A Farewell to Arms by Ernest Hemingway
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
A Farewell to Arms (1929) by Ernest Miller Hemingway was one of the books I read in my undergraduate years, and, like many writers before me, the book had a deep impact on me to become a writer. At the time of my first reading of this novel, I was twenty or twenty-one and by the time I reached the end of the book I was in tears. My tears came at not only the story’s finale but in Hemingway’s subtle ability to tell such a simple story so damn well. Now I am thirty-four, and by the time I came to the end I was not in tears (perhaps I have grown too cynical in the last decade) but I still admire much the same things I did on my first reading.
One of the things I really enjoyed on my first reading, and now again after a dozen years or so, is how Hemingway can capture the inner-depths of his character’s feelings. The result is simple clarity with stunning results:
“I did not say anything. I was always embarrassed by the words sacred, glorious, and sacrifice and the expression in vain. We had heard them, sometimes standing in the rain almost out of earshot, so that only the shouted words came through, and had read them, on proclamations that were slapped up by bill posters over other proclamations, now for a long time, and I had seen nothing sacred, and the things that were glorious had no glory and the sacrifices were like the stockyards at Chicago if nothing was done with the meat except to bury it. There were many words that you could not stand to hear and finally only the names of places had dignity… Abstract words such as glory, honor, courage, or hallow were obscene beside the concrete names of villages, the numbers of roads, the names of rivers, the numbers of regiments and the dates” (p 165).
Even though Hemingway tends to mix his second and first person points-of-view and also use long ambitious sentences, this is one passage that is not easily forgotten, and it has stayed with me as I have grown into a man. Here is another passage I have always admired:
“Often a man wishes to be alone and a girl wishes to be alone too and if they love each other they are jealous of that in each other, but I can truly say we never felt that. We could feel alone when we were together, alone against the others. It has only happened to me like that once. I have been alone while I was with many girls and that is the way that you can be most lonely. But we were never lonely and never afraid when we were together… 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” (p 222).
These sorts of introspection, however, is rare in A Farewell to Arms. Out of 293 pages only one or two pages, with the above passages included, contain an inner-commentary to the surrounding events. The rest of the book’s bulk is “And-Then” writing: action followed by action followed by action followed by more action. Much of the book is written in the following realistic style:
“I got out and walked ahead, going between the trucks and carts and under the wet necks of the horses. The block was farther ahead. I left the road, crossed the ditch on a footboard and walked along the field beyond the ditch” (p 173).
The writing is dry, simplistic, and contains constant momentum for the characters. In other words, in 1929, Hemingway wrote realism, which is just as popular today as it was then.
A Farewell to Arms is comprised of five sections.
Section I: the main character, Lieutenant Frederic Henry, is an American fighting with the Italians as an ambulance driver when he meets the English, and sometimes described Scottish, Catherine Barkley, who is a nurse also on the Italian Front during World War I. Henry becomes injured when a bomb explodes while he is eating with his comrades.
As Henry is eating a piece of cheese and drinking some wine, the dugout is hit: “I tried to breathe but my breath would not come and I felt myself rush bodily out of myself and out and out and out and all the time bodily in the wind. I went out swiftly, all of myself, and I knew I was dead and that it had been a mistake to think you just died. Then I floated, and instead of going on I felt myself slide back. I breathed and I was back” (p 51).
Henry is rushed to surgery and is eventually sent by train to Milan to recover from his wounds.
Section II: Catherine transfers to the hospital in Milan to be near her love, Henry, who is recuperating. They have a grand love affair over the summer.
“I loved to take her hair down and she sat on the bed and kept very still, except suddenly she would dip down to kiss me while I was doing it, and I would take out the pins and lay them on the sheet and it would be loose and I would watch her while she kept very still and then take out the last two pins and it would all come down and she would drop her head and we would both be inside of it, and it was the feeling of inside a tent or behind a falls… We would be lying together and I would touch her cheeks and forehead and under her eyes and her chin and throat with the tips of my fingers and say, ‘Smooth as piano keys,’ and she would stroke my chin with her fingers and say, ‘Smooth as emery paper and very hard on piano keys’” (p 102-103).
Henry has another surgery and does routines for rehabilitation on machines (more on this can be found in Hemingway’s short story called “In Another Country”). Later, Henry fully recovers and he is sent back to the front.
Section III: Henry is at the front when the Italian army is defeated at the Battle of Caporetto and a retreat is ordered. Henry with companions flee from the invading German/Austrian army.
“We came into Gorizia in the middle of the next day. The rain had stopped and the town was nearly empty. As we came up the street they were loading girls from the soldiers’ whorehouse into a truck. There were seven girls and they had on their hats and coats and carried small suitcases. Two of them were crying. Of the others one smiled at us and put out her tongue and fluttered it up and down. She had thick full lips and black eyes” (p 168).
Down the road, Italian officials are to blame for the defeat and are being shot. Since Henry is a Lieutenant he is pulled aside by the “battle police” to be asked questions, along with several others, and then executed. Henry thinks quickly and makes a rush for the river and escapes. Eventually he makes his way back to Milan and tracks Catherine, who is now pregnant, at Stresa.
