Book Corner,  Literary Paris

Book Corner:  A Moveable Feast – Writing Close To Home

In this edition of our look at A Moveable Feast, we dive into Ernest’s thoughts on writing, in general and in extremis.  Or at least hungery enough to avoid food vendors and restaurants.  No mean feat in Paris! 

Nothing like the serene garden it is today!

Despite the many pleasures of Paris available to Hemingway, he seems to have often stayed close to home.  Or that is what he has chosen to leave us with in his memoir, anyways.  Within Chapters 7 & 8 of the The Restored Edition, Ernest never left his neighborhood around the Jardin du Luxembourg.  And there was plenty to do! Visiting Gertrude Stein, Shakespeare & Company, the garden and its museum, all the while reflecting on writing and hunger, writing while hungry, and the curse of being ahead of your time. 

Ernest on Writing

Chapter 7 is a treasure trove of Papa nuggets!   We have Hemingway on writing, reading, and the origin of “The Lost Generation.” 

Gertrude & The Lost Generation

Ernest reveals in this chapter how Gertrude Stein coined “Une Génération Perdue” or A Lost Generation.  It wasn’t her original quote, but rather one overheard at her mechanic.  The manager was dressing down a young employee for his lack of aptitude, exclaiming that, “You are all a génération perdue.”  And Gertrude agreed with the manager; those of the generation who fought in the war were a lost generation, despite Hemingway’s protests (as recounted by him, of course).  

Gertrude (right) and partner Alice B. Toklas at home in 1922, where she and Hemingway had their conversations.

He also recalls a conversation with Gertrude that is less harsh and petty than his previous recollections.  Though still not free of snark, we have a more reflective Ernest, placing himself more directly into his 1920s shoes.  Back to when he possibly once held a genuine respect and affection for Gertrude, even if he was still a bit critical of her.  We’ll never know how complicated or uncomplicated his feelings were before their fallout.  But these glimpses of memory are quite intriguing! 

The chapter ends with a brief conversation between Hemingway and his wife Hadley that neatly sums it up:

…I said to my wife, "You know, Gertrude is nice anyway."
"Of course, Tatie"
"But she does talk a lot of rot sometimes."  

Papa’s Writing Tips

As a writer, of course I drink these up, even if they don’t all work for me. Let’s check out some of Ernest’s tips from our chapters:

Stop Before You’re Done

We learned earlier that he writes every day.  Here we get even further direction:

First, never write until you are out of ideas, but stop with some still left in “the well”: 

“I had learned already to never empty the well of my writing; but always to stop when there was still something there in the deep part of the well, and let it refill at night from the springs that fed it.” 

Second, once you have stopped for the day, distraction is key.  You don’t want to let the story run out ahead of you.  You could lose your place or the plot entirely!  He had some specific suggestions for your distractions.  They are typical Hemingway:  read books (only good books, of course!) or make love.  Dealer’s choice, but if you go for making love, you should still follow it up with reading. Reading is key!

As a (usually) family-friendly blog, we’ll stick with the reading here.  Ernest helpfully gives a list of books that he was reading at this point in his Paris soujourn. He even included those that Gertrude recommended.

Books For Distraction

As an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases of items marked “affiliate link”.

Hemingway’s Selected Reading List (Pre, Post, or in lieu of Extracurricular Activities)

Ernest mentions that he enjoys several of D.H. Lawrence’s works (though Gertrude was not a fan):

  • A short story “The Prussian Officer.” Kindle Edition [affiliate link], part of a collection of short stories.
  • He also states that he didn’t care for Women in Love [affiliate link], but not why he disliked it.

This conversation was presumably from before Lady Chatterley’s Lover [affiliate link] was released, but I doubt Hemingway would have liked that one either!

He also mentions liking author Aldous Huxley but no specific books. And Gertrude also did not like Huxley, going so far to (mysteriously) call him “a dead man.” It is unclear what exactly she meant, but Huxley’s career went on for decades and he had not yet written Brave New World [affiliate link] or inspired Jim Morrison.

