Book Corner,  Literary Paris,  Paris

Book Corner: A Moveable Feast Ch. 2

At last, we continue our reading of Hemingway’s A Moveable Feast!

Paris 1924

Like the man himself, his memoir is at times loveable and at times…difficult. Chapter One was easy to love–Paris in the rain, writing in a café, food and wine. Basically Gil Pender’s perfect day! In Chapter Two, we flip to the more difficult side of Ernest.

Chapter 2

The events of this chapter begin probably shortly after first chapter. He and Hadley had agreed on a trip to the mountains and they have now returned to a Paris fully in winter. And Ernest’s attitude has shifted as well, from despairing at the advent of the season to enjoying it:

Now you were accustomed to the see the bare trees against the sky and you walked on the fresh-washed gravel paths through the Luxembourg gardens in the clear sharp wind.

Hemingway spends some time setting the scene with roasted chestnuts, heated café terraces, and stopping by the old Luxembourg Museum. Before we move to the heart of the chapter, let’s take a detour to explore this historic version of the museum.

The Old Musée du Luxembourg

Ernest mentions that he would “go to the Musée du Luxembourg where the great paintings were that have now mostly been transferred to the Louvre and the Jeu de Paume.” I had not realized that the current exhibition-only Musée du Luxembourg had a predecessor. One of the reasons this book remains popular are these glimpses into historic Paris!

Premier Musée

Apparently, the museum has quite the past. The original version, located in the “Queen of Spain’s”* rooms in the palace, opened in 1750–beating the Louvre by 43 years! It seems that Louis XV had finally acquiesced to demands for the royal art collection to be made public. Of course, the full royal collection would not be available until, well, the royals weren’t around to prevent it. But this first showing of 97 paintings plus Marie de Medici’s Rubens collection was the first of its kind in France and seems to have been very popular.

Complete with Exhibit Guide!

But all good things must come to an end. In 1780, the King’s brother, the Comte de Provence and future Louis XVIII, closed the museum after gaining control of the palace. With hindsight, this seems slightly tone deaf. 😐 The art, including all the Rubens that had been in the palace since they were installed by Sir Peter Paul himself, was relocated to the Louvre Palace. One revolution later and the government had more art than it knew what to do with!

Rounds 2 & 3

The Musée du Luxembourg was briefly reopened from 1803-1815, before the art was once again transferred to the Louvre. This time it was to make up for new “gaps” in the Louvre’s collection after France had to give back some of Napoleon’s plunder.

Three years later, it re-reopened as an exhibit space for living artists. This was the museum’s longest continuous period, going strong for 67 years. Because it was a state-owned museum, the artists chosen were generally “safe” works from the famous Salon.

Looking dapper at the Musée du Luxembourg

But after the tumult of the 1870s (Prussians, Communes, and deposed emperors–oh my!), the new Republican government wanted newer, more modern works. At last, the au courant artists were allowed in! Around the same time, the Sénat, who had now moved to the Palais du Luxembourg, wanted to reclaim the space occupied by the museum. So a new wing, facing rue de Vaugirard, was built. It opened in 1886 and is still the building used today.

This brings us back to Hemingway. His comments about the art being removed ring true. Some of the art was moved to the Jeu de Paume in 1922 and some moved to the Louvre in 1928, with the museum being fully closed yet again in 1937. But, like a phoenix, the museum opened again in 1979 as the exhibition space it is to this day.

Gertrude Stein

And here’s where we get to the difficult part. Ernest spends the bulk of the chapter commenting on his early relationship with Ms. Stein. It is full of thinly veiled vitriol masquerading as friendly reminiscences. It was written–or at least edited–considerably later than the story represents, after his very public falling out with her. From our view, nearly 100 years later, much of his language does not age well. And, knowing the chronology of the creation of the book, it is easy to see his snark and snarl coming through. Thank goodness they didn’t have social media back then!

In happier days: Gertrude with “Bumby”–Hemingway’s son John, in 1924.

While I knew that their relationship had soured and devolved into a public feud, I hadn’t realized exactly how virulent it became. Or how incredibly unrelenting he could be. In A Moveable Feast, Hemingway continued to rail against Gertrude even though she had passed away. Letting go was not one of his strengths.

