Never having read A Farewell to Arms before, I was interested to see this new edition, with its cover replicating the first edition published in 1929. I wondered how the book would stand up to the passage of time and whether it would, like so many other books of that era, just seem rather dated. However, I was glad to find myself enjoying reading it and mildly pleased to have read another landmark book from the last century.
As I read Farewell to Arms I was struck by how fresh it still seemed. As a first person account, the narrator Henry shares his story with the reader as it happens. The writing is sparse, without sentiment or emotion and I could easily imagine that I was in the presence of a battle-hardened ambulance driver who saw terrible things every day but didn't think it worth talking about them.
We read discussions between the men about visits to bars and brothels, their complaints about the food and their discussions of the rumours about the battles on the Front. Henry meets an attractive Scottish nurse called Catherine Barkley. He calls on her at the nurses' home, managing to sit with her in the garden and get to know her. He pursues her over the next few days, as his duties allow, and they form a relationship which becomes the backdrop to the other events in the book.
Henry has periods of active service, and, like the author, is badly wounded in the legs. He is sent to hospital in Milan where he slowly recovers, wondering what happened to Catherine. She eventually comes to the hospital and their relationship continues.
By this time they are deeply in love, and the only elements of the book which seemed to have dated slightly are the rather over-romantic conversations between the two lovers, which sounded a little like the dialogue from a 1930s film script.
The book has a sad ending which seemed to me to be in keeping with the rest of the novel, which has a slight air of impending doom about it throughout. We read that Hemingway struggled with the ending of the book so much that he wrote 39 different endings and this edition publishes them together for the first time. I have to say, I didn't spend much time with these as there seemed little point in reading them, but no doubt they will be of interest to Hemingway students.
All through the book it seemed difficult to understand what an American was doing in Italy in that chaotic period but only a few years later, many more people from Britain and America were to go take up arms in the Spanish Civil War, resulting in many more books such as George Orwell's Homage to Catalonia (Penguin Modern Classics).
As well as the alternative endings, this edition contains photo-facsimiles of Hemingway's manuscript with many crossings-out and corrections. As you can see from the illustrations in this article, the cover is a lovely reproduction of the first edition and will sit well on any bookshelf - this is definitely not a book to be bought in ebook format as you would lose too much of the production itself.
on 9 June 2002
This novel touches on many issues; war, romantic love(without resorting to nauseating sentiment), culture and mortality. Each one is subtley explored with the incisive touch of Hemingway's pen.
Wherever Henry is, whether he is in an Italian ambulance at the front line, canoodling in a hospital bed, or standing in the rain in a deserted street, the reader always feels that they are right there with him, feeling what he feels, living what he lives.
This is quite simply one of the best books that I have ever read.
If you have not read a Farewell to Arms before , this is the edition to buy. Not only does it have an amusingly egocentric preface by 'Papa' Hemingway, written at the heady height of his fame 20 years after he wrote the novel, but a useful introduction by Sean Hemingway and, in an appendix, discarded draft chapters and alternative endings which give a great insight into a literary artist. As for the novel itself, it is a modernist classic, written in a lean imagist style which the world had not seen before.A little dated now perhaps in its attitudes, but still worth reading as an angry and poignant evocation of the tragic waste of the First World War.Recommended.
This book clearly deserves more than five stars.
A Farewell to Arms is the semi-autobiographical tale of an American lieutenant in the Italian army near the end of World War I. Though the book's action, you will see the gradual distintegration of the hero's commitment to the conflict and his faltering attempts to create a new personna. While this is clearly one of the greatest anti-war books of all time, it transcends that genre to look more directly at the nature of life's challenges and how we meet them. As such, A Farewell to Arms ranks as one of the greatest of all American philosphical novels as well. For Hemingway aficionados, you will be fascinated to see his ornate writing style before he developed his eventual, much-admired spare form. This is stream of consciousness Hemingway at its best.
