Saturday, 31 July 2010

A Moveable Feast: The Restored Edition (Review)

Here is the full text of my review of A Moveable Feast: The Restored Edition, which was cut for space. (Times 5 June 2010)

A Moveable Feast: The Restored Edition
Review by Sarah Churchwell
A Moveable Feast, first published in 1964, three years after Ernest Hemingway committed suicide, opens with a Preface stating: “For reasons sufficient to the writer, many places, people, observations and impressions have been left out of this book. Some were secrets and someone were known by everyone.” Thirty-five years later, Hemingway’s grandson Seán has published what he calls the “Restored Edition” of A Moveable Feast, including exactly those observations and impressions that were left out of the original.
The justification for this decision is that the omissions in the original were not, in fact, “the writer’s,” but rather, the posthumous editor’s. And she just happened to be the writer’s fourth wife, Mary. Given that the memoir tells the story of Hemingway’s Edenic years in Paris in the early 1920s with his first wife, Hadley, and ends with his leaving her for his second wife, Pauline, it is just possible that Mary wasn’t entirely impartial. Unfortunately, neither is Seán—as he is none other than Pauline’s grandson, and has put this “restored” memoir together with the stated intention of correcting its representation of her.
This has provoked some predictable criticism—but the irony is that the restored edition adds little about Pauline, and some of it is even more critical than in the original. Seán claims in his preface that the new book will show how much Hemingway loved Pauline; instead it shows that at the end of his life he remembered a mixture of love, happiness, and unhappiness in a marriage that lasted for thirteen years. This wouldn’t seem to require much proof.
Seán’s preface repeats twice in two pages that “Hemingway thought of his relationship with Pauline as a beginning, not an ending.” In fact, what the draft shows is Hemingway saying that the story of Pauline is properly the beginning of the next book: “I wrote it and I left it out. It is intact and it starts another book”. In other words, the defense of Pauline on display here is that Hemingway intended to write another book about her, but this isn’t it.
The restored version includes drafts, sketches and “fragments” of drafts that the original Feast omitted, but which have long been available to scholars; it re-arranges some sections, but it excises nothing from the original. Instead, it returns to the historical record the (undeniable) fact that A Moveable Feast was very much unfinished when Hemingway died. The resulting book is a looser, baggier, open-ended Feast—rather like a postmodern version of a modernist classic.
For the first two-thirds, one needs to remember the original well to register most of the changes. For example, “A Strange Enough Ending” tells of the end of Hemingway’s friendship with Gertrude Stein. In the original, he attributes it solely to inadvertently overhearing an unpleasant exchange between Stein and her “friend” Alice B. Toklas (speaking “as I had never heard one person speak to another; never, anywhere, ever”), which so shocks tough-guy Hemingway that he ends the friendship. The restored version adds a little fillip, which frankly sounds much more like Hemingway, attributing the break to Stein’s literary jealousy: “It never occurred to me until many years later that anyone could hate anyone because they had learned to write conversation from that novel that started off with the quotation from the garage keeper”—that is, the famous statement, “You are all a lost generation” that Hemingway used as an epigraph for The Sun Also Rises.
The new version adds a few other occasional sentences, including two moments of jarring prolepsis: Pauline suddenly appears at the races in “The End of an Avocation” (a chapter primarily featuring Hadley), and Hemingway later remarks that Hadley remarried “and is happy and deserves it.” But the main alteration to the original is sequencing: a few chapters are switched around at the beginning, some long passages are shifted from one chapter to another, and the three famous sketches of F. Scott Fitzgerald are moved to the end of the Paris sketches. This means that the book “proper” doesn’t conclude with the deservedly famous closure of “this is how Paris was in the early days when we were very poor and very happy,” but with Hemingway’s jealous and petty erasure of Fitzgerald at the end of “A Matter of Measurements,” which concludes with the bartender at the Paris Ritz knowing Hemingway well but never having heard of Fitzgerald.
Only in the last 50 pages do we get substantially new material (with the exception of “The Pilot Fish and the Rich,” the story of the breakdown of Hemingway and Hadley’s marriage, which has been moved here). This final section is, by any standard, less successful artistically, although it is of biographical interest. It also demonstrates a fair amount about Hemingway’s writing processes—and despair—toward the end. What it doesn’t demonstrate is any great shift in attitude to Pauline, which was supposed to be the volume’s raison d’être. In fact, it includes many draft passages calling Hadley the “heroine” of the book, and Pauline “relentless” in her pursuit of the married Hemingway.
Some of the new sketches are amusing, but pure fiction masquerading as fact, as in “The Education of Mr. Bumby,” an undated anecdote purporting to relate the disapproval Hemingway’s young son, Bumby, felt for Fitzgerald’s inability to hold his drink: “A man should first learn to control himself,” Bumby states. “I thought I could make an example.” This is all very amusing: but Bumby was born in October, 1923 and the Hemingways divorced in January, 1927, Hadley taking custody of their son. Hemingway's friendship with Fitzgerald deteriorated after 1926, and he saw his son intermittently after the divorce; if this episode is supposed to have taken place during his marriage to Hadley than Bumby was no older than three, which makes it a trifle implausible, to say the least. Other sketches are less amusing, if probably more accurate: one is called “On Writing in the First Person,” but written in the second person; “Secret Pleasures” anticipates the posthumously published Garden of Eden with its hair fetish, secret language, and erotic pleasure in twinning—and its mawkish self-indulgence.
In the final “Fragments,” which offers a series of draft efforts at explaining what the memoir is about, Hemingway explains: “This is about the first part of Paris …that we knew and loved and worked in. That Paris you could never put into a single book and I have tried to write by the old rule that how good a book is should be judged by the man who writes it by the excellence of the material that he eliminates.” Judged by these new inclusions, the material originally omitted was not excellent. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t worth reading, or that this isn’t a valuable book for “aficionados” of Hemingway. Seán believes this edition offers a “truer representation of the book my grandfather intended to publish.” But does it? In 1960, Hemingway asked his friend A.E. Hotchner to deliver a manuscript of Feast to Scribner’s; both Hotchner and Scribner’s have angrily denounced the restored edition, insisting that the original is the draft Hemingway delivered. What they neglected to mention is that three months before he died, Hemingway wrote to Scribner saying that the manuscript as it stood was unfair to both of his first two wives, and to Fitzgerald. The letter declares that the manuscript "is not to be published the way it is and it has no end". But Hemingway also added in this letter that he felt unable to fix it, as everything he had done since, he contended, made the book even worse. And it is those "worse" drafts that Seán has included and published as the "restored" A Moveable Feast. In the end, the only way in which this is a “truer” Feast is that it has no end.

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