Hemingway’s Paris

“If you are lucky enough to have lived in Paris as a young man, then wherever you go for the rest of your life, it stays with you, for Paris is a moveable feast.”
― Ernest Hemingway, A Moveable Feast

Just before I left for Paris, a good friend of mine gave me Ernest Hemingway’s book, A Moveable Feast, written as a memoir about his time in Paris. I knew little about Hemingway or what he did in Paris, but I was excited to read it and discover all the old haunts of his Paris-past.

Hemingway moved to Paris with his first wife, Hadley, in 1921. He formally worked as a foreign correspondant for the Toronto Star, but fell under the strong influence of the expatriate “Lost Generation” of writers and artists including F. Scott Fitzgerald, Pablo Picasso, Gertrude Stein, Ezra Pound, James Joyce, among others. Hemingway lived on and off in Paris until 1928, when he and second wife Pauline, moved to Key West.


Hemingway lived in several hotels and apartments during his years in Paris. Most were located in the left bank of Paris, around the neighborhoods of the Latin Quarter, St-Germain-des-Prés and Montparnasse. During the 1920’s these areas were prevalent with artist and writer-types. Montparnasse was THE place to be after the bohemian Montmartre area became passé.

Hemingway’s first apartment with Hadley was on rue du Cardinal-Lemoine, although he never did writing there. He rented a top-floor hotel room around the corner at 39 rue Descartes to use as an office (shown below). In A Moveable Feast, Hemingway recalls building fires, eating tangerines, and writing perfect paragraphs here. A wall plaque inaccurately mentions that Hemingway lived here between 1921 and 1925, although he only rented the “office” for a year.


Hang-outs of Hemingway and his Lost Generation pals revolved around cafés and bars in the same neighborhoods of Paris. Hemingway and his friends did a lot of drinking and conversing, I’m not sure how much work they actually got accomplished. Les Deux Magots at 6 place Saint-Germain-des-Prés was the most popular spot. Not only Hemingway sat there for hours writing, charming the ladies, fighting with critics, and hassling the tourists. Other notable patrons include Simone de Beauvoir, Pablo Picasso, Oscar Wilde and Antoine de Saint Exupéry.


Ernest and Hadley Hemingway did not have much money in the early 1920’s so he resorted to borrowing books from Sylvia Beach’s rental library at the Shakespeare and Company bookstore. Originally located at 12 rue de l’Odéon during Hemingway’s time, this iconic tourist attraction is now located directly adjacent to Notre Dame Cathedral. Sylvia loaned Hemingway books without reservation, not entirely sure if he would ever return them or have the money to pay if he didn’t. Hemingway also frequented the bouquinistes along the edge of the Seine. These second-hand booksellers set up permanent shop on both sides of the river between sunrise to sunset. Hemingway was always excited to come by used books in English and generally paid very little to take these off of the vendors’ inventory.

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A muse for Hemingway was the Musée du Luxembourg and its adjacent Jardin. From A Moveable Feast, “If I walked down by different streets to the Jardin du Luxembourg in the afternoon I could walk through the gardens and then go to the Musée du Luxembourg where the great paintings were that have now mostly been transferred to the Louvre and the Jeu de Paume. I went there nearly every day for the Cézannes and to see the Manets and the Monets and the other Impressionists that I had first come to know about in the Art Institute at Chicago. I was learning something from the painting of Cézanne that made writing simple true sentences far from enough to make the stories have the dimensions that I was trying to put in them. I was learning very much from him but I was not articulate enough to explain it to anyone. Besides, it was a secret. But if the light was gone in the Luxembourg I would walk up through the gardens and stop in at the studio apartment where Gertrude Stein lived at 27 rue de Fleurus.”


Gertrude Stein served as mentor to Hemingway and, later, as godfather to his son. “It was easy to get into the habit of stopping in at 27 rue de Fleurus for warmth and the great pictures and the conversation,” he wrote. It was Ms. Stein who introduced Hemingway to the expat literary crowd. She coined the popular phrase génération perdue (lost generation) to describe Hemingway and his friends after hearing it from her car mechanic. She felt it symbolized the generation of young World War I veterans who had no respect for anything and drank themselves silly.

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By the time Hemingway moved into his last Parisian apartment, he had substantially upgraded from his former digs. 6 rue Férou is a building close to the Jardin du Luxembourg adorned with medallions, sphinxes and heavy gates. Hemingway was with his second wife Pauline by this time and had already produced a successful novel, The Sun Also Rises. It was here that he reached the summit of his success and also where his descent into alcoholism began.


“There is never any ending to Paris and the memory of each person who has lived in it differs from that of any other. We always returned to it no matter who we were or how it was changed or with what difficulties, or ease, it could be reached. Paris was always worth it and you received return for whatever you brought to it. But this is how Paris was in the early days when we were very poor and very happy.”

― Ernest Hemingway, A Moveable Feast


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