The portrayal of Paris in Ernest Hemingway’s writings

Term Paper, 2020

21 Pages, Grade: 1,7


Table of Contents

1. Introduction

2. The development of expatriation

3. Hemingway’s way to Paris

4. Representation of Paris in Hemingway’s writing
4.1. Fiction – The Sun Also Rises
4.2. Memoir – A Moveable Feast
4.3. Journalism
4.3.1. “Living on $1,000 a Year in Paris”
4.3.2. “American Bohemians in Paris”

5. Conclusion

Primary Literature
Secondary Literature

1. Introduction

Hemingway’s career as a writer grew during his years in Paris. As part of the Lost Generation he expatriated in the 1920’s to the city of freedom. The Lost Generation refers to the post-World War I generation. This generation lost all stability regarding a sense of identity, values like hope, ideals, religion and political believes. Therefore, the traditional value system was lost which led to aimlessness and a sense of drifting through life (cf. "Lost Generation."). Hemingway was in search of stability and a place where he could thrive as an author which he found in Paris. By the time the young writer arrived in Europe, there already was an established American expatriate community in the city which made expatriation much easier for Hemingway. The first chapters of this paper try to recapitulate the development of expatriation to Paris. What were the reasons for people, especially artists, to move to the European city and how did Hemingway himself find his way to Paris?

Furthermore, this paper wants to show how Hemingway represents the city in his writings. As he loved the city and regarded it as his hometown it arouses the interest to see in how far this excitement is visible in his writings. Three different genres will be discussed throughout the analysis to create a balanced overview of the representation of Paris. Hemingway’s debut novel The Sun Also Rises shows Paris in Hemingway’s fiction. The author’s memoir A Moveable Feast offers a more psychological approach to Paris, whereas a selection of his articles for the Toronto Star work as a realistic documentation of life in Paris. What are the differences of the portrayal of Paris in these genres? Is his passion towards the city visible in every work? This paper will also try to answer the question whether Hemingway represents the whole city of Paris or if the author emphasizes on the parts of Paris dominated by the American expatriates, which were mostly on the Left Bank of the Seine.

2. The development of expatriation

Long before Hemingway left America for Paris many others did the same. As Earnest states:

One of the enduring themes in the literature of the United States is the conflict between American and European values. On the one hand there has been the obvious cultural heritage from the Old World; on the other, the break with many of the old traditions. (Earnest 3)

The first reason for artists leaving America in the 19th century was the absence of institutions for artists of all kinds: “Until after the Civil War there were in the United States no great libraries, no genuine universities, no first-rate instruction in music and art. Political and social conservatives were often appalled at the rapidity of social change in America.” (Earnest 4). For Americans to be able to study arts was a long way. Earnest describes the difficult way to being an artist with the example of John Adams’ road to art: “He himself [John Adams] needed to study politics and war so that his sons could study mathematics and philosophy, and their children might study painting, poetry, and music.” (ibid. 5). Earnest concludes: “However, American artists were not content to accept Adam’s delayed timetable.” (ibid.). Therefore, the first people started to move to Europe, i.e. Thomas Hutchinson and Edith Wharton (cf. ibid. 4). As there were no schools or other institutions for art in America in the mid-19th century, there was no fine art. The first expatriates wanted to experience this in Europe and tried to bring a more valuable sense for artists back to America. “Emerson said that ‘from 1790 to 1820 there was not a book, a speech, or a conversation, or a thought’ in Massachusetts. ” (ibid. 8). Although Emerson might overexaggerated with this statement, it still highlights the overall atmosphere of American artists in the 19th century. In addition, some of the most important authors like Washington Irving and James Fenimore Cooper expatriated and stayed in Europe for a long time (cf. ibid.) which strengthens the neglect of artists in America.

Nevertheless, these were only the beginnings of expatriation in America, as more and more people left the country until migration climaxed in the 1920’s: “Nothing before or since has equalled the mass expatriation of Americans of the 1920’s. It has almost the quality of the instinctive migration of the lemmings.” (Earnest 251). Among these expatriates where not only artists but all kind of people: young and older people, people with different professional backgrounds i.e. scholars and artists. Most of these people went to France, especially to Paris (cf. ibid). As expatriation already happened years before the 1920’s, people now had idols which they honoured and looked up to: “The forerunners they honored were Gertrude Stein, Ezra Pound, and T. S. Eliot.” (ibid. 251). Most importantly, Gertrude Stein was a very respected woman whom everyone wanted to meet (cf. ibid. 252). “Thus the three of the seminal figures in twentieth-century American literature were already established in Europe at a time when young writers fresh from the army or from college were beginning their careers.” (Earnest 251). Furthermore, artists like James Joyce and Igor Stravinsky lived in Paris. Sylvia Beach opened the bookstore Shakespeare and Company which “[…] quickly became a center for American expatriates, many of whom dropped in daily and had their mail delivered there.” (Earnest 251). Americans created an own community in Paris as they “[…] crossed the ocean and colonized the Left Bank of the Seine.” (Earnest 252). Paris became a status for itself: “[…] residence in Paris after the war became what a later generation would call an ‘in thing’” (Earnest 258).

