Thursday, January 11, 2018

A Farewell to Arms

There are a lot of pretty cheesy covers for this book out there. I picked the one I  liked the best!

Ernest Hemingway's A Farewell to Arms, published in 1929, is his second major novel, preceded by The Sun Also Rises (1926). The Hemingway I've read in the past have all been from his later years--The Old Man and the Sea, For Whom the Bell Tolls, and Across the River and Into the Trees, plus a number of short stories. I liked Farewell to Arms the best so far.

Yes, the style is easy to parody--everything is fine, grand, or splendid, and the word "very" shows up least once per page--but I found the character and story of Frederic Henry to be compelling.

Set in during WWI (1917/1918), I found the descriptions of the Italian and Swiss countryside to be particularly interesting, and the war scenes with Henry, a lieutenant in the Italian army, serving as an ambulance driver, were incredibly rich in detail.

If I had read the book as a teen or young adult, I would have focused on the love story between Henry and Catherine Barkley, and would have found myself skimming the war scenes. Now, especially since I am trying to understand the mechanics of the early 20th century, I avidly read the war scenes but found my mind wandering a bit as the lovers ("Darling" is another overused word) engaged in endless boring dialogue about drinking, making love, and getting married...someday.

Having read this book, I'm interested in finding a good bio on Hemingway.

Since I'm going on a family vacation to Paris and the Dordogne region this summer, I'm also planning to read Hemingway's A Moveable Feast this spring. And, I would also like to read The Sun Also Rises and reread For Whom the Bell Tolls, plus I have a copy of The Paris Wife, by Paula McLain that I want to read as well.

Visiting Dry Tortuga NP is on my travel wish list for sometime soon, and that would enable me to visit Hemingway's house on Key West. Sounds like I might be setting myself up for a mini-course on Hemingway.

First book in the Back to the Classics 2018 challenge done!


  1. You've peaked my interest. I sort of like Hemingway, but only b/c I've read the Old Man and the Sea three times. It's hardly enough to go on.

    I think I, like you, would also enjoy the war parts of the story, as well as the relationship parts now that I am older. That's how I felt about All Quiet on the Western Front and Red Badge of Courage.

    How fun, going to Paris!

  2. Super review of this book.

    I have not read this but I really need to. I have read For Whom the Bell Tolls as well as many of his short stories.

    It is funny, when I was younger I would have focused on the War passages and skimmed the other stuff :)

    I love Hemingway's style but I can see how some might have trouble with it.

  3. I appreciate Hemingway much more now than when I was younger... it's hard to believe The Old Man and the Sea was even the same book I read in high school. The Sun Also Rises is next on my list.

    The Hemingway House in Key West is well worth a visit. Have been there twice in the past 5 years and always pick up new and interesting details. Keep hoping this will be the year we get to Dry Tortuga, but not holding my breath...

    1. Not sure if you read Nevada Barr mysteries but Flashback takes place on Dry Tortuga NP and involves a parallel story between now and post Civil War when the Lincoln assassins were held there. It was a fabulous read.

  4. I read this book for English in High School and honestly, my memory of it is sketchy at best but I suspect I was too young (15) to really understand what I was reading anyway.

    I did read The Sun Also Rises a couple of years ago and was able to appreciate it even if I didn't love it.

    A Moveable Feast is really lovely and a great book to read as a preparation to visiting Paris I think.

  5. I had to read this book in high school, and I hated it! But I did love A Moveable Feast. Your summer vacation sounds amazing! (I'm only a tiny bit green with envy.) :D

  6. Yes I have liked all the Hemingway books you mention especially A Moveable Feast -- I think you will like a lot. Perfect on a trip to Paris. Hemingway writes so effectively about war ! For Whom the Bell Tolls is also good like Farewell to Arms.

  7. Great review, JaneGS. I have Sun Also Rises in my kindle so I'll be reading that novel first but your commentary on Farewell To Arms has me interested in reading that book as well. I know what you mean about how what we take away from a book changes as we get older. And as you say, reading Farewell To Arms a great introduction to World War I and the effect it had on the 20th century. Have a great time in Paris!

  8. I read this several years ago, and I liked it better than The Sun Also Rises, but less than For Whom the Bell Tolls (I think that's the limit of my Hemingway thus far). I'm with you the cloying dialogue between Henry and his nurse was nauseating. The biggest surprise for me came in sympathising with a deserter...but I was completely cheering for Henry to get away. Nice review.