Week 1: Ernest Hemingway’s A Farewell to Arms Read-a-Long

Welcome to week one of the Ernest Hemingway A Farewell to Arms read-a-long. 

For this week, we read chapters 1-10.  Here are this week’s questions, feel free to join the discussion.

So far, how do you feel about Hemingway’s writing style? Are you enjoying it?

S:  His style for this one is a bit mysterious at first.  You’re not sure where you are exactly, though you know that there are troops moving outside, advancing toward battle.  You’re not even sure who the narrator is at this point.  While the mysterious narration helps keep readers moving through the first chapters, it also can become a bit distancing as well, even though there is a first person narration.  It also seems as though the narrator is telling the story from some point in the future and talking about the past.  I’m on the fence about the narration right now, and wondering if I’m going to feel a connection with these characters.  However, I do enjoy the description of the mountains and the roads that Henry journeys on; it helps frame the story and the action for me and gives me a clear image of his surroundings.

A:  I’d really been looking forward to reading Hemingway, but then I read the first chapter and wasn’t so excited anymore.  Did he know what a comma was?  Was he the king of the run-on sentence?  I must admit, I was really bored at first.  The descriptions of the mountains and the town are so bland.  And I don’t like how little information was given about the setting and the characters at the very beginning.  It’s like the narrator is keeping us at a distance.

Rinaldi and Henry seem to have a brotherly relationship.  Do you think that this friendship will survive throughout the novel or will something come between them?  Speculate.

S:  At first I wondered if Catherine would come between them as Rinaldi was the first to talk about how beautiful she was.  But then when he took Henry to introduce her to him, Rinaldi seemed more interested in the other nurse.  He’s an odd duck.  They do seem to be very chummy, but I wonder if the affection is more one-sided than we can see given the point of view.  Rinaldi always seems to be looking to live vicariously through Henry in one capacity or another — looking to Henry to regale him with heroic tales or tales of female conquests.  I wonder if this relationship will last.  I fear that something will happen to Rinaldi or that he will be forced to save his friend and lose his life in the process.

A: I guess it really depends on how long Rinaldi lives.  Rinaldi seems overly friendly, while Henry is more reserved.  It’s a bit of an odd pairing at this point, but then again, we’re not really given much to go on.  Honestly, it seems that all these men do is drink, visit the “bawdy house,” and poke fun at a priest.  The narrator doesn’t really tell us much about the men, nor are we given much of a glimpse of his inner thoughts, other than the occasional opinion about the war.

What kind of relationship do Lieutenant Henry and Nurse Catherine Barkley seem to have? Are they in love or is it something else?

S:  It seems as though Catherine Barkley is looking to relive the moments she was unable to have with her fiance who died in the battle of the Somme, while Henry seems to be looking for a deeper connection than the relationships he’s had with women in the past — brief flings.  However, he also does not believe he’s in love with her — at least not yet.  In a way, this relationship seems to be one of convenience or at least mutual comfort.

A:  I don’t think they are in love, not at this point anyway.  Catherine is a hard one to figure out; she’s obviously scarred from the death of her childhood sweetheart.  I think they both realize that war is hell and this “relationship” provides some sort of comfort or distraction.

Please post your thoughts (and any questions you might have) in the comments below, or feel free to link to a post you’ve written on your blog.  Thanks for participating!

Next week, we’ll be reading Chapters 11-20.  We’ll post discussion questions on Friday, June 15.

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16 Comments

  1. […] on over today to check out what we’re discussing, but be aware that there could be spoilers. Related […]

  2. I can’t wait to see what everyone thinks about the book so far!

  3. This is what I thought so far, on my re-reading: https://necromancyneverpays.wordpress.com/2012/06/07/a-farewell-to-arms/

  4. Reading your comments, I have to say I agree with both of you. If this book was submitted today to a publisher, I don’t think it would get very far. I’m still trying to get used to the narration (I couldn’t orient myself a few times) and the dialogue. Oh the dialogue! Sometimes I can’t figure out why a character says what he says.

