A Moveable Text

As a Hemingway aficionado (that's a word he brought from Spain into our English lexicon, by the way), I've been fascinated to watch the tempest in a teacup that's boiled up around the newly edited version of his posthumous memoir, A Moveable Feast.

First a confession: I love the 1964 edition of A Moveable Feast. I doubt I'm the first person to have brought a paperback copy with me to Paris so I could seek out the various locales mentioned in the book. Yeah, I know a lot of the story is made-up. And I suppose I should be bothered by the nastiness of so many of the anecdotes concerning Gertrude Stein and Ford Maddox Ford. The problem is that book is just so fucking funny. The chapter "Scott Fitzgerald" is, without question, the most hilarious thing Hemingway ever wrote.

A Moveable Feast was published a year after Hemingway's suicide, and there's long been a dispute about how "finished" the book was before the old man swallowed his double-barreled Boss shotgun. Mary Hemingway, the author's fourth wife, insists it was virtually complete. And so, too, does Hemingway acolyte and biographer A. E. Hotchner. The problem with this argument is that publishing is a process that starts with the creation of a first draft and continues through the galley proofing and jacket design stages right up to the moment that the newly printed book comes off the bindery. Hemingway participated in none of these last steps, so it's hard not to affix an asterisk next to A Moveable Feast in the author's canon. (Some of the other posthumous books, The Garden of Eden and True at First Light, are in my opinion nothing but Barry Bonds-sized asterisks.)

That said, I agree with Hotchner that for Hemingway's grandson to re-edit the book to make his grandmother, Pauline, a more sympathetic figure in the narrative is bad literary form. I fully understand the grandson's familial and financial motivations — and Scribners' impulse here is even more tran$parent. But as a reader, who has devoured several Hemingway biographies, some of which reek of hero-worship and others of which drip with contempt, I will tell you that I wasn't waiting around for a "restored edition" of A Moveable Feast. The record has been set straight elsewhere.

Is re-editing a posthumously published book a high crime against literature? I'd call it more of a misdemeanor. And, whatever else you want to say about the decision, on the tackiness scale it doesn't come remotely close to this.