Hemingway at the time was most likely reading one of his short story anthologies, such as Mortal Coils [affiliate link].

For additional reading material, he picked up books at Shakespeare and Company—possibly curated for him by Sylvia Beach—or from the bouquinistes.

Beyond The 1920s

In a post-1920’s aside, also mentions Georges Simenon, author of the Jules Maigret detective stories [affiliate links, in English].  Georges was also a lover of Josephine Baker.  And a serial romancer of his female help, including two housekeepers and a secretary.  To top it off, he was suspected of collaboration during the war, which was never proven.  Though he did work on German film rights to some of his works during the occupation (not a good look!). 

Ms. Stein’s Recommendations

Marie Belloc Lowndes’ The Lodger [affiliate link], based on the Jack the Ripper murders.  Hitchcock made a silent movie [affiliate link] of it in 1927. He also alludes to another of her books, that I think is The Chink in the Armor [affiliate link].

If you want more books to stay distracted from your own writing (or work or the kids or life in general), check out the PGB Boutique

Are you a writer?  Does this process match yours?  Let us know in the comments!  I usually have to work ad-hoc and in a non-linear fashion, so I always have to leave the well pretty full.  Thank goodness for Evernote so I know where to pick up again! 

Hungry In Paris

I think we can all agree that being hungry and unable to afford food in Paris is a special kind of torture.  Hemingway would turn this into a virtue, a suffering that was helpful to his art.  He even felt it helped him understand art more and that the paintings at the Musée du Luxembourg were “heightened and clearer and more beautiful if you were belly-empty.” 

In case you find yourself as a starving artist in Paris, Ernest provided us very specific instructions for how to walk around his neighborhood while avoiding any hint of temptation. They were so detailed, I was able to create a map that we can still follow today!

  • (A-B on the map)  We start at the la place de l’Observatoire at the south end of Luxembourg Gardens, walk through the gardens, to the north side, where the museum is, and rue Vaugirard.  We took a look at the historic museum in a previous post.  The current museum now contains revolving exhibits instead of a standing collection. 
  • (C)  He then instructs us to “walk down the narrow rue de Ferrou” to the place St-Sulpice where there are “still no restaurants, only the quiet square with its benches and trees.”  This has changed, however.  There are now plenty of small restaurants and cafes in the area.  Proceed with caution if hungry! 
  • (D)  After leaving the church square, “by choosing your way carefully” you can make it over to rue de l’Odeon and Shakespeare & Company without passing too many places “where things to eat were sold.”  I have selected a modern route that seems to have the least number of these temptations. 

At Shakespeare & Company, he received money from a publisher.  Now he could eat! 

  • (E)  With his windfall, he heads over to Brasserie Lipp and proceeds to order pommes à l’huile (the potato salad, now served with herring), cervelas sausage (now served as a rémoulade), and beer. You can recreate this meal today, if you would like. It sounds tasty!
  • (F & G)  After his meal, he “turned right and crossed the rue de Rennes” to avoid going to Deux-Magots for coffee.  He instead took rue Bonaparte “on the shortest way home.”  Before heading back to Hadley, he grabbed a café crème at La Closerie des Lilas and did some writing.

More Hemingway On Writing

His gifts just kept coming in this chapter!  While at the Brasserie Lipp, he reflected on his choice to leave journalism and begin writing short stories and novels in earnest.  He had felt emboldened to switch to fiction after being accepted as part of a short story collection in 1922 (where the editor spelled his name wrong!).

But he wasn’t having much luck after that. To the point that he feared his writing style was not being understood and that he was basically ahead of his time. He still was able to pep talk himself a bit: “But they will understand the same way that they always do in painting. It only takes time and it only takes confidence.”

In his usual fashion, he followed it up with wry self doubt: “And as long as they don’t understand it you are ahead of your time. Oh sure, I thought, I’m so far ahead of them now that I can’t afford to eat regularly. It would not be bad if they caught up a little.”

