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A Farewell to Arms ()

Modern Library Top 100 Novels of the 20th Century (74)

Frederick Henry is an American driving an ambulance for the Italian Army during WWI.  He meets & woos Catherine Barkley, an English nurse, who tends him when he is wounded in an artillery barrage.  He deserts following the Italian retreat after the Battle of Caporetto.  They flee to Switzerland where Catherine and her baby die during childbirth.

Now I'll be the first to admit that, not only am I not a romantic, I'm an anti Romantic.  Trouble arises because this book is faux romantic and truly Romantic.  By faux romantic, I mean that Hemingway has written an imitation of a love story.  Frederick & Catherine are two of those people who seem to be in love with the idea of being in love.  They are both so opaque that we struggle futilely to develop any empathy for them.  Because we don't feel much for them, it's hard to believe they feel anything much for each other.

One of the Websites below had an essay about role-playing in the novel.  The essayist's point was that the characters are merely playing out roles, that they present false facades to one another.  This makes sense in light of what we later learned about Hemingway's sexuality.  For him, romantic love between a man and a woman must have been especially mysterious.  In fact, none of the scenes between the two lovers has as much electricity as the scenes where Frederick's Italian bunkmate kisses him in that European way.  The characters are trapped in duplicitous roles, just as Hemingway spent his life playing the macho man.  Of course, Hemingway finally crumbled under the weight of the lie he was living & blew his own brains out.

The characters failure to connect is also function of what I refer to as the novel's truly Romantic aspect.  By Romantic, I mean that movement in the Arts which elevated Man above God and the individual above the universal.  Frederick & Catherine are essentially in love with themselves, not with each other, and with some personal mental construct of what a great love would be like.  They have no universal traits that would make us love them or help us understand what they see in one another.  Their love is an anachronism, understood only by them & the author, who as we've seen, probably didn't understand what love was like between a man and a woman.

In the book's favor, Hemingway writes in the straightforward manner for which he was justly famous, so it's easy to understand what's going on, if not to care.


Grade: (D)


Ernest Hemingway Links:

    -WIKIPEDIA: Ernest Hemingway
-ESSAY: “My Life in the Bull Ring with Donald Ogden Stewart” (Ernest Hemingway on October 25, 2013, Vanity Fair)
    -ESSAY: Executing the Ministers: the young Hemingway and a Greek tragedy (Jeffrey Meyers, 10/31/21, The Article)
    -ESSAY: The Old Writer and the Sea of Words: Hemingway’s Ultimate Metaphor (Robert Kmita, 6/11/24, Voegelin View)
-REVIEW ESSAY: Hemingway’s Consolations: It’s preposterous to think of Hemingway, with his best sellers and personal celebrity, as a writer’s writer. But is it possible that this might be the best description of his status today? (Elaine Blair, September 23, 2021 issue, NY Review of Books)
    -REVIEW ESSAY: HEMINGWAY'S POLITICS WERE NO SECRET—JUST READ HIS ONLY CRIME NOVEL: To Have and Have Not, Hemingway's patchwork Depression-era crime novel, was the story of one man's radicalization (DAVID MASCIOTRA, JANUARY 5, 2021, Crime Reads)
    -ESSAY: A Death in the Afternoon (Tobias Wolff, February 20, 2021, The New Yorker)
    -ESSAY: When Ernest Hemingway Hunted Nazi U-Boats in the Caribbean: Hemingway the novelist got the story he wanted, even if Hemingway the sub chaser failed to net his prey. (Warfare History Network, 2/05/21)
    -INTERVIEW: Ken Burns Talks to Jacobin About the Radical Ernest Hemingway: From fighting alongside communists in the Spanish Civil War to backing revolutionaries in Cuba, documentarian Ken Burns shows us the radical side of writer Ernest Hemingway in the new PBS docuseries Hemingway. Burns talks to Jacobin about Hemingway’s forgotten left-wing politics and why the writer still matters. (Ed Rampell, 3/23/21, Jacobin)
    -REVIEW: of Ernest Hemingway: The Sun Also Rises & Other Writings, 1918–1926, Edited by Robert W. Trogdon (Frank Freeman, University Bookman)
    -REVIEW: How to Tackle a Bullying, Alcoholic, Racist Named Hemingway: Ken Burns and Lynn Novick portray an insecure, vain, depressed, unfaithful, visionary modernist in PBS’s “Hemingway”, and reframe his complicated place in the literary canon. (Scott Porch, Daily Beast)
    -REVIEW: How Much Do We Still Owe to Ernest Hemingway?: He changed American fiction, and then America moved on. (LAURA MILLER, APRIL 05, 2021, Slate)
    -REVIEW: The Many Paradoxes of Ernest Hemingway (KYLE SMITH, National Review)
    -REVIEW: Finding Hemingway: Seeing the Self Behind the Self-Mythologizer: Alex Thomas on Lynn Novick and Ken Burns’s New Documentary (Alex Thomas, April 14, 2021, Lit Hub)
    -REVIEW: Hemingway’s American Life And Death: Ken Burns’s six-hour PBS documentary on the master of sparing prose misreads his relation to the nation and the world. (Declan Leary, American Conservative)
    -REVIEW: Busting the Hemingway myth: A new documentary breaks new ground by exploring the American writer’s mental health and gender fluidity—but it still doesn’t go far enough (Lucinda Smyth, June 29, 2021, Prospect)

Book-related and General Links:
-Ernest Hemingway Foundation of Oak Park, IL
    -Timeless Hemingway
    -The Hemingway Resource Center, v2.0
    -G Files: Subject: Ernest Miller Hemingway (APB Online)
    -Michigan In Hemingway: A Sense of Place
    -Hemingway Sites on the Net
    -The Hemingway Collection
    -Kansas City Star Stories by Ernest Hemingway
    -The Papa Page
    -Hemingway-Pfeiffer Museum and Educational Center
    -Hemingway Society
    -Authors Online: Ernest Hemingway  (Book Spot)
    -INTERVIEW: At Lunch with Ernest Hemingway (The Atlantic)
    -Tracking Hemingway: Atlantic articles from 1939 to 1983 -- by Edmund Wilson, Malcolm Cowley, Alfred Kazin, and others (The Atlantic)
    -ESSAY: The Private Hemingway (NY Times Magazine)
    -Wilfrid Sheed: Desperate Character (NY Review of Books)
    -Frederick Crews: Pressure Under Grace (NY Review of Books)
    -ESSAY: WRITERS IN UNIFORM (Stephen Spender, NY Times Book Review)