I think I may have mentioned before growing up in a house that had a reverence for things considered to be ‘classics’. It is a pretty stupid way of looking at the world, where one takes the value of an object from someone else and applies reverence to it without contemplation. Thankfully, I walked away from these opinions, and began to ask myself, with each of these so called ‘classics’, is this book actually worthy of the merit it has received?
I don’t know what the answer is for Hemingway.
A Farewell to Arms is Hemingway’s true war novel. It takes place on the Italian side of the Italian Austrian border during World War I, and follows an American doctor volunteering there, despite America not yet being in the war at that time (events that mirror Hamingway’s own experience). In this war torn setting, the protagonist falls in love with an English nurse, and their romance is rendered difficult by the events of the war.
Slight bias. I was living in both the Friuli and Udine of this novels setting while reading it. It endeared me to it more than a little.
I am trying to do my best to put aside my love hate relationship with Hemingway and trying to consider the issue as dispassionately as possible. This is a bit on the impossible side. Hemingway’s style puts as much as possible into the subtext, and thus a lot of the story seems to be left unsaid. I felt this very much reading this book. I know from reading his other works that he feels a sense of disillusionment with war generally, and certainly the events of this book (SPOILERS: the main character going AWOL for the woman he loves, only to have her ultimately die on him regardless), but these actions seem to reflect more on the emptiness of life than the pointlessness of war. It wasn’t, ultimately, the war’s fault that she did die. In The Sun Also Rises, we see a man who considers himself ‘ruined’ by the war, while here we have a man who fled the war and had his life ripped apart despite the fleeing. There is a sense of ‘life is cruel’ that seems inescapable for Hemingway, and even though he considered principally some kind of a war writer, war seems not to really be the catch.
I keep a to-do list which I am alternatively proud and ashamed to say that I live by. Saying so has helped me in job interviews. On it, I have a ‘to read’ list that is hundreds of entries long, and despite my best efforts to thin it, tends to grow more frequently than it does shrink. On it, there is one more Hemingway novel, ‘For whom the bell tolls’. I guess I will get around to reading it at some point. A Farewell to Arms was not as trying for me as rereading The Sun Also Rises. I can’t say I am looking forward to more, but I am not dreading it either.