Section IV: Henry finds Catherine in Stresa and they have a few romantic days of bliss in the hotel before they row to Switzerland, which lies across the lake, and escape the war.
Section V: Henry and Catherine spend the winter with the Guttingens. Here is where some of Hemingway’s dialogue shines:
‘I love your beard,’ Catherine said. ‘It’s a great success. It looks so stiff and fierce and it’s very soft and a great pleasure.’
‘Do you like it better than without?’
‘I think so. You know, darling, I’m not going to cut my hair now until after young Catherine’s born. I look too big and matronly now. But after she’s born and I’m thin again I’m going to cut it and then I’ll be a fine new and different girl for you. We’ll go together and get it cut, or I’ll go alone and come and surprise you.’
I did not saying anything.
‘You won’t say I can’t, will you?’
‘No. I think it would be exciting.’
‘Oh, you’re so sweet. And maybe I’d look lovely, darling, and be so thin and exciting to you and you’ll fall in love with me all over again.’
‘Hell,’ I said, ‘I love you enough now. What do you want to do? Ruin me?’
‘Yes. I want to ruin you.’
‘Good,’ I said, ‘that’s what I want too’” (p 270).
As Catherine’s pregnancy draws to an end, Henry and Catherine decide to travel to Montreux to be near a hospital. There they take a reprieve.
“Catherine bought the things she needed for the baby, up in the town. I went to a gymnasium in the arcade to box for exercise. I usually went up there in the morning while Catherine stayed late in bed. On the days of false spring it was very nice, after boxing and taking a shower, to walk along the streets smelling the spring in the air and stop at a cafe to sit and watch people and read the paper and drink vermouth; then go down to the hotel and have lunch with Catherine” (p 275).
The ending to A Farewell to Arms is one of those endings that haunts you long after you have read it. For me, it has stayed with me for about a dozen years, and the end will continue with me into my old age. The impact on me emotionally, however and interestingly enough, was disparate and of a new sensation. On this reading, unlike the first time, I did not cry. I felt much the way Henry did as he walked back to the hotel in the rain.
A Farewell to Arms, for me, will always be a special book. Its memories have become my memories. Even if I return to it a different man.
This book is a strong recommend not because of Hemingway, but because of a story told so well it lasts.
- A Farewell to Arms – Ernest Hemingway (Fiction) (bestofebooks.wordpress.com)
- from Liz: Sean Hemingway interview on alternative endings to A Farewell to Arms (pagesofjulia.com)
- A Farewell to Arms – Ernest Hemingway (izzygawalton.wordpress.com)
- Ernest Hemingway: Who wins wars? (rickrozoff.wordpress.com)
- The first panacea for a mismanaged (richardcelliott.wordpress.com)
- Ernest Hemingway: “Down with the officer. Viva la Pace!” (rickrozoff.wordpress.com)
- Reader reviews roundup (theguardian.com)
- Watch: A Farewell to Arms(’32) – Frank Borzage (seminalcinemaoutfit.com)
- Hemingway on Love Between 1926 and 1929 (nightpaving.wordpress.com)
- Ernest Hemingway’s War Wounds (nytimes.com)
For more great photos, please check out Mike Birdy, professional photographer, on Pexels.com & if you have time, check out Sawinery.com.
The American novelist CG FEWSTON has been a Visiting Scholar at the American Academy in Rome (Italy), a Visiting Fellow at Hong Kong’s CityU, & he’s a been member of the Hemingway Society, Americans for the Arts, PEN America, Club Med, & the Royal Society of Literature. He’s also a been Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce (RSA) based in London.
He’s the author of several short stories and novels. His works include A Father’s Son (2005), The New America: A Collection (2007), The Mystic’s Smile ~ A Play in 3 Acts (2007), Vanity of Vanities (2011), A Time to Love in Tehran (2015), Little Hometown, America (2020); A Time to Forget in East Berlin (2022), and Conquergood & the Center of the Intelligible Mystery of Being (2023).
He has a B.A. in English, an M.Ed. in Higher Education Leadership (honors), an M.A. in Literature (honors), and an M.F.A. in Creative Writing & Fiction. He was born in Texas in 1979.
A TIME TO FORGET IN EAST BERLIN
BREW Book Excellence Award Winner
BREW Readers’ Choice Award Winner
“A spellbinding tale of love and espionage set under the looming shadow of the Berlin Wall in 1975… A mesmerising read full of charged eroticism.”
~ Ian Skewis, Associate Editor for Bloodhound Books, & author of best-selling novel A Murder of Crows (2017)
“An engrossing story of clandestine espionage… a testament to the lifestyle encountered in East Berlin at the height of the Cold War.”
~ Lone Star Literary Life Magazine
“There is no better way for readers interested in Germany’s history and the dilemma and cultures of the two Berlins to absorb this information than in a novel such as this, which captures the microcosm of two individuals’ love, relationship, and options and expands them against the blossoming dilemmas of a nation divided.”