Gare de Lyon, a few years before the crime

Missing: One Valuable Suitcase

And it is here where we get a bit more information about his famous lost manuscripts.  Apparently Hadley had decided to bring Ernest’s manuscripts to him when catching up with him on holiday in Switzerland.  Then, while she was grabbing a bottle of water, the suitcase containing them was stolen at the Gard de Lyon!  And unfortunately, she had packed both the originals and the carbon copies. That was not quite the surprise she wanted to bring him! Needless to say he was shocked by the incident.

So, alas, much of his early work was gone.  He mentions two short stories were saved by sheer luck because copies were with other people at the time.  They were “My Old Man” and “Up In Michigan”, which made it into his Three Stories and Ten Poems collection in 1923.  

The 1923 Cover. Simple and straightforward, like the writing?

Among the lost items was an early attempt at a novel.  Hemingway states that when he wrote it,  “…I still had the lyric facility of boyhood that was as perishable and as deceptive as youth was. I knew it was probably a good thing that it was lost, but I knew too that I must write a novel.”  He does not reveal what it was about.  An early version of A Farewell To Arms?  Or was he still focused mostly on Michigan and his boyhood? 

Reading his thoughts, Aerosmith and “Dream On” came to mind.  That acknowledgement of youth, of aging, of wisdom hard-earned. It’s something that I feel often in Paris, too. I’ve been visiting for almost 30 years. A drop in the bucket for her, a large portion of life for me. Yet, how we both have changed!

Hemingway The Poet

As frequently happens in our time with Papa, there is a quote that just captures the imagination and shows us why we love Hemingway.  Here he is, finishing up some writing at La Closerie des Lilas:

I sat in a corner with the afternoon light coming in over my shoulder and wrote in the notebook…When I stopped writing, I did not want to leave the river where I could see the trout in the pool, its surface pushing and swelling smooth against the resistance of the log-driven piles of the bridge.  The story was about coming back from the war but there was no mention of the war in it. 

-Ernest Hemingway, A Moveable Feast

Visiting Hemingway’s ‘Hood

A lot has changed in Paris in the last 100 years. But some things remain for us to follow in Hemingway’s footsteps. Starting hungry is optional.

Jardin du Luxembourg. Enjoy the garden, the architecture, the pigeons. Hit one of the small eateries and food carts, however, and do not try to catch the urban fowl.

Brasserie Lipp. The restaurant is still going strong, if priced for tourists now.

La Closerie de Lilas. A café/restaurant/brasserie, in a gorgeous garden-style setting. And very much priced for the tourists.

Modern-day Shakespeare & Company. Sylvia Beach’s shop is long closed, but the modern version is still hopping, complete with a lovely café!

Café Crème To Go

What do you think of Ernest’s writing advice? Is Paris a literary city for you or is it more about the food? And do you think it is worth paying tourist prices to pay homage to your literary heroes? Let us know below!

I personally love his advice, even if I won’t apply all of it to my own writing. But I definitely identify with struggles of switching to a writing career! I feel you, Ernest. I feel you. ✊🏻

À bientôt!


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Image Credits

Header Image of Brasserie Lipp: “carte postale ancienne PARIS 06. Brasserie Lipp Boulevard Saint-Germain” from Fortuna Post.
La Closerie De Lilas: Taken from 1909 Vintage Postcard, on Wikimedia Commons. Posted by Coldcreation, Public Domain.
Gertrude & Alice at Home: Alice B. Toklas and Gertrude Stein, 1922, Man Ray“. Photo taken by Man Ray in 1922 Paris. Wikimedia Commons, post by 19h00s. Public Domain. Original held by National Portrait Gallery, Washington, DC. Object number: NPG.88.209.
Gare de Lyon Postcard. From Paris Unplugged’s article on the Gare de Lyon.
Three Stories and Ten Poems Cover: “Three Stories and Ten Poems, cover” 1923, published by Contact Publishing. Wikimedia Commons, posted by Ghouston. Public Domain.

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