A Farewell to Arms
First edition cover
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A Farewell to Arms is a novel by Ernest Hemingway set during the Italian campaign of World War I. The book, published in 1929, is a first-person account of American Frederic Henry, serving as a Lieutenant ("Tenente") in the ambulance corps of the Italian Army. The title is taken from a poem by 16th-century English dramatist George Peele.
A Farewell to Arms is about a love affair between the expatriate American Henry and Catherine Barkley against the backdrop of the First World War, cynical soldiers, fighting and the displacement of populations. The publication of A Farewell to Arms cemented Hemingway's stature as a modern American writer, became his first best-seller, and is described by biographer Michael Reynolds as "the premier American war novel from that debacle World War I."
The novel has been adapted for the stage, initially in 1930 and subsequently, for film in 1932 and 1957, and as a television miniseries in 1966. The 1996 film In Love and War, directed by Richard Attenborough and starring Chris O'Donnell and Sandra Bullock, depicts Hemingway's life in Italy as an ambulance driver in the events prior to his writing of A Farewell to Arms.
The novel is divided into five books. In the first book, Frederic Henry, an American ambulance driver serving in the Italian Army is introduced to Catherine Barkley, an English nurse, by his good friend and fellow paramedic Rinaldi. Frederic attempts to seduce her, and their relationship begins. Frederic didn't want a serious relationship, but his feelings for Catherine slowly started to grow. On the Italian front, Frederic is wounded in the knee by a mortar and sent to a hospital in Milan, where Catherine is also sent. The second book shows the growth of Frederic and Catherine's relationship as they spend time together in Milan over the summer. Frederic and Catherine fall in love as Frederic slowly healed. After his knee healed, he is diagnosed with jaundice but is soon kicked out of the hospital and sent back to the front after being discovered with alcohol. By the time he is sent back, Catherine is three months pregnant. In the third book, Frederic returns to his unit, and soon discovers morale had severely dropped. Not long afterwards the Austrians break through the Italian lines in the Battle of Caporetto, and the Italians retreat. Due to a slow and hectic retreat, Frederic and his men go off trail and quickly get lost, and a frustrated Frederic kills a sergeant for insubordination. After catching up to the main retreat, Frederic is taken to a place by the "battle police," where officers are being interrogated and executed for the "treachery" that supposedly led to the Italian defeat. However, after seeing and hearing that everyone interrogated has been killed, Frederic escapes by jumping into a river. He heads to Milan to find Catherine only to discover that she had been sent to Stresa. In the fourth book, Catherine and Frederic reunite and spend some time in Stresa before Frederic learns he will soon be arrested. He and Catherine then flee to Switzerland in a rowboat. After interrogation by Swiss authorities, they are allowed to stay in Switzerland. In the final book, Frederic and Catherine live a quiet life in the mountains until she goes into labor. After a long and painful birth, their son is stillborn. Catherine begins to hemorrhage and soon dies, leaving Frederic to return to their hotel in the rain.
There are at least two copies of the first edition in which Hemingway re-inserted the censored text by hand, so as to provide a corrected text. One of these copies was presented to Maurice Coindreau; the other, to James Joyce. Hemingway's corrected text has not been incorporated into modern published editions of the novel; however, there are some audiobook versions that are uncensored.
Also, the novel could not be published in Italy until 1948 because the Fascist regime considered it detrimental to the honor of the Armed Forces, both in its description of the Battle of Caporetto, and for a certain anti-militarism implied in the work. More than one biographer suggests that at the base of the censorship of the Fascist regime in the novel there had also been a personal antipathy between the writer and Benito Mussolini. Hemingway was interviewed in 1922, and in his article in the Toronto Star he said of Mussolini that he was "the biggest bluff in Europe's history." But apart from the official reactions, it is known that Mussolini did not like the article at all. The Italian translation had in fact already been written illegally in 1943 by Fernanda Pivano, leading to her arrest in Turin.