For those interested in the backstory, here’s an excellent article that summarizes the whole affair.

Hemingway The Man

Chapter Two brings us face-to-face with Hemingway the man, not just the writer of famous books. Like many important historical figures, he is not one dimensional. Yes, he is the legendary author. But he is also human, with all that humanity entails. We cannot erase his importance to literature and American culture any more than we can erase his homophobia, racism, anti-Semitism, and misogyny.

In many ways, Hemingway is representative of some of the biggest challenges of our current time. Coming to terms with a difficult, imperfect, and frequently awful past is something that we have to do every day, from our own shortcomings to those of our founding fathers. Perhaps if we can find a way to navigate the complexity and contradictions of Hemingway the author and Ernest the man, it can help us wrestle with our larger problems?

Exploring More

Hemingway Himself

This year, Ken Burns worked his documentary magic on Papa. PBS is keeping it closely guarded behind the Passport paywall, though the dedicated website has many resources to explore.

Thankfully, CBS Sunday Morning did a segment on the documentary and on Hemingway as a person that gives us a taste:

For a review and consideration of the documentary and Hemingway himself, check out this article.

Have you watched it? Let me know below! I haven’t had the chance to watch yet, but I hope to soon!

Musée du Luxembourg Now

The museum is now back open (yay!) and if you are lucky enough to be heading to Paris next month, the Peintres Femmes (Women Painters) 1780-1830 exhibit will be on display through July 4. If you can’t make it, they are actually doing an online virtual visit through June 30 ($)! And if you like art books, you can buy the catalog (in French only). Heading to Paris this fall? Starting in September, they are featuring American photographer Vivian Maier.

Hemingway on Writer’s Block

I’ll leave you with this excerpt from Chapter Two. Before diving into his feud with Gertrude, Hemingway gives us some thoughts on curing writer’s block. This is for all my fellow writers and creators out there…

But sometimes, when I was starting a new story and I could not get it going, I would sit in front of the fire and squeeze the peel of the little oranges into the edge of the flame and watch the blue sputter that they made. I would stand and look over the rooftops of Paris and think, “Do not worry. You have always written before and you will write now. All you have to do is write one true sentence. Write the truest sentence that you know.” So finally, I would write one true sentence, and then go from there.
-Ernest Hemingway

I’m not sure I find the rooftops of my Denver neighborhood as inspiring as those in Paris, but they will have to do for now. 😀 Also, am the only one that hears Corey Stoll’s (Midnight in Paris) voice when reading that quote?

What are your thoughts on Hemingway the man? Love him? Hate him? Don’t care? Let me know in the comments below! Merci!


Want to follow along but need a copy of A Moveable Feast? Never fear! The Restored Edition, which we are using for this series, is available from Amazon, in paperback form and in handy-dandy Kindle form. Please note, as an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases of these books.

* Was this Maria Theresa of Spain, Louis XIV’s wife? Did France host a literal Queen of Spain? The literature is unclear.

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Image Credits

Hemingway: “Ernest Hemingway (wearing a beret) sits by a fireplace in his apartment in Paris, France.” 1924. Photographer unknown. Papers of Ernest Hemingway. Photograph Collection. John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, Boston.
Museum Guide Cover: Catalogue des tableaux du cabinet du Roy, au Luxembourg . Cingie’me édition, revûe, corrigée & augmentée (Catalog of paintings from the cabinet du Roy at the Luxembourg. Fifth edition, revised, corrected & augmented).” Original Publisher: Prault, Pierre (1685-1768), Paris. Uploaded by Bibliothèque Sainte-Geneviève. Public Domain.
A Visit to the Museum:Louis-Philippe et Marie-Amélie visitant le musée du Luxembourg en 1838” by Auguste Jean Simon Roux. Currently held at the Sénat – palais du Luxembourg. Wikimedia Commons, posted by Branor. Public Domain.
Gertrude & Bumby: “Gertrude Stein with Jack “Bumby” Hemingway in a Paris park.” 1924. Ernest Hemingway Collection. John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, Boston.

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