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A Farewell to Arms by Ernest Hemingway
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A Farewell to Arms (1929)

by Ernest Hemingway

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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Showing 1-5 of 161 (next | show all)
Astoundingly bad. I read most of the first chapter, then the first paragraph of the second chapter, then discarded the book. If an author can’t prove himself minimally competent after a chapter, to hell with him. Really, a medium-length paragraph should suffice to demonstrate competence.

I shall provide some examples from this... thing. Normally I focus, not on the details of word choice, but on higher-level aspects of a novel such as plot, characterization, pacing, theme, and so forth. The details of the writing are of secondary importance (generally speaking) and are often given far too much attention in critical commentary. However: the details of word choice are a minimum condition for an author to be a good writer. If you can’t write an English sentence that doesn’t call attention to itself with its horrible, strained awkwardness, you can’t be a novelist. Not in my universe, anyway.

Alas, here is the first paragraph of the “novel” (you have to put that word in quotes when you’re talking about garbage of this appalling quality). The really bad part is the last sentence, but I have to include the entire paragraph, because if I just inflicted the last sentence on you, you might suspect that it reads better in context. Actually, it reads worse in context, as I will explain in a moment. You know you’re got a bad writer on your hands when ripping passages out of context actually improves them. Anyway, here is the first paragraph:

In the late summer of that year we lived in a house in a village that looked across the river and the plain to the mountains. In the bed of the river there were pebbles and boulders, dry and white in the sun, and the water was clear and swiftly moving and blue in the channels. Troops went by the house and down the road and the dust they raised powdered the leaves of the trees. The trunks of the trees too were dusty and the leaves fell early that year and we saw the troops marching along the road and the dust rising and leaves, stirred by the breeze, falling and the soldiers marching and afterward the road bare and white except for the leaves.

God, how astoundingly bad! You have to be trying to write badly to produce sequences of words this disgusting. One should read this only through leaded glass, and with trained medical professionals standing by.

As to why the last “sentence” would be better out of context: Note that we’re told about the fucking soldiers marching three times in this paragraph. It’s not merely redundant; it’s ludicrously redundant. However, if you read the last sentence out of context, you’d only encounter the marching soldiers twice, so the redundancy would be moderated. A similar point is true of the leaves. Enough with the fucking leaves, you weirdo! What, do you have a leaf fetish or something? Or it is a dust fetish? Damn, that’s bad. I mean, how bad does your writing have to be for it to be improved by being stripped of context?

Here it is again, with some of my thought processes while reading. I can’t include all my critical thoughts because it would quadruple the length of the paragraph:

In the late summer of that year (God, just stop! What year!? Seven words in and I’m already irritated. If you’re not going to tell us the year, then why not just say, “In the late summer”?) we lived in a house in a village that looked across the river and the plain to the mountains. In the bed of the river there were pebbles and boulders, dry and white in the sun (Why the fuck are you telling me this? Also, how can a river bed be dry? Is it seasonally dry? Like there’s only water during the spring runoff from the mountains?), and the water was clear and swiftly moving and blue in the channels. (If the water is running swiftly, and deep enough to appear blue, it’s presumably not the dry season. If it is, we need this explained. Overall assessment: WTF?) Troops went by the house and down the road and the dust they raised powdered the leaves of the trees. (Brace yourself; here comes the monster:) The trunks of the trees too were dusty (Yes, obviously the dust would cover whatever it touches. We get that.) and the leaves fell early that year and we saw the troops marching along the road (You already mentioned that.) and the dust rising and leaves (Already mentioned, thanks.), stirred by the breeze, falling and the soldiers marching (FUCK! Third time you’ve mentioned them!) and afterward the road bare and white except for the leaves.

Not to be judgmental, but God, that's bad. Wait, that is judgmental. Oh well. And I love that last “except for the leaves.” LOL. He’s pretending we need to know that “except for the leaves.” As if it has any real purpose there. Is this supposed to be profound or something? The road was bare... Except for the leaves, man. EXCEPT FOR THE LEAVES!

But if you think that’s bad, try the second sentence of the second chapter. You might want to take a shot of vodka first. Ready? Here we go:

The mountain that was beyond the valley and the hillside where the chestnut forest grew was captured and there were victories beyond the plain on the plateau to the south and we crossed the river in August and lived in a house in Gorizia that had a fountain and many thick shady trees in a walled garden and a wisteria vine purple on the side of the house.

Yes, that’s one sentence. Fuck, that’s bad. Now what’s wrong with it? Actually, you already know what’s wrong with it - it’s (1) incoherent garbage and (2) breathtakingly pretentious - but it’s worth dwelling on a little. A sentence is basically one complete thought. (This is a simplification that’s good enough for my purpose here.) If it meanders all over the place, it’s a bad sentence. (Unless the author knows what s/he is doing and does it with a clear reason in mind. But plainly that’s not what’s going on with this sentence.) Now as I said, I usually don’t focus on the sentence level in reading a novel, but that’s because most novelists can write good sentences. Their sentences aren’t so bad that they force you to spend time diagnosing their deficiencies. The rule of thumb is that you should not focus on individual sentences for the same reason you don’t focus on the workings of your refrigerator: Because these things are supposed to function so well that you don’t have to think about them. You only think about the workings of your refrigerator when it stops working. So it is with Hemingway and individual sentences. They call attention to themselves and force us to talk about them because they’re so very bad.

