A Farewell to Arms
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A Farewell to Arms is a novel by Ernest Hemingway set during the Italian campaign of World War I. First published in 1929, it is a first-person account of an American, Frederic Henry, serving as a lieutenant ("tenente") in the ambulance corps of the Italian Army. The title is taken from a poem by the 16th-century English dramatist George Peele.
The novel, set against the backdrop of World War I, describes a love affair between the expatriate Henry and an English nurse, Catherine Barkley. Its publication ensured Hemingway's place as a modern American writer of considerable stature. The book became his first best-seller, and has been called "the premier American war novel from that debacle World War I."
The novel has been adapted a number of times, initially for the stage in 1930; as a film in 1932 and again in 1957, and as a three-part 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 sections. In the first, Frederic Henry, an American paramedic serving in the Italian Army, is introduced to Catherine Barkley, an English nurse, by his good friend and roommate, Rinaldi, a surgeon. Frederic attempts to seduce her; although he doesn't want a serious relationship, his feelings for Catherine build. Frederic is wounded in the knee by a mortar on the Italian Front and sent to a hospital in Milan, where Catherine is also sent.
The second section shows the growth of Frederic and Catherine's relationship as they spend time together in Milan over the summer. Frederic and Catherine gradually fall in love. After his knee heals, Frederic is diagnosed with jaundice but is soon kicked out of the hospital and sent back to the front after it is discovered he concealed alcohol. By the time he is sent back, Catherine is three months pregnant.
In the third section, Frederic returns to his unit, and discovers morale has severely dropped. Not long afterwards, the Austro-Hungarians break through the Italian lines in the Battle of Caporetto, and the Italians retreat. Due to a slow and chaotic 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 has been sent to Stresa.
In the fourth section, Catherine and Frederic reunite and spend some time in Stresa before Frederic learns he will soon be arrested. He and Catherine then flee to neutral Switzerland in a rowboat given to him by a barkeep. After interrogation by Swiss authorities, they are allowed to stay in Switzerland.
In the final section, 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.
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 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.
Much of the plot was written in correspondence with Frederic J. Agate. Agate, Hemingway's friend, had a collection of letters to his wife from his time in Italy, which were later used as inspiration.
Michael 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 Wyoming's 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.
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 had interviewed him in 1923, shortly after he seized power, and in his article in the Toronto Star he poured scorn on Mussolini, calling him "the biggest bluff in Europe." But, apart from the official reactions, it is known that Mussolini did not like the article at all: Hemingway described Mussolini as trying to impress the media by pretending to be deeply absorbed in reading, while in reality holding a French-English dictionary–held upside down. The Italian translation had in fact already been prepared illegally in 1943 by Fernanda Pivano, leading to her arrest in Turin.
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A Farewell to Arms was met with favorable criticism and is considered one of Hemingway's best literary works.
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."
However, since publication, A Farewell to Arms has also been the target of various controversy. Upon its flimsy publication—due to the medium of its release—through Scriber's Magazine, it was banned from Boston newsstands due to accusations of a pornographic nature, despite Hemingway's deliberate exclusion of graphic descriptions of sex, using omission as a literary device.
- Mellow (1992), 378
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- Reynolds (2000), 31
- Villard, Henry Serrano & Nagel, James. Hemingway in Love and War: The Lost Diary of Agnes von Kurowsky: Her letters, and Correspondence of Ernest Hemingway (ISBN 1-55553-057-5 H/B/ISBN 0-340-68898-X P/B)
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