Year of Hemingway: A Farewell to Arms

The next book in my Hemingway series was the much celebrated, 1929 World War I epic called "A Farewell to Arms." I found the book particularly interesting because it seemed like a turning point in Hemingway for me. His writing before and after this book seems different. Everything that Hemingway wrote after this book seems similar in some significant ways to "Farewell."

Here the hedonism is almost gone. Even though there is copious amounts of drinking, and banter among colleagues, it seems bleaker than his earlier works in a continual way even before the tragic ending. However, in some strange ways, it does seem more hopeful than anything he wrote after this. There is at least some clear redemption, even if not for ever. There is some sense of genuine pleasure that seems to not show up so much later on.

This is also the first novel where Hemingway's hero makes his first appearance in the shape of the hero of the book - Frederick Henry. Henry is your typical Hemingway hero. The "strong-silent type", a stereotype much beloved and heavily and freely adopted by hollywood and much of american pop culture that sustains to this day. A hero who doesn't talk too much, is brooding, and has little respect for authority but high respect for a moral code -- often of his own definition -- that the audience identifies with generally but not many others in the story do. No wonder so many of his film adaptations feature Gary Cooper or Humphrey Bogart, the two men who represent the timber of an an all-American-Hero better than anyone else followed by Dirty Harry and his ilk of law-breaking law-abiding, strong men. You know them -- they are all around you -- in films, TV, books and novels. They just aren't there so much in real life. Which is why they continue to fare well in fiction.

"Farewell" is the story of a young American ambulance driver in Italy in World War I. He falls in love with a nurse. The War comes in the way of their romance and after a brief but significant period of bliss their love story, like any true one should, hurtles into tragedy and despair. The novel features significant violence and Hemingway almost takes it upon himself to both romanticize War as a theater for strong men to shine and then also continuously tears it apart showing that in War there are no strong men, just survivors.

After France (A Moveable Feast) , France and Spain (The Sun Also Rises), Hemingway's mildly autobiographical hero this time finds himself in Italy and falls in love with a British nurse. While Hemingway describes the countries and cities his heros enhabit, he mostly brings an American point-of-view to his discourse which is sometimes naive and sometimes bemused but almost always different.

The book also strengthens Hemingway as a budding auteur of the modernism movement. Writing in short, unembellished sentences, Hemingway in 1929 is a far cry from the great Victorian authors from just a few years ago.

"A Farewell To Arms" is a must for those fascinated by tragic love stories or by war or just curious to dig into why this novel live on and for anyone whose been curious about the birth of the modern day hero.