This high number of expatriates is based on the fact that in the 1920’s Americans recognized more and more reasons to leave America for Europe. The already established society in Europe and Paris fuelled the overall dissatisfaction of life and civilization in America: “[…] their prolonged apprenticeship in Europe enabled them to view American life from the perspective not only of distance but of adversary cultural values.” (Aldridge 116). Americans who had already lived in Paris for years have a new perspective on life in America, which they shared with others and what then led to more people wanting to expatriate to a place with more freedom. To add to this, the aftermath of World War I offered Americans the chief reason for expatriation: “Failure of belief in all of the traditional panaceas (religion, politics, economics, romance) led to the bleak “waste land” atmosphere so evident in T. S. Eliot’s poem of that name (1922) or Theodore Dreiser’s 1925 novel An American Tragedy.” (Wagner-Martin 5). The so-called Lost Generation was among the mass expatriation. The loss of the belief in traditional values, which were still cherished in America, led to people seeking a different life with more freedom. Expatriated wanted more privacy and rebelled against American puritanism by moving to France (cf. Earnest 252). Especially artists blamed every problem in America on its “puritan-industrial culture” (cf. ibid 253). Earnest again picks up the notion of America being a cultural wasteland:

[…] the American past was pictured as a cultural wasteland in which wandered a few tragic pioneers

[…] Somehow or other Poe’s alcoholism, Emerson’s loss of memory in later life, Stephen Crane’s death of tuberculosis, Frank Norris’s from peritonitis, became examples of what America did to the literary artists. (Earnest 253)

In Paris people could experience much more freedom. They can consume alcohol, as there is no prohibition. Paris has a much more open sex and love life, i.e. Stein defends lesbianism and unmarried couples are invited to parties just the same as married couples (cf. Earnest 252). Due to the mass of Americans in Paris Field argues that the Left Bank of the Seine is no longer a fully French area: “This is a Paris created by its American inhabitants and defined by main boulevards, particular cafés, and the mores of the expatriates. The result is a cosmopolitan American city unhindered by the restrictions of Prohibition.” (Field 31). Furthermore, life in Europe for Americans was cheap, which again offered much more freedom: “Because of the devaluation of European currencies, American dollars often brought a fantastic rate of exchange.” (Earnest 256). Expatriates could live a wealthy life in Europe accompanied by much cheaper publishing costs for i.e. magazines in Europe (cf. ibid.): “At home Hemingway had to devote his whole time to newspaper work; as a foreign correspondent in Europe he could live by sending home an occasional report while American magazines consistently rejected his stories.” (Earnest 258).

3. Hemingway’s way to Paris

“Hemingway’s experience is typical.” (Earnest 258) regarding his way to a life in Paris in the 1920’s. He had visited Paris for the first time when he stayed with his Red Cross volunteer comrades in the city for a few days in 1918. After his return from the war he eventually moved to Chicago in 1920 (cf. Kennedy 81). Here, he met his soon to be wife Hadley and “[…] a lively crowd which included Sherwood Anderson” (ibid.). After Anderson returned to America from his trip to Paris, he talked in detail about the French capitol and its culture: “Anderson planted the idea of going abroad; after returning from a summer visit to France, he regaled Hemingway and his new bride with details of the trip, assuring them, ‘the place to go was Paris […]” (ibid.). Hemingway was intrigued by Anderson’s stories, as he repelled American civilization and its prohibitions: “Almost every aspect of the United States was distasteful to him.” (Earnest 259). Wagner-Martin adds: “Like many writers and artists, he objected to the legislation of morals that Prohibition, the resurgence of all-American feeling, and the rebirth of the Ku Klux Klan suggested.” (Wagner-Martin 16). Therefore, Hemingway already knew that he wanted to escape life in America, and Anderson showed him a place with more freedom and less prohibitions: “The point is that Hemingway’s generation of Americans was the first to approach Europe without the blinders of puritanism.” (Earnest 259), which is why Hemingway was part of a generation which could easily leave their hometown, as there were open minded and willing to break American standards. Quickly after their conversation with Anderson, Hemingway and Hadley moved to Paris (cf. Kennedy 83). Hemingway worked as a correspondent for the Toronto Star, but he mainly seeked “[…] to live the life of the expatriate writer and to learn all he could about writing.” (Wagner-Martin 3). Thanks to Anderson, who gave them instructions, he soon made friends with the much-honoured Gertrude Stein and numerous writers and artists, i.e. Pound, Fitzgerald, and Henry James (cf. Kennedy 83). This opened many possibilities and led to a comfortable acclimatization in Paris. Hemingway had an easy start in Paris as he immigrated to an already existing community. Therefore, one might not call him a trendsetter or adventurer, as he purely joined a secure city full of Americans (cf. Earnest 252). The couple stayed in Paris until Hadley got pregnant, as they wanted to raise their child in Toronto. Nevertheless, they quickly returned to Paris, because: “[…] prohibition and the puritanism of Toronto disgusted him […]” (Earnest 259).

