Review: A FAREWELL TO ARMS by Ernest Hemingway

 

She Reads Novels recently read and reviewed A Farewell to Arms by Ernest Hemingway for the WWI Reading Challenge in 2012.  Here’s a sample:

Hemingway’s writing style is very simple and direct, he gets straight to the point and avoids flowery language and long, detailed descriptions (though he still manages to choose just the right words to evoke the settings he is writing about). You might think that such plain, simple prose would be easy to read but for me, the opposite was true; it was distracting and it took me a long time to get used to it.

Read the full review.

**Attention participants: Remember to email us a link to your reviews, and we’ll post them here so we can see what everyone is reading!**

Review: A FAREWELL TO ARMS by Ernest Hemingway

The Nerd Reports recently read and reviewed A Farewell to Arms by Ernest Hemingway for the WWI Reading Challenge in 2012.  Here’s a sample:

Although the manner with which Hemingway writes may be off putting to some, his story is still engaging. He draws a picture, and although it is not filled in with vibrant colors and numerous details, it is still a picture.

Read the full review.

**Attention participants: Remember to email us a link to your reviews, and we’ll post them here so we can see what everyone is reading!**

Reviews: A FAREWELL TO ARMS by Ernest Hemingway

A couple of WWI Reading Challenge participants recently read and reviewed A Farewell to Arms by Ernest Hemingway as part of the War Through the Generations read-along in June.  Here are excerpts; click the links to read the full reviews.

Book Snob said:

Hemingway has created a novel with unlikeable characters who struggle to find happiness and peace during WWI.  It is a tragedy told in five parts.  It is melodramatic at times but holds to Hemingway’s theory that “war is permanent” and that Nature “can have only one end”.  Reading Hemingway, one must acknowledge that what isn’t said in the book is just as important as what is.

Library of Clean Reads said:

Sometimes when I was reading scenes with dialogue, it was almost like reading a play. I had to fill out the rest with my imagination. I caught the humour and perhaps at times the irony or sarcasm in the speech, but I will be honest in saying that there are several scenes that were boring, repetitive, and frustrating.

**Attention participants: Remember to email us a link to your reviews, and we’ll post them here so we can see what everyone is reading!**

Review: A FAREWELL TO ARMS by Ernest Hemingway

This year, War Through the Generations hosted a read-a-long of A Farewell to Arms by Ernest Hemingway, and a bunch of participants and non-participants in the challenge read along with us.  Here are some of the reviews from participants.

Impressions in Ink said:

I fully understood this wise sage or prophet’s statement by the end of the story. Henry does face trauma in the war, and with Catherine, and he will be faced with doing things for and sacrificing for. A Farewell To Arms is about an officer in World War I and we are given brief glimpses of the war itself.

Read the full review.

Scrappy Cat said:

I had never read any Hemingway before, so I thought this would be a good chance to read something of his.  It is the semi-autobiographical story of American Lieutenant Fredric Henry, who is serving as an ambulance driver in the Italian Army, and the love affair between Henry and the British nurse Catherine Barkley.

Read the full review.

Diary of an Eccentric said:

Much of what I didn’t like about A Farewell to Arms has to do with the distance placed between the reader and the narrator, which is disappointing because the story is told in the first person.  I never felt like I knew Henry; for much of the book, his inner thoughts are concealed from the reader.

Read the full review.

Savvy Verse & Wit said:

There is desperation and scrambling for comfort and a sense of normalcy, but the hopelessness pervades everything in the novel and highlights the truth of war.  Hemingway’s terse sentences, little insight into his main character, and the over-the-top antics and subservience of Barkley to Henry can get overwrought.

Read the full review.

**Attention participants: Remember to email us a link to your reviews, and we’ll post them here so we can see what everyone is reading!**

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

Welcome to the final week of the Ernest Hemingway A Farewell to Arms read-a-long.   If you missed week 1 , week 2, and week 3 check them out.

For this week, we read chapters 31-end.  Here are this week’s questions, feel free to join the discussion.  Watch out for spoilers.

