In late June, Motoko Rich, the doyenne of book coverage at the New York Times, wrote an article about a new version of Ernest Hemingway’s Paris memoir, A Moveable Feast, which was published several weeks later by Scribner in an edition of 16,000 copies. The main progenitor of the new book is Seán Hemingway, a grandson of Pauline Pfeiffer, Hemingway’s second wife, who is portrayed poorly in the original version. Adding some complexity to the tale, scholars widely accept Rich’s assertion that “Mary Hemingway, the writer’s fourth and final wife, was the one who edited the first edition… cobbling it together from shards of the unfinished manuscript he left behind.” Rich quotes Seán Hemingway to the effect that “I think this edition is right to set the record straight…”
Fast forward nearly a month to July 20, 2009, when the Times offered an article by “Op-Ed Contributor” A. E. Hotchner, a well-known American writer and one-time close friend of Hemingway. In his article, titled “Don’t Touch ‘A Moveable Feast’,” he declares that he is not, to say the least, pleased by the new edition and he presents some credible evidence to besmirch it. "Ernest and I were having lunch at the Ritz in Paris with Charles Ritz, the hotel's chairman," Hotchner writes, "when Charley asked if Ernest was aware that a trunk of his was in the basement storage room. Ernest did not remember storing the trunk but he did recall that in the 1920s Louis Vuitton had made a special trunk for him. Ernest had wondered what had become of it." Well, the trunk apparently contained the notebooks that were to be the source of A Moveable Feast.
Hotchner then tries to set the record straight about Mary Hemingway’s involvement with the book: “Because Mary was busy with matters relating to Ernest’s estate, she had little involvement with the book. However, she did call me about its title. Scribner was going to call it ‘Paris Sketches,’ but Mary hoped I could come up with something more compelling. I ran through a few possibilities, but none resonated until I recalled that Ernest had once referred to Paris as a moveable feast.” Hotchner goes on to state clearly: “These details are evidence that the book was a serious work that Ernest finished with his usual intensity, and that he certainly intended it for publication. What I read on the plane coming back from Cuba was essentially what was published. There was no extra chapter created by Mary.”
And then Hotchner delivers the punchline: “As an author, I am concerned by Scribner’s involvement in this ‘restored edition.’ With this reworking as a precedent, what will Scribner do, for instance, if a descendant of F. Scott Fitzgerald demands the removal of the chapter in ‘A Moveable Feast’ about the size of Fitzgerald’s penis, or if Ford Madox Ford’s grandson wants to delete references to his ancestor’s body odor. All publishers, Scribner included, are guardians of the books that authors entrust to them. Someone who inherits an author’s copyright is not entitled to amend his work. There is always the possibility that the inheritor could write his own book offering his own corrections.” I agree.