Welcome to one of today’s stops on The Classics Circuit’s Lost Generation Tour!
I have to admit that I have not been interested in the authors most closely associated with this period — especially Ernest Hemingway — but I recently read and enjoyed The Paris Wife, a novel told from the perspective of Hemingway’s first wife, Hadley, and it inspired me to give Hemingway another try.
The Sun Also Rises was Hemingway’s first novel, first published in 1926. A Moveable Feast was his last “novel” (defined by him as such but I see it as a type of memoir), published after his death in 1964 but based on writings made during his time in Paris. I didn’t enjoy the first, I absolutely loved the last.
The Sun Also Rises is about group of expat Americans and Brits living the good life in Paris and in Pamplona, Spain. Told from the first-person perspective of Jake Barnes, a journalist, to me this novel read like a soap opera of spoiled rich kids; drinking and partying well into the night without fear of consequences, lots of money though nobody seems to work, and nothing about any of the characters made me like or dislike them. I suppose it is a novel of its time, but I didn’t see the point that Hemingway was trying to make with this novel.
As mentioned above, Hemingway described A Moveable Feast as a novel, because to him, “.. all remembrance of things past is fiction”. The way the book is set up — as a collection of vignettes about his life in Paris and those famous and not-so famous people he encounters — does not seem like a novel at all, but since he didn’t start writing it until just before his death, after receiving a collection of his papers he had left stored at The Ritz in Paris, I suppose referring to it as a novel permitted him to rely more on his memory rather than facts to recount the stories.
Personally, I enjoyed the style of his writing in A Moveable Feast more; it is more descriptive and the stories are told with more emotion than what I felt in The Sun Also Rises. Referring loosely to the term The Lost Generation – which seems to have been coined by Hemingway’s mentor, Gertrude Stein, referring to the young people who served in World War I and which seemed to have upset him – Hemingway argues that “all generations are lost by something and always had been and always would be”.
And, of course, being the Francophile that I am, I loved his descriptions of cafe life in Paris; just to be able to find a quiet table in a neighborhood “boite” with only a cafe creme and the entire day to read and write is my idea of bliss.
I’m not sure if I will read more Hemingway anytime soon, but I think I’ll check out some other works of The Lost Generation. I’m looking forward to getting ideas of where to start from other posts on this Circuit and I hope you will too.