1.  In Chapter 31, as Henry is swept down the river, he refers to a “we”.  Who do you think this “we” is?

S:  At first glance, I felt like he was anthropomorphizing the log, which may be the case.  But I kept reading the “we” and wondered if there were not two of himself floating on that river — the dedicated, courageous stoic engaged in the fighting and his duty and the man who was becoming disillusioned and heartbroken about what the war had become and had taken from him.

A: I didn’t give that much thought to be honest, but it’s an interesting question. I must say that I like your answer.

2.  After Henry’s escape into the river, he talks about not having any obligation to the war effort on either side, though he wishes both sides luck.  Do you think he is no longer brave/courageous or is it something else?  Explain.

S:  I think after being targeted simply for being an officer once the lines of defense are broken and for being an American, Henry has a new perspective on his comrades in arms.  There is a greater sense of “otherness” in Henry’s statements.  I wouldn’t say that he is any less brave or courageous, but I would definitely say that he’s fed up with war and all that it entails.

A: I was going to say the same thing, that he’s just fed up. He even says something about it not being his show anymore, which could mean that he’s done with the entire war or that as an American in the Italian army, he’s realized that it’s not his fight. I do think that running away from the police and jumping in the river while being shot at was pretty courageous, especially when you consider that none of the other officers followed him.

3.  In this last section, it seems that some humor comes into play between Henry and Catherine.  Did this impact your feelings about the characters and/or their relationship?

S:  I think it was good to see Catherine and Henry away from the immediate effects of the war and the front.  While I, overall, do not like Catherine’s subservience to Henry emotionally and psychologically, I did see a side to them that was tender and playful.  I chuckled a bit when she threw the pillow at him after he mentioned that he had a baby at the recovery hospital after she said that she knew little about babies because very few of the soldiers had them.  I also saw a tenderness between them as they rowed across the lake to Switzerland, which was good to see after thinking that their relationship was based on mutual comfort in war time.  Of course, the final scene in the book tells all about Henry’s love for Catherine.

A: I liked the part where he’s all tired and sore from rowing, and she’s laughing at him because the umbrella he uses as a sail turns inside out. And her having him grow a beard and him watching her get her hair done, that was pretty intimate in the long-term-relationship kind of way. Although I found the chapters when they were in Switzerland kind of boring, I did like two of them a little bit more because they were away from the war and settling into a more comfortable relationship.

4.  What did you think of the ending? Did you think it was too abrupt?

S:  The ending for me was not too abrupt so much as I wanted it to have ended when he was in the room with Catherine’s dead body.  I wasn’t too crazy about the ending, but I can see that Hemingway was going for total desolation here, though he could have achieved it more easily with an ending that came sooner.  I don’t think the conversation with the doctor was necessary.

A: I agree that the conversation with the doctor was unnecessary, and I really wanted to know what happened next. Where did he go? Did he make it through the rest of the war without being arrested?

5.  What did you think of Catherine’s death and Henry’s reaction to losing her?

S:  I knew her death was on the horizon, but that could be because Hemingway is not a happy writer, at least not in my experience.  When the doctor said he could do the Caesarian, I knew that was the end for her.  I think I was more dumbfounded by his reaction to her death than anything, but he’s definitely a broken man by this point and probably can’t muster much else in response.  What bothered me more than anything was his reaction to the baby; he “had not feeling of fatherhood!”  And there was such a disregard on his part for finding out what was going on with the baby!  If that’s not telling about his character and his relationship, I don’t know what is!  Yes, he’s devastated and overwhelmed, but this is your child for god-sake!

A: I wasn’t surprised at his reaction to the baby. Maybe he was in shock and still needed to process his son’s death, and at the same time, he has this feeling that Catherine is going to die, and those thoughts consume him. However, they didn’t seem to think too much about the baby during the previous months, even waiting until the last minute to buy baby clothes and other supplies.

I thought it was interesting how the book ended with Henry so lost without Catherine because it reminded me of all the times that she indicated that she was lost without him. I know I didn’t buy their being in love at the beginning, but by the end, I was more convinced of it. I’m still not sure whether it would have lasted, but that ended up being a non-issue with her death. I figured she was going to die, and even though she’s a fictional character, it did make me feel a little guilty for being so annoyed with her throughout the book. She may have been a weak, nagging woman, but she didn’t deserve to die like that.

