Tuesday, June 23, 2009

111. A Farewell to Arms – Ernest Hemingway

December 2007
History: A semi-autobiographical novel first published in 1929. The title is taken from a poem by 16th century English dramatist George Peele. Hemingway served as an ambulance driver for the Italian army in World War I. Severely wounded, he recuperated in a Red Cross hospital in Milan where he fell in love with one of his nurses. This relationship proved the model for Frederic and Catherine's tragic romance in A Farewell to Arms.
Plot:. Lieutenant Henry is an American ambulance driver for the Italian army during WWI . While on the Italian front, Frederick Henry is wounded in the knee by a mortar shell and sent to a hospital in Milan. He meets and attempts to seduce Catherine Barkley, a nurse at the hospital, and their relationship begins. Their relationship grows as they spend time together in Milan over the summer. He falls in love with Catherine but is healed, and has to return to the war. Then he returns to his unit, but not long after, the Austro-Germans break through the Italian lines and the Italians retreat. Frederick kills an engineering sergeant for insubordination. After falling behind and catching up again, he 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 hearing the execution of a Lt.Colonel, Frederick escapes by jumping into a river. Catherine and Frederick reunite and flee to Switzerland in a rowing boat. They find a small home to raise their child. Frederick and Catherine live a quiet life in the mountains until she goes into labour. After a long and painful labour, their son is stillborn. Catherine begins to hemorrhage and soon dies, leaving Frederick to return to their hotel in the rain.
Review: Here is Hemingway at his pessimestic best. It is an absorbing story, capturing the essence of the great Hemingway writing style: lots of dialogue; short, easy to read sentences; and highly autobiographical. Hemingway imbues both Henry and Catherine with exceptional courage and grace throughout the story. Both are so very lonely and the reader is happy to see them find each other and a bit of themselves in the process of falling in love. Together they seem more capable of dealing with the world around them. They are no longer drifting and in many ways are fighting together and for each other.
Told through Henry's point of view, one gets to experience the tension at the front, the adrenaline rush that comes with running from the enemy, and the camaraderie of the men who are fighting for something they do not understand. All they know is that they would like for the war to be over so they can go home; a common refrain in war. Romance, while it may seem like an odd word to use when speaking of war, is pervasive throughout the story; in the descriptions of the men, the sadness and loneliness that pervade the lives of the individuals at the front, and people waiting at home for them to return.
This is a very sad story.
Opening Line: “In the late summer of that year we lived in a house in a village that looked across the river and plain to the mountains.”
Closing Line: “After a while I went out and left the hospital and walked back to the hotel in the rain.”
Quotes: "War is not won by victory."
Rating: Okay.

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