4. Representation of Paris in Hemingway’s writing

4.1. Fiction – The Sun Also Rises

Part of the expatriate life he found there [in Paris] is reflected in his first full-length novel, The Sun Also Rises – a life of drifting from bar to bar, of sexual promiscuity, of going to Spain for bullfights. (Earnest 259)

The Sun Also Rises offers various descriptions of Paris which lead to a detailed depiction of the city. The reader experiences the city through countless walks and rides of the protagonist Jake Barnes. Nevertheless, Field states that the novel is not to be considered as a tourist guide but rather a lifestyle-guide for a life in Paris of the 1920’s (cf. Field 30). Moreover, Field argues that it not only “[…] offers an insider’s perspective on the lifestyle of the self-exiled writers, artists, and bon vivants who made Paris in the 1920s legendary, but also mythologizes the historic moment.” (Field 36). Therefore, the novel was granted as a roman á clef, which means that it described a part of the life of expatriates in Paris (cf. Field 29). The protagonist Jake Barnes describes some of the most important places for American expatriates in Paris, which include: “[…] the importance of cafés and bars such as the Dôme, Select, Closerie des Lilas, Deux Magots, Zelli’s, Café Napolitain, The Crillon, and The Ritz.” (Field 33). Although Hemingway creates a Paris in The Sun Also Rises which is similar to the real city, the setting is still a constructed and slightly altered place and is only roughly based on the real Paris. Aldridge argues that the representation of Paris is not a realistic one: “[The novel is] not a realistic reflection of a world but the literal manufacture of a world, piece by piece, out of the most meticulously chosen and crafted materials.” (Aldridge 123). Nevertheless, the setting fits perfectly to the attitude of its characters: “Paris is ideal. Its cosmopolitanism, its café culture, its tolerance of difference, its respect for the creative mind and arts, its joie de vivre.” (De Roche 146). Also, the existence of almost entirely non-French characters fit to the very Americanized city (cf. Reynolds, “The Sun in Its Time” 49) which Hemingway tries to compensate with the usage of numerous French words like poule, bal musette and fine á l’eau; as well as the detailed enumeration of Parisian streets and places. Through this the author re-establishes credibility and authenticity.

The first description of Paris offers the first paragraph of the third chapter:

It was a warm spring night and I sat at a table on the terrace of Napolitain after Robert had gone, watching it get dark and the electric signs come on, and the red and green stop-and-go traffic-signal, and the crowd going by, and the horse-cabs clippety-clopping along at the edge of the solid taxi traffic, and the poules going by, singly and in pairs, looking for the evening meal. (Hemingway, The Sun Also Rises 22)

The paragraph introduces Paris as very lively and one can see a lot of people passing by. Furthermore, electric lights and solid traffic are mentioned which creates a very urban picture. The depiction of Paris being crowded and urban continues throughout the novel in Jake’s numerous walks and taxi rides, i.e. “I […] passed the tables of the Rotonde, still crowded […]” (ibid. 37) and “The Boulevard was busy with trams and people going to work.” (ibid. 43). In addition, the topic of sexuality is quickly introduced: Barnes’ attention is on a woman walking up and down the street. As soon as their eyes meet the woman joins Barnes at his table. This woman, Georgette, is a poule which means she is a prostitute. Barnes must only look at Georgette to make her join him (cf. ibid.). The easiness of raising the attention and getting the company of a prostitute establishes the depiction of Paris being a permissive city from beginning on. In addition, Georgette is treated equally throughout their journey from the café to a restaurant and the club. She is talking to Barnes’ friends as if she is a friend herself. This tolerance and easiness must have been very exotic for the puritan American readers. In addition to the tolerance towards prostitutes comes the tolerance towards homosexuals which is described in the club later. The sexual freedom described in The Sun Also Rises correlates with the real Paris in the 1920’s: “Paris in the 1920s was a city free of sexual restraint and strict rules about sexual roles.” (Caswell 99). Nevertheless, Hemingway hints at an ambivalent awareness of the situation in the city: when Georgette is asked how she liked Paris she answers: “It’s expensive and dirty.” (ibid. 26) whereas Frances argues: “I find it extraordinarily clean. One of the cleanest cities in all Europe.” (ibid.). This shows that Paris is not wonderful and perfect for everyone as Georgette thinks of Paris as dirty due to her profession.