6.  What are your overall impressions of A Farewell to Arms?

S:  Hemingway’s writing style here worked for me best when Henry was at the front, escaping his enemies, or fleeing Italy for Switzerland with Catherine.  The short, declarative sentences increased the tension of those moments for me.  Where the style didn’t work for me is in Henry’s exchanges with Catherine, which just seemed like staged conversation or even ridiculous.  Moreover, there was a distance between the reader and the narrator, Henry, who seemed to be telling his tail in the first person, but from somewhere in the future and looking back.

There are a great many losses piling up throughout the novel and these really crush Henry in the end where he wonders what is left to do.  Without the war effort, his friends, his escape, and Catherine, what is left for him but to merely survive.  It makes me wonder if he is strong enough in spirit and faith to find a new dream and to live life fully in the aftermath.  Although he seems brave and courageous, is that enough to see him through this tragedy?

This book was just an OK read for me; having read other books of his, I don’t think this was his best.

A: I don’t think I’ll be running out and buying other Hemingway novels, that’s for sure. I didn’t prefer his writing style, but there were times that it worked, like when Henry goes back to the front. I thought the book started out slow and boring, then picked up when he goes back to the front and escapes, but once they make it to Switzerland, it was really boring again, until the very end.

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!

Also, please let us know if you post a full review, and we’ll be happy to feature it on the main page.

Week 3: Ernest Hemingway’s A Farewell to Arms Read-a-Long

Welcome to week 3 of the Ernest Hemingway A Farewell to Arms read-a-long.   If you missed week 1 and week 2, check them out. 

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!

Beware that these discussions could contain spoilers.

1.  “The coward dies a thousand deaths, the brave but one” is a statement made by Henry, and he and Catherine enter into a discourse about bravery.  Do you think either character is brave and do you think Catherine is right when she says the brave die more deaths but just don’t talk about it? Explain.

S:  I don’t think either character is particularly brave, though I suppose there has to be a bit of courage in both of them given the circumstances, with Henry volunteering for the Italian army as an ambulance driver and Catherine being brave enough to disclose her pregnancy to a man that she isn’t married to and hasn’t really made a commitment to her.

As for the brave facing more deaths, that may be true in war and most of the time they brave ones likely do not talk about it.  Do they really have the luxury of talking about it if they are consistently throwing themselves in harm’s way to save the innocent or in times of war their fellow officers and soldiers?  I think not.

A:  Maybe the brave not talking about the times they’ve faced death keeps them from breaking down.  They can’t think about it because if they do, they’d become fearful and more likely to do something careless and die.  I remember a discussion along those lines in the Stephen Ambrose book, Band of Brothers.

I think they are both at least trying to be brave, with Catherine saying she’ll figure out the best place to have the baby knowing that Henry probably won’t be with her and she likely will be shunned by some of the nurses.  There is so little emotion or inner turmoil on Henry’s part, but he seems to calmly make arrangements to get back to the front, which might be construed as bravery.

2. What do you think about Henry’s reaction to Catherine’s pregnancy announcement?

S:  He doesn’t really have time to react at all; she’s too busy talking over him and telling him not to worry.  He has little time to just agree with whatever she’s talking about, and that seems to be how they relate to one another.  The short responses from Henry tell me a great deal about the shock he’s feeling and his possible mixed emotions about his relationship with her and how careless they have been.  They aren’t even married and it never really crosses their minds to change that situation, even for the sake of the child.

A:  Catherine tells him and goes on about him not worrying and whether it’s all right, and all Henry gives are short responses.  “Of course.”  “I’m not worried.”  I would have loved to know what was going on in his mind, which really is the benefit of the first-person POV, but you get none of that here.  Here he is with a woman he says he loves but probably doesn’t truly love getting ready to go back to war, and she still thinks of them as married but they’re not, and he just learns he’s going to be a father.  Maybe the short responses are very telling, but it’s difficult to know that for sure given the distance between the reader and the narrator from the very beginning.

