The Paris of Ernest Hemingway

If you are lucky enough to have lived in Paris, it stays with you as Paris is a Moveable Feast

Ernest Hemingway moved to Paris with his wife Hadley shortly after their honeymoon in year 1921.  He had been told by friends back in the states that Paris was the centre of Avant-garde writing.

For Hemingway, Paris was conducive to clear thinking and, according to Noel Riley Fitch,  it was a good place for him to learn the craft of writing. As he walked through the streets and squares of Paris, his  sense of place became strongly linked to his art.

 Jeffrey Meyers describes the young Hemingway as a gentle, introspective and, at times, even quite an  innocent young man when he left his home country for Paris.  It was only in later years that he would become the swaggering and tough character that gained him worldwide fame.


74 rue Cardinal-Lemoine

Hemingway was intoxicated by the romance of Bohemian life in Paris. The apartment he first rented on rue Cardinal-Lemione was fairly basic by American standards, but the newly married couple wanted their money to last as long as possible.  Also, they preferred to travel and spend an afternoon at the horse races rather than spend money on rent.

In 1922, Hemingway rented a small studio for writing on 39 rue Descartes where French poet, Paul Verlaine, had lived 25 years before.

He rented out the top-floor room for 60 francs a month and he found it a pleasant place to work.  There was a fireplace which kept him warm in the winter, and he would often throw his orange peels into the fire or roast chestnuts there when he was hungry.

From the window, he looked over the roof tops of Paris and this alone kept him motivated to write. In this cheap room, Hemingway wrote short stories about his childhood in Michigan, U.S.A.

studio239 rue Descartes


In his memoir, “A Moveable Feast“, Hemingway describes how his senses where even more heightened when he was hungry .

You got very hungry when you did not eat enough in Paris because all the bakery shops had such good things in the windows and people ate outside at tables on the sidewalk so that you saw and smelled the food.  When you had given up journalism and were writing nothing that anyone in America would buy, explaining at home that you were lunching out with someone, the best place to go was the Luxembourg gardens where you saw and smelled nothing to eat all the way to Place de L’Obsevatoire to the rue de Vaugirard.


Luxembourg Gardens

Hemingway would often study the paintings in the museum of the Palais du Luxembourg  and, looking at Cézanne’s paintings in particular, helped him to write better.

As he studied Cézanne’s works, he began to recognise that his writing needed more dimension.  It was not enough to merely write simple sentences.

I learned to understand Cézanne much better and to see truly how he made landscapes when I was hungry.  I used to wonder if he were hungry too when he painted.

Hemingway believed that his hunger was healthy for his writing during these years of poverty living in Paris.


Hemingway (1933) by Man Ray

Gertrude Stein

Gertrude Stein was a prominent figure in Avant-garde movement of Paris and she had a very important role among the literary circles of Paris.   Hemingway would frequently visit her at her apartment on 27 rue des Fleurus after a day’s writing to talk with her and to ask her opinion about some of the short stories he was thinking of publishing.

He first met Stein when she was in her late forties and, in “A Moveable Feast” he describes her physical appearance:

Miss Stein was very big but not very tall and was heavily built like a peasant woman.  She had beautiful eyes and a strong German-Jewish face that also could have been Friulano and she reminded me of a northern Italian peasant woman with her clothes, her mobile face and her lovely, thick, alive immigrant hair which she wore put up in the same way she probably had worn it in college.

gertrude stein

          Portrait of Gertrude Stein (1906) by Picasso

On the question of money, Stein advised Hemingway that he would do far better if he purchased paintings instead of wasting it on buying fashionable clothes. She told him “buy your clothes for comfort and durability, and you will have the clothes money to buy pictures”. In 1925, Hadley and Hemingway followed her advice and purchased a painting called “The Farm” by Joan Miró.

It was Gertrude Stein who convinced Hemingway to give up his work as a journalist to focus on his writing career.


                                                               Gertrude Stein’s studio on 27 rue des Fleurus


Shakespeare and Company  was a gathering place for writers at the time.  The owner, Sylvia Beach, idolised  James Joyce and managed to get his books published.

Sylvia Beach would let Hemingway buy books on credit and she often showed concern when she thought he wasn’t eating enough.  She introduced Hemingway to Joyce in 1922 and they soon became friends.

Joyce inspired Hemingway in the way he could pare down his work to only the bare essentials and also the way in which he employed the power of suggestion in his writing.

The original premises of Shakespeare and Company was on 11 rue d’Odéon.  The photo below shows were the bookshop is situated today on 37 Rue de la Bûcherie .  It is the city’s most coveted expatriate bookshop.


Writing was not something which came easily to Hemingway.  It was a “perpetual challenge”, something which could not be taught, it was something one had to learn through long and laborious practice.

Meyers describes how Hemingway saw writing as a “fiercely competitive literary prize fight in which contemporaries pitted themselves against established masters.”`

Erza Pound and James Joyce were Hemingway’s only real friends among the writers he met in Paris.  When Hemingway first met Erza Pound, he had just finished editing the Waste Land. Like Hemingway, Pound was devoted to his writing and they became lifelong friends.

Hemingway regarded a lot of his fellow American artists who frequented the Parisian cafés with suspicion.  He believed them to be posing artists, only content to talk about their future works, never actually putting pen to paper.

He would start his day at the Select Bar eating breakfast before getting down to writing.


The Select Bar

In 1922, Hadley lost all of Hemingway’s  short story manuscripts when she was on her way to meet meet him in Lausanne for a holiday.  They were stolen from the train when it was stationed at Gare de Lyon.  For a while Hemingway thought he would never write again and the affair was disastrous blow to his marriage.

Once back in Paris, and out of pocket, Hemingway decided that maybe this was the time to turn his attention to writing a full novel.  He describes in “A Moveable Feast” how he decided to hold out as long as possible for doing so,  until the financial pressure became unbearable and when he could no longer afford to feed himself.

Max Ford

Hemingway helped Max Ford to edit the Transatlantic Review. Ford was well known in literary circles (he had been good friends with Henry James) and he had also built a reputation for his fictional achievements and editorial skills. Erza Pound confessed that he had learned more from Ford than anyone else.

Ford published Hemingway’s early stories “Indian Camp”, “The Doctor and the Doctor’s Wife”, “Cross Country Snow”. By the late 1920s  Hemingway started to have his writing published. In 1926, The Torrents of Spring and The Sun Also Rises were published by Charles Scribner’s Sons. In 1927 he published a short story collection, Men Without Women.