The topic of sexuality recurs in Jake Barnes himself, as he is impotent due to a war wound. Paris offers the protagonist a way to compensate his wound, which is highlighted with him going back and forth from Montparnasse to the Right Bank of the Seine. Kennedy strengthens the existence of a separated Paris in The Sun Also Rises. There is the Right Bank, the traditional Paris: “[…] which Hemingway here associates with work, male camaraderie, and (implicitly) an escape from sexuality.” (Kennedy 103), and there is the Left Bank which is “[…] known for unconventional eroticism, for its acceptance of homosexuality, bisexuality, promiscuity, perversion, and prostitution.” (ibid.). As Jake finds himself again and again in Montparnasse, he there “[…] surrounds himself with sexual activity and romantic intrigue; he comes back to this erogenous zone as if to participate vicariously in the circulation of desire.” (Kennedy 103). For instance, Jake Barnes and his friend Robert Cohn meet in a Café on the Left Bank in the end of chapter two (cf. Hemingway, The Sun Also Rises 19) and switch to the Café Napolitain on the Right Bank. Here, he meets Georgette, the poule, which contradicts Kennedy’s assumption of the Right Bank being an escape of sexuality. Still, he quickly goes back to the Left Bank with Georgette (cf. ibid. 23).

Not only sexual freedom but freedom regarding gender roles in Paris is addressed in Hemingway’s novel. The character Brett Ashley symbolizes this freedom for the whole female gender in Paris as she can be regarded as a New Woman. The New Woman was a feminist ideal which demanded equal rights for women and men from the late 19th century up into the 20th century: “In short, the new woman rebelled against patriarchal marriage and, protesting against a social order that was rooted in female biology, she refused to play the role of the ethereal other.” (Martin 68). Furthermore, Martin states: “The new woman’s radical challenge to the traditional social structure is seen in Lady Brett Ashley, who has stepped off the pedestal and now roams the world.” (Martin 68). Brett wears very masculine clothes: “She wore a slipover jersey sweater and a tweed skirt, and her hair was brushed back like a boy’s.” (Hemingway, The Sun Also Rises p. 30) but is still described as feminine and beautiful: “Brett was damned good looking. […] She was built with curves like the hull of a racing yacht, and you missed none of it with that wool jersey.” (ibid.). Already Cohn’s reaction to Brett beforehand shows how beautiful Brett must be, as he is looking at her as if he saw the promised land (cf. ibid. p. 29). She attracts all attention in the room. Still, her masculine clothes are accompanied by her masculine behaviour: her way of talking, the fact that she drinks a lot of alcohol and the fact that she is dancing with a lot of different men. She is not restricted by any conventional rules. Therefore, she can be regarded as a New Woman. In that sense, Brett is a figure of hope for women in the 1920’s and simultaneously Paris is depicted as a place where a New Woman can live and express herself freely. Nevertheless, the end of the novel demonstrates that her unconventional and non-puritan way of life does not lead her to happiness, as she is just as lost and alienated as her expatriated friends. Earnest strengthens this argument by saying: “[…] American expatriates before the 1920’s were still committed to puritan views on sexual morality and the idea that life is a serious business. The hedonism of the expatriates of the twenties is part of the larger context of the era following World War I. Hemingway’s Englishwoman, Lady Brett Ashley, is as lost as the Americans she associates with.” (Earnest 268).


Excerpt out of 21 pages


The portrayal of Paris in Ernest Hemingway’s writings
University of Bonn  (Institut für Anglistik, Amerikanistik und Keltologie)
Literatures and Cultures in Comparison
Catalog Number
ISBN (Book)
Ernest Hemingway
Quote paper
Nicole Piontek (Author), 2020, The portrayal of Paris in Ernest Hemingway’s writings, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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