    As for Rinaldi, remember he is Italian. He is prone to show his affection much more than an American, and especially to Henry, who speaks Italian. I thought it funny that he refers to Henry as Baby. I must say that I enjoy the Italian terminology and references throughout the book.

    I don’t think Catherine and Henry are in love either, but I feel something will change in their relationship because of the War. Let’s hope the next ten chapters will move the plot along more excitingly.

  5. I’ve never read Hemingway before, so while I was looking forward to reading this, I also had some concerns whether I would like his writing style. Sometimes the “classic” authors are difficult to read, but that hasn’t been true for me with Hemingway. I’ve found his style to be easy to read. The first couple of chapters had a fairy tale quality to them – I almost felt like it should have started out “Once upon a time. . .” I agree that this style keeps the reader at a distance and makes it more difficult to get to know the characters. I suspect that this was his intent. It gets less and less fairy tale like as it goes along, so maybe we’ll get to know the characters better too.

    I was also surprised that when Henry fell for Catherine Barkley it didn’t cause a rift in his friendship with Rinaldi. I think that would have been the main event to cause problems between them, so maybe the friendship can survive. I also found it funny that Rinaldi calls Henry Baby – I wonder if that’s an Italian thing from that time period.

    I don’t think Henry and Catherine Barkley are in love. They haven’t known each other very long and really know very little about each other. Catherine still very much misses her fiance. They are more playing a game of being in love than actually being in love and I think they both know it. But they do enjoy each others company at present. I don’t really expect them to end up together, but I could be wrong.

  6. I think Rinaldi is more of a player when it comes to women….just sort of getting to know all the women and romancing them all. I’m not sure he really gets attached to any of them.

  7. You might be right about Rinaldi, Serena – I hadn’t really thought about that. One thing I forgot to say was how surprised I was about the accommodations that Henry and the others had. Whenever I think about WWI, I always think about the trenches. I never knew some companies lived in comparative luxury. Of course I know they were a medical unit, but still . . .

  8. I wrote a post for my answers. Thanks a bunch, I’m enjoying it!
    http://impressionsinink.blogspot.com/2012/06/farewell-to-arms-by-ernest-hemingway.html

  9. Here’s mine. So far I am not grabbed, but I kind of thought that might happen. http://howlingfrog.blogspot.com/2012/06/farewell-to-arms-readalong.html

  10. Glad we have so many people taking part! It’s good to know I’m not the only one having trouble with the writing style.

    Laura: I’m sure you’re right that Rinaldi’s being overly demonstrative has to do with him being Italian. Him calling Henry baby is very entertaining.

    Cheryl: I agree that Hemingway’s style is easy to read, and I’m glad you’re enjoying it.

    Serena: I agree that Rinaldi may be a player. Maybe that’s why Catherine liking Henry and not him didn’t affect their friendship.

    It seems that we all agree that they aren’t in love…at least not yet. I just hope the book doesn’t turn into a romance novel. 😉

  11. http://booksnob-booksnob.blogspot.com/2012/06/farewell-to-arms-read-long.html
    I finally finished my weekly progress. Thanks for the great questions. So far, I pretty much cannot stand Clara and I agree with you that they are definitely not in love but together out of a mutual need for affection.

  12. Miss Barkley is a strange one. It seems that she doesn’t know what she wants. I’m interested to see how this relationship plays out.

  13. As I’ve read on, I’ve found it even more peculiar that Frederic Henry, the protagonist, is so often referred to only by his last name or even the Italian for his title, Tenente. I think it says something about how others see him–distantly. Even Catherine doesn’t call him by his first name, that I’ve noticed.

  14. […] you are interested in checking out the read-along discussion (BEWARE OF SPOILERS), go here:  Week 1, Week 2, Week 3, Week 4. Book 11 for the WWI Reading Challenge Book 26 for the Historical Fiction […]

  15. […] out the read-a-long discussions for week 1, week 2, week 3, and week 4 at War Through the […]


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