Lieutenant Henry is a man caught in the drift of events, without knowing what he stands for. He does his duty, but often out of habit rather than principle. When the full force of man and nature turn on him, he reverts to his instincts for self-survival. He wants little to do with the world, except in taking those delights that most please him. In the course of realizing and trying to overcome his emotional weaknesses, he simply isolates himself in new ways. Even love can only touch him when it is defined solely in his own terms.
Hemingway sees personal progress as only being possible through extreme pain. "The world breaks every one and afterward many are strong at the broken places." That's the good news. The bad news is that "those that will not break it kills." The world kills "the very good and the very gentle and the very brave impartially."
This theme is carried out by the challenges of being a lieutenant in the ambulance corps, then being wounded in a mortar attack, going through surgery and recovery, dealing with a murderous retreat, and ultimately falling in love and dealing with loss. Lieutenant Henry is increasingly overwhelmed, and finds himself willing to attempt less and less. Although the story does not carry him forward through the rest of his life, you imagine that he remains an emotional cripple from these experiences for the rest of his life . . . having little faith or interest in his fellow humans.
All of Hemingway's characters are emotionally crippled in one way or the other. Even if a shell does not hit them, they will never be the same from their war experiences. Whether they are driven by fear, love, or duty, the result is the same -- a disillusioned numbness that limits their ability to be alive. When pressed by the exigencies of the moment, each retreats to lick his or her wounds . . . cut off effectively from support. Whatever fine or infamous human emotion drives them, also condemns them.
One of the particularly haunting aspects of the book is the portrayal of war as unending and inescapable. A modern reader naturally knows when World War I ended. At the time, people wondered if it would go on for a hundred years. That despair is well captured here. Another unforgettable feature is raising the question of who the enemy really is. Lieutenant Henry discovers that those be befriends, his allies, and nature itself can be even more dangerous to him than the military enemy ever has been. You get a chilling sense of the dark side of civilization that few novels even attempt to portray.
Hemingway left Illinois at 17 to join the Kansas City Star as a reporter. He volunteered with the Red Cross in World War I at 18, first serving on the French front and later with the Italians. He was severely wounded in Italy, and was awarded the Italian Croce di Guerra. The first third of the book probably mirrors his own experiences very closely, and you will find a youthful vividness in those pages that will effectively put you amongst the battles and the boring sameness of waiting in between.
Many have considered what man's inhumanity to man really means. World War I was one of the greatest examples of this terrible tendency. Reading this book provides a good opportunity to reconsider your own views about the meaning of such times in human history, and what the right things are to do. Imagine that you are any of the characters in this book. What could and should you have done differently? What would have been the probable consequences? What would have been the meaning of your decisions and actions? What lessons can you apply from this today?
Basically, this book argues that moral progress only occurs through suffering. How else have you learned? How else could you learn? What does that mean about Hemingway's thesis?
Look for the best . . . as well as seeing the best in the worst.
on 30 May 2007
The first thing that hits you about this book is the way it's written. The language is bare and sparce, yet somehow successfully evokes the Italian landscape and places a clear picture inside your head. The book is more than the sum of its parts and seems to effect you almost sublimily. Without realising it i found i was almost halfway through the book and had barely put it down.
The book is set during the first world war in Italy and really conveys the pointlessness and harshness of this war and war in general. Of course i have always assumed war to be an awfull experience, but this book really hammers that home like a nail through the head. What it really conveys is how unorganised and shambolic the war was and how no body really knew what they were doing. The soldiers dont seem to have any paticular special training or skills, and seem to have about as much idea as i would in what to do for the best. The book shows that war is just a crazy backward concept that you can never be prepared for.
As well as the war this book also conveys what it is to be young and in love and having a good time amongst friends. Despite the setting, the war was still gangs of young men together and at times you could almost imagine they were just friends on holiday. Hemmingway shows the soldiers drinking and laughing, finding girs, falling in love, and trying to make sure they dont get killed in the process. It created strong unshakable friendships between people. The war was terrible but the things that happened to the soldiers would certainly give you one hell of an adrenalin rush, and are experiences that we'l probably never get close to.