3.  Why do you think Catherine suddenly feels like a whore rather than Henry’s wife?  What does that say about her character?

S:  She only seems to think of herself as a whore once they enter the hotel room on the day before he leaves for the front once again.  It seems as though she’s been just going along with their affair with little thought beyond the pleasure and comfort it provides her, but now that she’s in a room with deep red drapery and satin sheets, she realizes that she’s been sleeping with this man out of wedlock.  Still, she has no desire to go into the cathedral and remedy the situation before that, and part of me wonders if that’s her denial or fear of what will happen if she were to suggest it, especially now that she is pregnant.

As for her character, it’s pretty telling already what kind of woman she is.  She has no identity without him, she doesn’t plan anything ahead of time, and sort of goes with the flow to the point of the ridiculous.  She is such a weak character.

A: I suppose I would feel like a whore, too, if I were to go to a hotel with a man I don’t know all that well and am not married to just to have sex in the few hours he has left before going back to war.  And when he leaves, she’s going to be alone, with no husband, no boyfriend, most likely no job, and a baby to take care of.  I guess that put it all into perspective for her.  And don’t forget stopping on the way to buy a nightgown.

4.  When Henry is debating the feeling of defeat with the priest and the possible end to the war, Henry says, “‘They were beaten to start with.  They were beaten when they took them from their farms and put them in the army.  That is why the peasant has wisdom, because he is defeated from the start.'”  How is this statement true or not true?

S:  In many ways when farmers and peasants are “conscripted” into the military during these kinds of wars, they are taken from their homes without warning and leave their families to fend for themselves, which in many cases they are unable to do.  Many of these families are in poverty to start with and often see the military as a way out or to earn money, but the problem is that most die or never see any money from their military actions.  While the priest believes that the soldiers are seeing the war for what it is because of the things they have seen, Henry disagrees and says that these soldiers were already beaten before they came to the war.

A:  The peasant who doesn’t join up voluntarily has a pretty good idea of what’s ahead of him.  They’ve just been pulled away from their homes, their families, and their livelihoods, which is difficult in itself, to go off and fight a battle they don’t necessarily want to fight.  They are not the officers that plow ahead and follow orders and keep focused on the goal.  They know what it’s like to be down, and they know already that war isn’t going to make anything better for them.

5. What do you think about the way Hemingway describes the front?

S:  I really enjoyed this section of the book most.  The short sentences provide the right amount of tension for the movements and the hiding from the Germans who unexpectedly show up.  If I had to pick, this would be my favorite part of the book.  He gets right down to the nitty gritty.

A:  Like the rest of the description in the book, it is bland and without emotion.  Even though my mind kept wandering throughout his rambling descriptions, I think his writing style actually works here because the front is dark, desolate, and depressing.  There is no romance in war, and there is no romance in Hemingway’s prose.

6. What do you think about the shift in the story from Henry’s therapy and his relationship with Catherine to the front and the retreat?

S:  I was so glad to be rid of Catherine.  I can’t stand her constant “smoothing” over every situation and every “argument” they have.  The front and the retreat are the best parts of the book for me because this is where Hemingway shines best.  Henry’s not in control of the situation and there seems to be a little fear that he may not make it through the interrogation of the officers and the shootings.  But in true Henry fashion, he takes control again and escapes.

A: I was glad to get away from Catherine and her nagging and blabbering.  The very last chapter of this section, with the retreat, the shooting of the sergeant, spotting the Germans, and Henry being singled out with the other officers for questioning and execution by the carabinieri, was the best part of the book so far.  There was some action, some tension; Henry wasn’t in control of the situation for once.  We’re still distanced from Henry’s inner thoughts, but Hemingway lets us in just a bit when Henry has to choose between waiting for his turn to be shot or making a run for it.  If only more of the book had been that exciting!

Next week, we’ll be reading Chapters 31-41 (aka the end).  We’ll post final discussion questions on Friday, June 29.

Week 2: Ernest Hemingway’s A Farewell to Arms Read-a-Long

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

For this week, we read chapters 11-20.  Here are this week’s questions, feel free to join the discussion.

