Ernest Hemingway’s first major critical and financial success, A Farewell to Arms is based on Hemingway’s own experience in World War I. It tells the love story of American ambulance-driver Frederic Henry and English nurse Catherine Barkley. Hemingway’s intense, focused language vividly conveys the emotional and physical challenges of war, as well as the strange ways that war heightens – even as it often shortcuts and twists – ordinary emotions and relationships.
A new edition of A Farewell to Arms, published a few months ago by Scribner, is perhaps the best argument for choosing this book for UConn Reads. The new edition includes forty-seven alternate endings that Hemingway wrote for the book, as well as other previously unpublished draft material. The endings include one suggested by Hemingway’s friend F. Scott Fitzgerald (another UConn Reads finalist), a bleak observation that the world “breaks everyone,” and those “it does not break it kills.” This new material provides special and fascinating access to the writer’s process, which seems all the more interesting now, at a time when our access to that process is changing. For more contemporary authors we now less commonly have longhand or typed drafts to study, since computers don’t encourage or necessitate that kind of writerly trace – and I’m not entirely sure that authors’ blogs supply the loss, as interesting as they can be.
There are some great programming options for A Farewell To Arms. The 1932 film adaptation stars Helen Hayes and Gary Cooper was a hit in its day; it received Academy Awards for Best Cinematography and Best Sound, and was nominated for Best Picture and Best Art Direction. There have been other film and television adaptations, including a 1957 version starring Jennifer Jones and Rock Hudson. I’m also intrigued by the numerous radio adaptations – possibly a great opportunity to bring WHUS into UConn Reads!
And then of course there’s the sixteenth-century writer George Peel’s poem “A Farewell to Arms,” which inspired Hemingway’s title:
HIS golden locks Time hath to silver turn’d;
O Time too swift, O swiftness never ceasing!
His youth ‘gainst time and age hath ever spurn’d,
But spurn’d in vain; youth waneth by increasing:
Beauty, strength, youth, are flowers but fading seen;
Duty, faith, love, are roots, and ever green.
His helmet now shall make a hive for bees;
And, lovers’ sonnets turn’d to holy psalms,
A man-at-arms must now serve on his knees,
And feed on prayers, which are Age his alms:
But though from court to cottage he depart,
His Saint is sure of his unspotted heart.
And when he saddest sits in homely cell,
He’ll teach his swains this carol for a song,–
‘Blest be the hearts that wish my sovereign well,
Curst be the souls that think her any wrong.’
Goddess, allow this aged man his right.
Julie Bosman, “To Use and Use Not,” The New York Times, July 5, 2012.