Movable Memoir

by wjw on July 23, 2009

Scribner is about to release a revised, bowdlerized edition of Hemingway’s A Movable Feast. A Hemingway grandson has substantially revised the book, apparently to make his grandmother (aka Hemingway Wife #2) a more sympathetic character. He’s dropped the last chapter, which he claims was written by Mary (Hemingway Wife #4), stuck ten other chapters in an appendix, and replaced them by writings that paint Grandma in a more favorable light.

A Movable Feast, Hemingway’s memoir of life in Paris in the 1920s, is probably not the most reliable memoir of the time. When I read it, I couldn’t help but notice that Hemingway was at pains to denigrate writers whose reputations threatened to eclipse his own (Fitzgerald, Stein, Ford Madox Ford, all of whom were conveniently dead), while at the same time boosting the reputations of writers he deemed harmless. I for one don’t for a second believe Hemingway’s story about Fitzgerald’s penis. (Which, if you don’t know it, will send you straight to the library for a copy of the book, I’m sure.)

However you want to quibble with what Hemingway wants us to believe as fact, A Movable Feast is a beautifully written book. It’s lovely, and a lovely reading experience.

But issues of reliability, and literary beauty, are separate from the fact of authorship. According to Hemingway friend and biographer A.E. Hotchner, Hemingway had completed the manuscript and submitted it to Scribner before his death, and what was published was Hemingway’s own work, with a little editing.

I’m an author. I’m sensitive to this issue. I don’t want someone messing with my works after I’m dead, and I don’t want other writers messed with, either. I especially don’t want my work made “less offensive,” especially especially if the person being offended is someone’s Grandma who is dead.

We put the words in that order for a reason. Maybe it was the wrong reason, but it was our reason, and it’s our names on the cover helping to sell the book.

And why the hell is Scribner a part of this?

All publishers, Scribner included, are guardians of the books that authors entrust to them. Someone who inherits an author’s copyright is not entitled to amend his work. There is always the possibility that the inheritor could write his own book offering his own corrections.

Ernest was very protective of the words he wrote, words that gave the literary world a new style of writing. Surely he has the right to have these words protected against frivolous incursion, like this reworked volume that should be called “A Moveable Book.” I hope the Authors Guild is paying attention.

I hope so, too.

Dave Goldman July 24, 2009 at 5:40 am

Here's an interview with the grandson/current-reviser.

He begins: "Significant changes were made to the text of A Moveable Feast after my grandfather's death in 1961 for the posthumous edition first published in 1964. The order of the chapters was changed. The author's preface was fabricated. The last chapter was moved and reworked by the editors to include material that the author had considered for an ending but decided against using. The title had also not been decided on by Hemingway and was chosen by his widow, Mary Hemingway. To see all of the changes in the Restored Edition, you would really need to read it side by side with the first posthumous edition."

Included in the interview are some textual examples. It all sounds quite reasonable.

On the other hand, somebody who apparently should know disagrees with the grandson's claims.

Dave Goldman July 24, 2009 at 5:43 am

(Oops — I see that my second link is to the very article with which you began.)

Ralf the Dog July 24, 2009 at 5:02 pm

Please forgive this off subject post,but this is something I think you will love.

I just watched Nova Secrets of the Parthenon. It was a show about the people who are restoring the Parthenon. In order to restore it in the most authentic way possible they put a great deal of effort into learning the methods the Greeks used to originally construct it. (That is why I think the show should have been called Parthenogenesis.)

This show was not only intellectually stunning but also visually so. This show rocked! It is best viewed on a 105 inch or larger HD TV.

One thing that made this show even more relevant for me was that a friend is visiting from Athens (I think she might move here permanently. She is talking about taking a job at a local university teaching mathematics.)

Here is a link to the show on iTunes:

Ralf the Dog July 24, 2009 at 5:15 pm

If Hemingway's grandson wants to add comments to the book I don't have a problem.

"(Grandsons note: My grandmother was cool. Wife #4 sucked)"

Deleting or changing any of the original text is wrong. Any notes he adds should be clearly marked as his own.

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