1. There is a lot of talk about being tired or the priest looking tired in this section.  What do you think Hemingway is trying to get at?

S:  In many ways, these scenes in which the narrator talks about people being tired or looking tired, I think it’s Hemingway’s way of demonstrating that war takes its toll on everyone, including priests and soldiers.  In a way, it demonstrates how just being a witness to war can take its toll.  However, I wonder if Hemingway could have done more to describe the characters as being tired, rather than having the narrator tell readers that he looked or was tired.  I wanted to see the bags under the eyes and the drawn faces and pale complexions from lack of sleep.

A: That’s about the most descriptive Hemingway gets, to simply say he seemed and sounded tired. So far, aside from the scene in which Henry is wounded, it feels like it’s a book about the war without being a book about the war. The war is always there, in talk of the front, in the priest being tired, in Henry being wounded, but it’s like it’s in the background, which I think is tied to the distance Hemingway puts between readers and his characters.

2.  The relationship between Henry and Catherine is heating up.  At one point she talks about how there is no separate her and that she is Henry.  Please explain what you think she means.

S:  I wonder if this relationship truly is a love match.  I think that they are overly dramatic about their feelings for one another and remind me of young teenagers in love who are obsessive about their feelings and proximity to one another — much of which is related to high hormone levels and immaturity of emotion.  It is unclear how old Henry is, but he would have to be a young man given his reactions to the world around him and his seemingly carefree attitude about his injuries and the obsessive nature of his “love” for Catherine.  I think Catherine finds an escape from the war in Henry, and she quite easily loses herself in their relationship because its the brightest spot in the ordeal for her.

A: I think they love each other in the sense that they comfort one another in the midst of war. I’m still not convinced that it’s really love. I would love to know if Catherine seemed so crazy in her life before the war. The way she talks and goes on about whether he really loves her and if she’s doing everything he wants her to do, etc., is a bit much. If it weren’t for the war, I wonder how quickly Henry would tire of her. Maybe because of her recent loss, she’s desperate for some love and happiness. You can see that desperation in her unwillingness to get married because she doesn’t want to be parted from Henry and she’s already lost someone she’d been waiting to marry.

3.  What are your impressions of Henry so far given his reaction to the war, being wounded, falling in love, and his relationships to others?

S:  I still feel distant from Henry, like I know very little about him given that he does not tell us his age at the time of the war and that the POV seems to be from an older Henry sometime in the future and reflecting back.  This construct makes readers distant from Henry the character and the narrator, which makes me wonder what he’s hiding about his past.  I did find it odd that he seems to be the only one able to take charge of the situation at the recovery hospital that is ill-prepared for his arrival and that he calmly adapts to the situation and the pain in his legs before, during and after surgery.  However, part of that may be his use of alcohol to numb the pain, as he’s seen drinking and or getting drunk at several points during his transition from the field hospital to the hospital where he will have surgery and commence his recovery.

A: I don’t feel any real connection to Henry. I don’t even know if I like him, and I don’t feel too invested in his story at this point. I’m intrigued about why an American would join the Italian Army, but we get so few details about him. I don’t know how old he is, I can’t form a picture of what he might look like in my mind, and I don’t really understand what motivates him. He seems like a good officer, with command over any situation, and he seems well liked and respected. He’s not someone who likes sitting still. I wonder if the intensity of his relationship with Catherine during his recovery has to do with him being bored and wanting to forget about the war and having to go back to it soon.

4. What do you think of Hemingway’s writing style and the story itself so far? Are you enjoying it?

S:  I’ve gotten used to the terse prose and the rambling, but the lack of detail irks me.  I want to see the places he is; I want to see the front; I want to know how old these people are.  I don’t mind the story so far, though it really seems to be more about this love affair and less about the actual war.  It’s just an OK read so far.

A: I think I’m getting used to the sparse prose, and if it’s rambling, I’m noticing it less. The lack of detail and connection to the characters is preventing me from really getting involved in the story. I’m only mildly curious about what will happen next, so I just hope it gets better.

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 21-30.  We’ll post discussion questions on Friday, June 22.

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