A Farewell to Arms

Tale of amour and other events of World War-I

A Farewell to Arms by Ernest Hemingway, publisher - Charles Scribner's Sons in 1929

A Farewell to Arms is a novel by Ernest Hemingway based on the platform of the Italian campaign of World War I. Published in 1929, the storyline evolves around the first-person account of American Frederic Henry, serving as a Lieutenant ("Tenente") in the ambulance corps of the Italian Army.

The novel has been adapted for the stage, initially in 1930 and subsequently, for the 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.

There is something so complete in Mr. Hemingway's achievement in A Farewell to Arms that one is left speculating as to whether another novel will follow in this manner, and whether it does not complete both a period and a phase.

The title of this novel is taken from a poem by 16th-century English dramatist George Peele.
A Farewell to Arms
By George Peele
"And when he saddest sits in homely cell,    
He'll teach his swains this carol for a song,-    
'Blest be the hearts that wish my sovereign well,
Curst be the souls that think her any wrong.'    
Goddess, allow this agèd man his right    
To be your beadsman now that was your knight." [Excerpt]

The story starts brilliantly with the love-making between the young American hero, Henry, a volunteer in the Italian Ambulance Service, and Catherine Barkley, an English nurse in the British hospital at Goritzia.

There is the subtle feminine charm in the Englishwoman's response to the man, who, at first, is just amusing himself, but the affair soon develops into a real passion.

The love affair between the expatriate American Henry and Catherine Barkley develops 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."

Frederic Henry, the American paramedic serving in the Italian Army gets introduced to Catherine Barkley, an English nurse, by his good friend and roommate, Rinaldi, a surgeon. Frederic attempts to seduce her, and their relationship begins. Frederic's feelings for Catherine slowly starts to grow although he didn't want a serious relationship.

Frederic gets wounded in the knee by a mortar on the Italian front and sent to a hospital in Milan, where Catherine is also sent. Frederic and Catherine's relationship grows as they spend time together in Milan over the summer. Frederic and Catherine fall in love as Frederic slowly heals. After his knee heals, 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. Frederic returns to his unit and discovers morale has 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 has been sent to Stresa. 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.

 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.

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.

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 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.

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.

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."

The novel was first adapted to the stage by Laurence Stallings in 1930, then to film in 1932, with a 1957 remake. A three-part television miniseries was made in 1966.


The reviewer is an engineer &
freelance writer

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