A Moveable Feast: Chapters 8 to 16

Hi again, Bookies!

I know a few of you have been commenting about Hemingway’s spare style and how it makes you feel that you’re not getting the whole story. Well, it turns out you’re right. In the chapter “Hunger Was a Good Discipline,” Hemingway tells us that straight up, and gives the example of his short story “Out of Season,” when he says he left out the real ending about an old man hanging himself (um, kind of a big deal to skip, Hem). He says, “This was omitted on my new theory that you could omit anything if you knew that you omitted and the omitted part would strengthen the story and make people feel something more than they understood.” This is known as the iceberg theory and has become a bona fide literary term (with its very own Wikipedia page to prove it). Hemingway equated his writing to the structure of an iceberg, where you only see the very tip of the iceberg, but there’s really a huge chunk lying beneath the surface. It’s like he’s trying to stir up a genuine emotional reaction, similar to what one would feel from looking at a painting, without having to tell you exactly how to feel. In a pretty extensive interview he did with The Paris Review in 1958, Hemingway explains this further: “If you describe someone, it is flat, as a photograph is, and from my standpoint a failure. If you make him up from what you know, there should be all the dimensions.” Plus, it seems like he connects adjectives with artifice and even says he has a “distrust of adjectives.” And we know he has disdain for anyone, from the see-and-be-seen café goers to Ford Maddox Ford, whom he considers fake, and the utmost respect for those (especially Ezra Pound) who are authentic and true.

Speaking of poor old mouth-breather Ford Maddox Ford, what did you guys think of Hemingway’s mean-spirited depiction? Really, we were introduced to quite a few new characters, and he didn’t have nice things to say about a lot of them. Ernest Walsh was ”marked for death.” Wyndham Lewis had “the eyes of an unsuccessful rapist” and was referred to as “the Measuring Worm.” Even T.S. Eliot got some major sarcastic attitude. And Hemingway dropped Gertrude Stein pretty abruptly, saying, “there is not much future in men being friends with great women.” It sounds like he is very competitive with other artists. But that doesn’t really explain everything because he respects James Joyce, and Ezra Pound is practically a saint. I get the feeling that even though Hemingway acts self-righteous and thinks he’s better than the other writers, he still can’t live up to his own high standards of authenticity. He tells Ernest Walsh of their shared first name, “it’s a name we must both live up to.”

Another thing I wanted to bring up is the theme of luck, which we commented briefly on last week. At the beginning of “Birth of a New School,” Hemingway talks about his well-worn rabbit’s foot and running out of luck. But by the end of the chapter, he’s saying he didn’t really have a need for luck—or a need for anything—in those days. What do you think he means by that?

Sadly, we only have five chapters to go, starting with “An Agent of Evil.” And we finally get to meet F. Scott Fitzgerald. So let’s finish up the book and try to tie everything together next week.

And if you haven’t stumbled upon this blog, Hemingway’s Paris, yet, I encourage you to check it out when you have time to leisurely scroll through a virtual 1920s Paris. It includes great artwork, interesting tidbits on people mentioned in the book, and beautiful vintage photographs of the same cobblestoned streets and cafes Hemingway visited.


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