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A Farewell to Arms ()

Modern Library Top 100 Novels of the 20th Century (74)

Frederick Henry is an American driving an ambulance for the Italian Army during WWI.  He meets & woos Catherine Barkley, an English nurse, who tends him when he is wounded in an artillery barrage.  He deserts following the Italian retreat after the Battle of Caporetto.  They flee to Switzerland where Catherine and her baby die during childbirth.

Now I'll be the first to admit that, not only am I not a romantic, I'm an anti Romantic.  Trouble arises because this book is faux romantic and truly Romantic.  By faux romantic, I mean that Hemingway has written an imitation of a love story.  Frederick & Catherine are two of those people who seem to be in love with the idea of being in love.  They are both so opaque that we struggle futilely to develop any empathy for them.  Because we don't feel much for them, it's hard to believe they feel anything much for each other.

One of the Websites below had an essay about role-playing in the novel.  The essayist's point was that the characters are merely playing out roles, that they present false facades to one another.  This makes sense in light of what we later learned about Hemingway's sexuality.  For him, romantic love between a man and a woman must have been especially mysterious.  In fact, none of the scenes between the two lovers has as much electricity as the scenes where Frederick's Italian bunkmate kisses him in that European way.  The characters are trapped in duplicitous roles, just as Hemingway spent his life playing the macho man.  Of course, Hemingway finally crumbled under the weight of the lie he was living & blew his own brains out.

The characters failure to connect is also function of what I refer to as the novel's truly Romantic aspect.  By Romantic, I mean that movement in the Arts which elevated Man above God and the individual above the universal.  Frederick & Catherine are essentially in love with themselves, not with each other, and with some personal mental construct of what a great love would be like.  They have no universal traits that would make us love them or help us understand what they see in one another.  Their love is an anachronism, understood only by them & the author, who as we've seen, probably didn't understand what love was like between a man and a woman.

In the book's favor, Hemingway writes in the straightforward manner for which he was justly famous, so it's easy to understand what's going on, if not to care.


Grade: (D)


This was my first Hemmingway read, and I went into it with very high expectations. I expected to finish it wanting more. Well, in truth, I did finish it wanting more. More of a connection, more genuine feelings, more anything to keep my interest.

- Kelly

- May-22-2007, 14:51


I agree with you. The dialogue has no emotion behind it. It is like reading a script for a play. I found the fact that Hemingway tries to create that serious Romantic mood is just laugable. The fact that he uses short simple syntax contrast deeply with the fact that two people are in love during the time of war. Where is the emotion, esp. when the hero is wounded, or when the baby dies?? No one is gonna reply that is was okay for his child to die in that manner.


- Nov-30-2006, 09:23


I actually like the suggestion for retitling your website, and I bet is an available domain name.

- jrm

- Jul-30-2004, 14:41


"In the book's favor, Hemingway writes in the straightforward manner for which he was justly famous, so it's easy to understand what's going on, if not to care."

By golly, you've got some pretty shocking iconoclastic statements on this site, but that one takes the biscuit. The ending of A Farewell to Arms is the most emotionally devastating I can think of, apart perhaps from that of The Grapes of Wrath.

Your obsession with the 'politics' of every novel renders most of your reviews rediculously narrow in scope, as if you were reading with blinkers on.

A better title for this site would be 'Lots of books, and how they fit in with my conservative view of the world.' You certainly don't judge books on their merits as literature.


- May-13-2003, 10:01