Background and publication history
The novel was based on Hemingway's own experiences serving in the Italian campaigns during the First World War. The inspiration for Catherine Barkley was Agnes von Kurowsky, a real nurse who cared for Hemingway in a hospital in Milan after he had been wounded. He had planned to marry her but she spurned his love when he returned to America. Kitty Cannell, a Paris-based fashion correspondent, became Helen Ferguson. The unnamed priest was based on Don Giuseppe Bianchi, the priest of the 69th and 70th regiments of the Brigata Ancona. Although the sources for Rinaldi are unknown, the character had already appeared in In Our Time.
Biographer Reynolds, however, writes that Hemingway was not involved in the battles described. Because his previous novel, The Sun Also Rises, had been written as a roman à clef, readers assumed A Farewell to Arms to be autobiographical. A Farewell to Arms was begun during his time at Willis M. Spear's guest ranch in Wyomings bighorns. Some pieces of the novel were written in Piggott, Arkansas, at the home of his then wife Pauline Pfeiffer, and in Mission Hills, Kansas while she was awaiting delivery of their baby. Pauline underwent a caesarean section as Hemingway was writing the scene about Catherine Barkley's childbirth.
The novel was first serialized in Scribner's Magazine in the May 1929 to October 1929 issues. The book was published in September 1929 with a first edition print-run of approximately 31,000 copies. The success of A Farewell to Arms made Hemingway financially independent.
The Hemingway Library Edition was released in July 2012, with a dust jacket facsimile of the first edition. The newly published edition presents an appendix with the many alternate endings Hemingway wrote for the novel in addition to pieces from early draft manuscripts.
The JFK Library Hemingway collection has two handwritten pages with possible titles for the book. Most of the titles come from The Oxford Book of English Verse. One of the possible titles Hemingway considered was In Another Country and Besides. This comes from The Jew of Malta by Christopher Marlowe. The poem Portrait of a Lady by T. S. Eliot also starts off by quoting this Marlowe work: "Thou hast committed/ Fornication: but that was in another country,/ And besides, the wench is dead." Hemingway's library included both works by Eliot and Marlowe.
Gore Vidal wrote of the text: "... a work of ambition, in which can be seen the beginning of the careful, artful, immaculate idiocy of tone that since has marked ... [Hemingway's] prose." The last line of the 1929 New York Times review reads: "It is a moving and beautiful book."
A three-part television miniseries was made in 1966.
In popular culture
A Farewell to Arms was the first book read by Pat Solitano, Jr. (Bradley Cooper) in the film Silver Linings Playbook. Upon finishing the book Pat hurls it through an attic window before ranting to his parents about how depressing the ending was.
In J. D. Salinger's The Catcher in the Rye, the protagonist Holden Caulfield displays a distaste for the novel.
In Evil Dead 2, the protagonist Ash Williams grabs a copy of the novel to trap a hand under a bucket.
Connections to posttraumatic stress disorder
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Throughout A Farewell to Arms, Hemingway made it clear that Henry and his comrades were suffering mentally and physically from the hardships of war. He did so even before knowledge of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) was common. "During World War I, the shell shock theory expressed the notion of predisposition, weakened reactive capacities, and a stunned nervous system and mind. Soldiers exhibited stupor, irritability, trembling, traumatic dreams, exaggerated startle response with agitation and conversion reactions." Church notes that "Psychological studies were still in their infancy before World War I. The traumas of stalemated, mechanized, trench warfare unleashed a barrage of neurological and psychological disorders in numbers so large that they no longer could be pushed to the margins of public consciousness, as they had been in the past." As the novel progresses, it is evident that Henry’s attitude slowly changes, and his mental health deteriorates. He goes from being carefree and nonchalant to a troubled and stressed out individual. This can be attributed to Henry’s first injury on the field and then witnessing the death of a comrade. After a trench mortar shell hits their location, he sustains a minor injury at the knee, while his companion has both of his legs blown off and bleeds to death. Henry then displays symptoms of what appear to be PTSD while he is in the hospital recovering from his leg injury. As the novel progresses, Hemingway delves deeply into Henry’s mental state. The entire story is told in first person through Henry’s perspective, allowing the reader clear insight as to what the main character is thinking, feeling, and seeing in great detail as he struggles with the ongoing effects of war and the accompanying trauma.
- Mellow (1992), 378
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