You dont have to be interested in war to read this book, God knows im not. This is a book about becoming an adult and finding out who you really are in life. You could substitute the war for any turbulant event in life that changes how you think and how you see the world.
on 23 August 2015
I've read and enjoyed other Hemingway, but this one disappointed me mainly because the female heroine is such a pain in the neck. The war writing is good, but the hero is a bit smug (is there anyone in Italy he doesn't know, or any sight/bar/town he hasn't visited?). Worst of all, the romance at the centre of the plot is hard to swallow because it is difficult to believe someone as street-smart and cultured as our semi-autobiographical hero could genuinely fall for such an irritating character. They have a lot of sex however - so perhaps that is what Hemingway is trying to tell us? War affects us in many ways and one of them is to make us grab at any member of the opposite sex, however awful they are, as a distraction. Maybe he was that desperate.
I like Hemingway because his stories are realistic. Life doesn't have many happy endings, but it has moments of great passion, romance and happiness along the way. This book is kind of like that. His short sentences and terse writing style cut right to the core of your emotions and help you feel all this book has to offer. A brilliant place to start your appreciation of one of histories greatest writers.
Feel free to check out my blog which can be found on my profile page.
on 22 June 2015
In a world riven by conflict, a fact that truly threatens to define humanity, Hemingway’s masterpiece remains as poignant and wrenching as ever.
Utterly beautiful in its literary poeticism, utterly heartbreaking in its moral, it is understandable why this was lauded as the greatest American novel of the 20th century. Hemingway's style of writing is as unique as JD Salinger's or Joyce's. It is very sparse, purposeful and reserved. In the introduction his grandson writes that Hemingway wrote "on the principle of the iceberg. For the part that shows there are seven-eighths more underwater."
The story follows Frederic Henry, an American lieutenant serving as an ambulance driver on the Italian front in WWI. He is wounded while eating cheese in a trench, gets a medal for bravery, and falls in love with a typically beautiful, devoted and idealistic English nurse while he is recovering. In their resultant journey, both physically and emotionally, Hemingway masterfully portrays the sheer futility of war and the ultimate truth of existence, that life marches inexorably on even after the most shattering of tragedies. It is an enlightened novel, a true exploration of the human condition. In the end there is always death.
Henry's daring journey across the Italian countryside is my favourite part (as well as when he rows all night through the storm down the lake to try and cross the Swiss border before dawn - the image of him using his umbrella as a sail is so comic and desperate and perfect). But one of the most powerful moments takes place when Henry gazes into the fire. Hundreds of ants on a log are trying to escape the flames. He contemplates being a “messiah” and lifting them from their deaths, but after a moment, he simply empties his water glass on them so he can fill it with whisky. The water only makes the ants burn and sizzle faster.
This book also has possibly the most shocking and abrupt ending to a novel I have ever read. Hemingway’s style of writing is indeed unique: very sparse, purposeful, reserved and intensely powerful. In the very opening paragraphs his technique emerges. If Emily Bronte’s writing was a blossom tree in full bloom, Hemingway’s would be a sparse acacia on a barren plain. He creates a rich and exquisite scene by continually returning to several powerful sensory images that root us firmly in the moment: the dusty leaves, the marching troops, all distilled beneath a clear, hot sky. There is almost a whispering undercurrent of assonance to the words through the repetition of ‘leaves’ and ‘river’ and ‘trees’ and ‘dust’ and ‘troops'. It is hypnotic. And this introduces us to the setting throughout the novel, the war-ravaged orchards and towns of Italy in summer.
But the rain, oh the rain. It was perhaps a few chapters into the novel that I realised how Hemingway was using the rain to directly convey the events. Whenever the rain started, something bad happened. This got so extreme that as soon as the sky clouded over dread descended upon me. But we must interpret Frederic Henry’s narrative while bearing in mind that there are in fact two Henry’s, the man living out the events and the man recounting them an unknown number of years later (as it is first person past tense). So we see the world through a lens of bitterness and pain, lending a slightly detached and cold air to his words.