~ D. Donovan, Senior Reviewer, Midwest Book Review
“A Time to Forget in East Berlin is a dream-like interlude of love and passion in the paranoid and violent life of a Cold War spy. The meticulous research is evident on every page, and Fewston’s elegant prose, reminiscent of novels from a bygone era, enhances the sensation that this is a book firmly rooted in another time.”
~ Matthew Harffy, prolific writer & best-selling historical fiction author of the “Bernicia Chronicles” series
“Vivid, nuanced, and poetic…”
“Fewston avoids familiar plot elements of espionage fiction, and he is excellent when it comes to emotional precision and form while crafting his varied cast of characters.”
“There’s a lot to absorb in this book of hefty psychological and philosophical observations and insights, but the reader who stays committed will be greatly rewarded.”
“Readers of The Catcher in the Rye and similar stories will relish the astute, critical inspection of life that makes Little Hometown, America a compelling snapshot of contemporary American life and culture.”
“Fewston employs a literary device called a ‘frame narrative’ which may be less familiar to some, but allows for a picture-in-picture result (to use a photographic term). Snapshots of stories appear as parts of other stories, with the introductory story serving as a backdrop for a series of shorter stories that lead readers into each, dovetailing and connecting in intricate ways.”
~ D. Donovan, Senior Reviewer, Midwest Book Review
“The American novelist CG FEWSTON tells a satisfying tale, bolstered by psychology and far-ranging philosophy, calling upon Joseph Campbell, J. D. Salinger, the King James Bible, and Othello.”
“In this way, the author lends intellectual heft to a family story, exploring the ‘purity’ of art, the ‘corrupting’ influences of publishing, the solitary artist, and the messy interconnectedness of human relationships.”
~ Lone Star Literary Life Magazine
GOLD Winner in the 2020 Human Relations Indie Book Awards for Contemporary Realistic Fiction
FINALIST in the SOUTHWEST REGIONAL FICTION category of the 14th Annual National Indie Excellence 2020 Awards (NIEA)
“Fewston’s lyrical, nostalgia-steeped story is told from the perspective of a 40-year-old man gazing back on events from his 1980s Texas childhood…. the narrator movingly conveys and interprets the greater meanings behind childhood memories.”
“The novel’s focus on formative childhood moments is familiar… the narrator’s lived experiences come across as wholly personal, deeply felt, and visceral.”
American Novelist CG FEWSTON
This is my good friend, Nicolasa (Nico) Murillo, CRC, who is a professional chef & a wellness mentor. I’ve known her since childhood & I’m honored to share her story with you. In life, we all have ups & downs, some far more extreme than others. Much like in Canada, in America, the legalization of marijuana has become a national movement, which includes safe & legal access to cannabis (marijuana) for therapeutic use & research for all.
“This is a wellness movement,” Nico explains. The wellness movement is focused on three specific areas: information, encouragement, & accountability.
In these stressful & unprecedented times, it makes good sense to promote & encourage the state or condition of being in good physical & mental health.
To learn more you can visit: Americans For Safe Access & Texans for Safe Access, ASA (if you are in Texas).
The mission of Americans for Safe Access (ASA) is to ensure safe and legal access to cannabis (marijuana) for therapeutic use and research.
TEXANS FOR SAFE ACCESS ~ share the mission of their national organization, Americans for Safe Access (ASA), which is to ensure safe and legal access to cannabis (marijuana) for therapeutic use and research, for all Texans.
Stay safe & stay happy. God bless.
Nico Murillo Bio ~ Americans & Texans for Safe Access ~ Medical Cannabis
Pingback: 50 Great Short Stories (1952) edited by Milton Crane | C.G. Fewston
I enjoy, lead to I discovered exactly what I was taking a look for.
You’ve ended my 4 day long hunt! God Bless you man.
Have a great day. Bye
If Ernest Hemingway were Alice today he’d approve of this review, although had he written it, it would have been much shorter. Great piece of writing on a on a great masterpiece.
I absolutely agree.
Keep reading and writing.
Pingback: The Tragedy of American Fiction (2014) by C.G. Fewston | C.G. Fewston
Spot on with this write-up, I honestly believe that this amazing site
needs much more attention. I’ll probably be returning to read more, thanks for the information!
Hi there, after reading this amazing post i am as well happy to share my knowledge here with friends.
I am really impressed along with your writing skills as neatly as with the layout in your weblog.
Is that this a paid subject or did you customize it your self?
Anyway keep up the nice high quality writing, it’s
rare to look a nice blog like this one today..
Good information. Lucky me I ran across your blog by chance (stumbleupon).
I have saved it for later!
Pingback: The Sorrow of War (1990) by Bảo Ninh - CG FEWSTON
Pingback: Ernest Hemingway on Writing (2004) by Editor Larry W. Phillips - CG FEWSTON
Pingback: The American Novel and Its Tradition (1957) by Richard Chase - CG FEWSTON
Pingback: Cormac McCarthy’s Never-Ending, Questionary Road by American Novelist CG FEWSTON - CG FEWSTON
Pingback: Master Class in Fiction Writing (2006) by Adam Sexton - CG FEWSTON
Pingback: For Whom the Bell Tolls (1940) by Ernest Hemingway & the Ideal Self | CG FEWSTON