

A Moveable Feast Summary

A Moveable Feast is a memoir about Hemingway’s years spent in Paris during the early to mid-1920s after World War I. It gives a detailed description of the author’s memories about the places he visited in the city, the people he met, his relations with other writers and artists, impressions they all made on him, attitudes towards them, his own observations and various life stories. During that period Hemingway was married on his first wife Hadley Richardson and was working as a journalist for a Canadian newspaper, at the same time trying to start his career of a short story writer. The memoir was published only in 1964, three years after Hemingway’s death, by his fourth wife, Mary Hemingway.

A Moveable Feast Setting

After the reading of A Moveable Feast and, in general, of other novels by Ernest Hemingway, forms an impression, that drinking alcohol and eating mostly exotic food out of home was not only popular with people, but also trendy. There is no wonder, as the plot is set in Paris in the 1920s, also called ‘the roaring twenties’ or ‘années folles’ in French. That was the period of sustained economic prosperity and of social, cultural and artistic dynamism that brought a lot of changes in people’s lifestyle. After the end of WWI people felt more free and loose, they felt that life was going on and enjoyed it. During that period people did not skimp when it came to a good drink or a tasty meal. In society, it was considered quite decent to be knowledgeable at beverages and food. Hemingway described Paris in such a way: “The men and women […] stayed drunk all of the time or all of the time they could afford it, mostly on wine which they bought by the half-litre or litre. Many strangely named aperitifs were advertised, but few people could afford them except as a foundation to build their wine drunks on. The women drunkards were called poivrottes, which meant female rummies.” (Hemingway 4)

 Judging from the book mentioned, Ernest Hemingway belonged to that category of people, who spared no money on good alcohol and delicious food, as both things were very important for him and played a great role in his writing career. Nearly on every page of A Movable Feast, there is a mentioning of cafes and restaurants the author visited and the drinks and food he consumed.

Ernest Hemingway Writing Style

Alcohol, as well as a substantial meal, was for Hemingway a king of the energy drink that helped him to restore his energy after a couple of hours of a hard work: “I closed up the story in the notebook and put it in my inside pocket and I asked the waiter for a dozen portugaises and a half-carafe of the dry white wine they had there. After writing a story I was always empty and both sad and happy, as though I had made love, and I was sure this was a very good story although I would not know truly how good until I read it over the next day.” (Hemingway 5) Also it gave him a lift to his spirits and made him feel more energetic, even happy and he could continue sitting at a table in a café drinking and writing his short stories: “[…] as I drank their cold liquid from each shell and washed it down with the crisp taste of the wine, I lost the empty feeling and began to be happy and to make plans” (Hemingway).

Writing stories made Hemingway tired and exhausted: “I was always hungry with the walking and the cold and the working. Up in the room, I had a bottle of kirsch that we had brought back from the mountains and I took a drink of kirsch when I would get towards the end of a story or towards the end of the day’s work.” (Hemingway 7) But after a productive work drinking alcohol helped him to escape from the routine, to get away from the work.

It seems that on some level Hemingway was worried because of his bad habit to drink so much, so he tries to explain it, what sounds more like a justification or even defense: “In Europe then we thought of wine as something as healthy and normal as food and also as a great giver of happiness and well-being and delight. Drinking wine was not a snobbism nor a sign of sophistication nor a cult; it was as natural as eating and to me as necessary, and I would not have thought of eating a meal without drinking either wine or cider or beer. I loved all wines except sweet or sweetish wines and wines that were too heavy […] in my ignorance of alcoholics then, I could not imagine one whiskey harming anyone who was driving in an open car in the rain. The alcohol should have been oxidized in a very short time” (Hemingway).

Hemingway liked to eat tasty. In A Movable Feast there is a constant mention of him eating delicious dishes: oysters, foie de veau with mashed potatoes and an endive salad, goujon, crabe mexicaine, pommes a l’huile, cervelas, tournedos with sauce Bearnaise and other. On the other hand, Hemingway thought that “Hunger is good discipline and you learn from it. And as long as they do not understand it you are ahead of them” (Hemingway). When the author gave up with journalism and wrote unsaleable stories, he was on his bones and feeling of hunger haunted him everywhere: “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” (Hemingway). Hunger was a great motivator for Hemingway to write his short stories and even put an idea into his head to write a novel: “I knew too that I must write a novel. I would put it off though until I could not help doing it. I was damned if I would write one because it was what I should do if we were to eat regularly” (Hemingway). At the same time hunger was a great distraction for a writer, it interfered with his concentration: “It is necessary to handle yourself better when you have to cut down on food so you will not get too much hunger-thinking” (Hemingway). There is no inspiration when you are “belly-empty” and “hollow-hungry” (Hemingway), although it sharpened all of his perceptions. But of course, there was a side effect: “[…] I found that many of the people I wrote about had very strong appetites and a great taste and desire for food and most of them were looking forward to having a drink” (Hemingway).

To make a conclusion, eating and drinking habits really played an important role in life and in the writings of Ernest Hemingway. A delicious meal and a good drink served for the author as a source of energy, relaxation and good humor. All habits of Hemingway are reflected in the main characters of his short stories and novels. In A Moveable Feast pdf, Hemingway writes about his stay in Paris that bears a resemblance to Frederic Henry from the novel A Farewell to Arms or to the life of Jake Barnes, the protagonist of the novel The Sun Also Rises.