Hemingway in Paris in the 1920s
There has been renewed interest in Ernest Hemingway since the release last week of Ken Burns’ PBS documentary on the legendary author, with much of it focused on his early career in Paris. This makes it the perfect time to dive a little deeper into the life of the literary icon, his work, and Paris at a critical and transformative period both for literature and history itself. The following books cover Hemingway’s years in Paris, from his arrival in December 1921 until he moved to Key West in 1928; they include both fiction and non-fiction and should be a part of everyone’s library.
1. A Moveable Feast by Ernest Hemingway. Always start with the great man’s own words. While it’s true that this memoir of Hemingway’s Paris years was written more than 30 years after the fact (and not published until three years after his death in 1961), he is not relying solely on distant, often unreliable memory. An employee of the Ritz Hotel in Paris reminded Hemingway during a 1956 stay that he still had a trunk stored in the hotel’s basement from 1930. That trunk, which had survived the Nazi occupation of Paris intact, contained personal letters and two stacks of notebooks from his early days in the city; that material makes up the bulk of A Moveable Feast.
The book provides a firsthand account (and valuable insights) into both Hemingway’s writing process and other great American ex-pat writers of the time like Ezra Pound, Gertrude Stein, and F. Scott Fitzgerald. It gives a compelling historical account of a period of the 20th century that still fascinates us today. And it contains some of the best Hemingway quotes ever, from the one that gives the book its title to his uncharacteristically sweet comment about Sylvia Beach, the owner of Shakespeare and Company Bookstore in Paris who looked after him in those early days. Of Sylvia he wrote: “No one that I ever knew was nicer to me.”
2. Hemingway: The Paris Years by Michael Reynolds. This is the second volume in Reynolds’ acclaimed 5-volume biography of Hemingway; all five parts deserve your attention, but thankfully they don’t have to be read in chronological order, so you can start here with no problem. One reviewer called it “the best book about how Hemingway became Hemingway.”