Hemingway’s Paris after WWI

In chapter III of The Sun Also Rises, Hemingway gives us in multiple scenes a vision about Paris in 1920. The beginning of the 20th century was a time of a large change in the world. He started the chapter by describing the weather, “a warm spring night” Hemingway writes. Sitting in a café watching this crowded city, people go and leave, traffic lights, and “the poules… looking for the evening meal”. “The poules” is a French word means “hen” but in slang, it is used for the prostitute, Jake notice they are passing by the café singly and pairs looking for someone they can spend the night with him for money. One of them came and sat with Jake, her name was Georgette. They had a drink together, and then they decide to take dinner elsewhere. They catch a Horse-cab and here, Jake give us another view of Paris streets at night while all shops are closed, streets are empty and the outside lights are shiny;

“I hailed a horse-cab and the driver pulled up at the curb. Settled back in the slow, smoothly rolling fiacre we moved up the Avenue de l’Opéra, passed the locked doors of the shops, their windows lighted, the Avenue broad and shiny and almost deserted. The cab passed the New York Herald bureau with the window full of clocks.” (23)

“We turned off the Avenue up the Rue des Pyramides, through the traffic of the Rue de Rivoli, and through a dark gate into the Tuileries.” (23)

“We came out of the Tuileries into the light and crossed the Seine and then turned up the Rue des Saints Pères.” (23) Hemingway insists to give us the exact path that the cab took to arrive at the restaurant. He insists to name all the streets they passed by and emerges us –as readers, who may never visit Paris, at least at that time- in the picture of old Paris at night.

While in the restaurant, Jake’s purpose having Georgette with is to have some company for dinner and dissipates his loneliness. Barnes met some other fellows, writers and artists, there, and they invited them to come with for dancing. Jakes introduces Georgette jokingly as his fiancé, and while all sitting together having a conversation to get to know each other; Cohn’s fiancée, Frances, interrupts the conversation and asked Georgette a couple of questions about Paris. Georgette finds Paris dirty and expansive and she doesn’t like it, while Frances finds it “one of the cleanest cities in Europe” (26), and her people are quite nice.

In the dancing-club, Mrs. Braddocks introduces Robert Prentiss to Jake, a rising new novelist from New York. Jake was a little drunk and not in the mood to start any conversation when Prentiss asked him if he finds Paris amusing, Jake affirms that he does angrily.

So that’s Hemingway’s Paris after WWI, informed by a lot of real things, it was the centre of change, the centre of fashion. Women were displaying their sexuality in an inappropriate way they have never done before. It was full of people from other countries especially America -the expatriates- who came there to experience this and then brought their own personalities and influences into it as well. Paris was the haven for the American writers and artists, who were purposeless and aimless, looking for freedom, knowledge, and European culture. They were trying to make up for what they missed because of the war and enjoying the current civilized life in Paris, which was considered as a cultural epicenter. All the expatriates had almost the same lifestyle; working for a few hours’ mornings, having lunch, gathering with friends in groups and drink, go to the club and drink, go home and drink, finally go to sleep and repeat. Alcohol was an essential item day and night. Paris was an exciting and inexpensive place to live, moreover, a suitable city for a lost generation.