Review: A Farewell to Arms – The Ernest Hemingway Library Edition
My second review for the Classics Club is from one of my favorite authors. Ernest Hemingway.
Written when Ernest Hemingway was thirty years old and lauded as the best American novel to emerge from World War I, A Farewell to Arms is the unforgettable story of an American ambulance driver on the Italian front and his passion for a beautiful English nurse. Set against the looming horrors of the battlefield—weary, demoralized men marching in the rain during the German attack on Caporetto; the profound struggle between loyalty and desertion—this gripping, semiautobiographical work captures the harsh realities of war and the pain of lovers caught in its inexorable sweep. Ernest Hemingway famously said that he rewrote the ending to A Farewell to Arms thirty-nine times to get the words right. This edition collects all of the alternative endings together for the first time, along with early drafts of other essential passages, offering new insight into Hemingway’s craft and creative process and the evolution of one of the greatest novels of the twentieth century. Featuring Hemingway’s own 1948 introduction to an illustrated reissue of the novel, a personal foreword by the author’s son Patrick Hemingway, and a new introduction by the author’s grandson Sean Hemingway, this edition of A Farewell to Arms is truly a celebration
Usually, I write reviews for books that I read when I have ¾ of the book completed. But as I entered part five of A Farewell to Arms, it became evident that I had to completely change my thoughts on the novel. I immediately categorized this novel as a typical novel of Hemingway’s early writings and filled with his usual topics such as women, booze, sex and the popular sports, all encompassed for a character that was less than appealing. I do not like many of Hemingway’s protagonist, I love his secondary and even tertiary characters, but Fredric Henry’s character had something about his air that made him appealing.
Here was an American fighting for the Italy army in the Great War. He falls in love with an English nurse, sustains injuries in the line of duty, has a unpleasant experience as an officer in the Italian retreat and ends the narrative in Switzerland. A Farewell to Arms is an unconventional love story that doesn’t complete its circle. The ending caught me by surprise. It is something out of left field. Maybe this is why I love Ernest Hemingway as an author. His stories are so human and detail the human experience in plain, clear, simple prose that it is hard to deny the brilliances’ of the story.
A theme that runs concurrent in all of Hemingway’s novels are gender roles and how men and women defined their roles in the early part of the 20th century. Whilst the male characters enjoy hunting, fishing, consuming wine and ribbing their compatriots; the women comes off as silly or in the role of a nurturing and complacent partner. This is the problem that I have with many of Hemingway’s female characters; they have no agency and they simply go along with whatever the male characters suggest. Some of their dialogues border on annoying and Catherine certainly annoyed me at some points. Being a nurse in the Red Cross did give the character some oomph. I felt that the role of pleasing girlfriend came all to easy for her character and negated any credibility of being a nurse for the Red Cross gave her.
At some points in the novel, A Farewell to Arms began to read like The Garden of Eden, as by Ernest Hemingway. There was a point where Catherine of this novel begins to show traits of the Catherine in The Garden of Eden. The questioning of gender begin to surface for me, the main difference between the two characters was the willingness of the partners.
The edition of this novel that I own is the recently released Hemingway library edition. Showing the original manuscripts and editing process as Ernest Hemingway created this novel. I love this pages that give alternate endings and how the overall tone of the novel differs from ending to ending. I particularly liked the Fitzgerald ending (funny because I cannot stand Fitzgerald’s prose). There is also a list of title that the author was contemplating for the novel. I am glad that he went with A Farewell to Arm because the other titles seemed sort of lackluster. Or maybe it is just this title fit so well with a certain or realization in the novel.
A Farewell to Arms is a fine novel, with deep issues that concern even the modern day reader. For those who take issue with Hemingway’s prose or the topics he subtly writes about, should look into this novel as a way to re-introduce themselves to the Hemingway canon.
Have you read A Farewell to Arms? What is your favorite Hemingway novel? Let me know in the comments below.