Ultimately this is an anti-war novel. I have had a year or so now to recover from the end and to try to work out why this most heartbreaking and bitter of novels is such a national treasure. I have decided it is not the intensely powerful literary poeticism that makes the novel so raw and painful and hypnotic and perfect, but how it enlighteningly explores the human condition and exposes the brutal reality of war and the sheer inevitability of death. In the end there is always death, merely death and oblivion. From the moment Henry gets that pointless wound while eating cheese in a trench to the moment Catherine begins hemorrhaging I was captivated and tortured in equal measure. Alongside the meaningless slaughter of millions life goes on and by definition so does tragedy, of even the most natural kind. It will leave you feeling hollow, but it is one of those necessary reads.
Fatalism and futility, that’s what I got from this novel. But is there any hope in this abyss? Perhaps it is indeed that life simply marches inexorably on, and ultimately by allowing it to break us we become stronger at the broken places.
"If people bring so much courage to this world the world has to kill them to break them, so of course it kills them. The world breaks every one and afterward many are strong at the broken places. But those that will not break it kills. It kills the very good and the very gentle and the very brave impartially. If you are none of these you can be sure it will kill you too but there will be no special hurry."
on 22 December 2007
A Farewell To Arms is a book that divides opinion. Whether you are a fan or not you have to accept that Hemingway manages to describe scenes with a rich texture that few writers can match. You can picture every setting.. and smell it and feel it. Hemingway can depict a time and a place with such precision that you feel you are not just viewing a scene like on a stage, but that you are actually there.
There are many similarities between Farewell To Arms and the later work "For Whom The Bell Tolls". Both star an American main character in a European war. Both feature a doomed romance which is immediate and passionate with the threat of imminent death forcing an early intimacy.
However where "For Whom The Bell Tolls" is a gritty study of men and women at war, Farewell is a romantic melodrama with the war as a frequently distant backdrop.
The main characters in Farewell To Arms are obsessed with each other. Both put their relationship before their duty. They flee the war to be together to the complete exclusion of friends, comrades in arms and those who might need their care. This is a story of all consuming love; love tragically lost.
By contrast "For Whom The Bell Tolls" is a war story where the romance is sacrificed to the cause of a greater duty. Perhaps whether you prefer one book or the other is a reflection of how you yourself view the characters. For me the self obsession of the characters in Farewell To Arms is hard to stomach. The main character is a man who runs from the war, lives on money donated by his estranged family and feels no sense of any broader duty. The greatest war in European history is being played out across his morning newspaper whilst he drinks to excess in neutral Switzerland. His partner is a nurse who abandons her post to be with him. They are difficult to like and the tragedy that befalls them is like an appalling event that occurs to someone you barely know and care nothing for.
This lack of engagement is what makes this book so disappointing. As a romantic tragedy it needs us to identify with the characters. Instead we tend to dislike them and are untouched by their fate. By all means read Farewell To Arms. You will enjoy the scenery but the storyline may leave you untouched.
on 24 November 2011
I was interested to read the one-star reviews. I figured they missed the point. Against the backdrop of literature at the time this book was read, the writing was fresh and new, modern and unusual.
The theme (not the premise) was similar to 'Have and Have Not' in that if you expect a happy ending then you will be just disappointed.
And good for Hemingway! Life isn't a series of happy endings, a place where they meet up at the end of the story and live forever-after happily. Life is gritty and what you get out of it is what you put into it. I most value Hemingway's writing because he doesn't pull his punches, he lets you have the realism on the chin (like any good boxer). The short, clippy prose is like gold.
OK, I admit it, the dialogue at times is unrealistic and the women he brings into his stories are a bit stereotyped and bland, but you have to see it all in the context of the time in which he wrote. It was a time when Ginger Rodgers and Fred Astair were working and saying all thier bland, romantic things on the silver screen. It was a time when people expected less of women than we do now.
What Hemingway has, is an eye for detail and a magical talent for dialogue between people whether they are of different nationalities or race.
I can understand why he got the Nobel prize too. He was a master of portraying emotion without ever having to use -ly adverbs or stick the MC's feelings in your face. You feel through the writing without it being obvious.
I wish I could do that in my humble scribblings!
'The Cyclist' by Fred Nath.