Summer Reading Special: A Conversation with Seán Hemingway
O: How do you respond to the people who have disagreed with the decision to call this a restored edition?
Seán: A.E. Hotchner [Hemingway's long-time friend and biographer] and other writers suggest that I've re-edited to make my grandmother look good. [See: "Don't Touch A Moveable Feast" on NYTimes.com] But I think anyone who really looks at this new edition will see that's not what is presented. Ours is a less edited, but more comprehensive edition. People who have read A Moveable Feast before will find it very interesting to see the changes, and think about his writing process and how the book came about.
O: What other discoveries did you make about his writing process?
Seán: I think of my grandfather's writing is so tight and carefully written. He wrote 10 chapters for the book at the end of his life, but he cut those chapters. It was fascinating to discover he wrote so much. We don't know whether he would have included some of that material, which is what Mary did. In the new edition, the parts he edited out are included in their entirety at the end as "Additional Character Sketches."
O: Didn't Hemingway himself place a lot of importance on the details a writer leaves out of a story?
Seán: He has this famous iceberg theory about writing, a belief that you can cut things. In a lot of cases that has been interpreted as permission to omit events or details, but in this case, there were stories he wrote and then cut.
O: In his fragments of introductions that you include at the end of the new edition, each starts with the idea that fiction should fold over on fact—and that this is a work of fiction. The book has always been considered memoir though. What is it?
Seán: It's a combination. Fiction because he was definitely concerned about libel and Gertrude Stein's partner attacking him—he was telling stories about famous people that hadn't been written about. And, in fiction, which is what he did most, he could capture the essence of a time period by embellishing or changing the facts slightly. It's really like any memoir in this way.
O: And what about the parts you knew to be true, based on stories you'd heard about your grandfather?
Seán: One part of the new material in "Additional Character Sketches" is a chapter called "Secret Pleasures." It's him as a young man growing his hair long, just having one suit and one pair of good shoes, and having to go to the barber. That's a stage so many of us have been through, and brought him down to earth for me. There's been so much written about The Legendary Ernest Hemingway that he's almost removed from humanity. Sections like that reveal him as a very sensitive and normal person.
Also, you can see he struggled writing the last chapter of the additional material. His health was failing, but he was working on this book because it was important to him. Passages about breaking up with my grandmother Pauline and the whole complicated situation that he had with two loves weren't included in the first edition at all, but he writes about that sincerely. It's another time you see him as a real man with all his faults.