To continue: What’s wrong with that sentence is that it attempts to contain more than one thought. Hemingway rambles from military victories to a house where he lived to the fact that it had a fountain, to the color of certain flowers in the garden. These things are not connected to each other. In fact, the only thing I can think of that would excuse this writing is that the narrator is supposed to be mentally damaged, and so this incoherent stream of thoughts is deliberately incoherent. I am going to make a mental note to look this up after I finish writing this review. It would go a long way - though not all the way - to justifying this horrible writing. The reason it wouldn’t go all the way to excusing the clunkiness is that the narrator’s mental deficiencies should be established before we get too far into the novel. We shouldn’t have to wonder why the prose is so very bad; we shouldn’t have to imagine possible excuses for the author. It is the author’s job to make the situation clear with reasonable alacrity.

It needn’t be totally clear at the outset. Some hints that the narrator is not mentally normal would suffice at first. Some obviously misspelled words, or a reference to having been institutionalized, or a reference to a nurse that insisted on the narrator eating his meals on time. Something, for God’s sake, to allay our fears about the garbage we are reading. In fact, subtle hints, applied correctly, can be more interesting than an explicit revelation at the start. E.g., it might gradually unfold that the narrator used to be mentally normal, but sustained an injury in the war that has damaged his mind. That would be tragic, but would certainly help to make the point that war is bad, etc. (I’m assuming here that Hemingway actually has a point. I have nothing to go on other than the novel’s title, which suggests it may be thematically anti-war.) I find myself hoping that this is in fact what’s going on, because if it’s not, I’m hard-pressed to explain the cult of Hemingway other than as a deliberate joke by the world’s literary establishment on the rest of us.

(LATER: I’ve checked various summaries, and there’s nothing about the narrator being brain damaged. So the writing IS actually as bad as it seems at first! God!)

A good test of whether something SUX is to ask yourself this: If it came out that the whole thing was an Emperor’s New Clothes joke on the world, how would you feel about it? Would you say, “Wow, that was really subtle; I’m not ashamed that I fell for it.” Or would you say, “Damn it, I always thought that was BS; why didn’t I call it out?” (If you see something, say something!) If your answer is the second one, you have good grounds for suspicion that it is, in fact, just BS.

In the movie Housesitter there’s a scene in which a con woman improvises some BS. Later, one of her friends says, “Wow! You’re a genius. You’re like the Ernest Hemingway of bullshit!” To which I respond, no, that title’s already taken; Ernest Hemingway was the Ernest Hemingway of bullshit. ( )
1 vote | TFleet | Apr 11, 2017 |
This book is incredible. I completely understand why it is a classic. Hemingway is a masterful writer. There is so much to absolutely love about this novel. Hemingway paints the landscape and setting like a painter. Each setting is so beautifully and carefully described, recalling such detail. The humor and wit involved had me laughing aloud. He so articulately characterizes and ascribes characteristics to those within his novel. You can feel the personalities and love them as he must have in creating them. They are so alive and vibrant! They have characteristics and personalities we would typically think of per their nationalities. The war is seen as an absolute absurdity from any way you look at it, but he does not go over the top in driving this point home. There is so much else layered within this book. Yes, war is ridiculous. The whole endeavor is ridiculous. Who will win? The country that figures this out last. And the love story.. is to die for!!! It is so crazy at the outset, so real, so tender… so tragic. It has to be one of my favorite literary romances of all time.

This fictional novel is told in first person. Frederic Henry is an American studying architecture in Rome when World War I breaks out. He enlists in the Italian army as an ambulance driver, prior to America even entering the war. This mirrors Hemingway’s life in that he too volunteered to be an ambulance driver in the Italian army, years prior to America’s entrance into the war. In the novel, Lieutenant Henry develops close friendships with Rinaldi, an Italian surgeon, and a nameless priest. It is through Rinaldi that Henry meets Catherine Barkley, with whom he falls in love. The war is ensuing with Austria and Germany. The officers of Italian army at the beginning of the novel seem to be enjoying drink and brothels. Henry even develops jaundice during a prolonged hospitalized for a wound to his knee. Alcoholic hepatitis? Possibly. However, as war progresses, the men become demoralized. There is not enough food. They cannot stay dry. They might be shot at by their own army. Lieutenant Henry must navigate his men away from harm during the German attack on Caporetto. In case you have not read this novel and plan to, I will say no more.. as I do not want to ruin the novel for anyone.

I listened to the audible version read by John Slattery, which I highly recommend. I know prior to this novel being originally published, the profanity was removed. However, in this audio version it seemed like there were gaps where the profanity should have been. I would have preferred to have listened to or read the unedited version. What an amazing book detailing a very important point in history, as well as an incredible love story.

This was read as part of Book Riot’s reading challenge as a book that has been banned or frequently challenged in the United States. It has been frequently challenged as a “sex novel” and due to “language and sexual references in the book.” This book was banned in Italy, in 1929 until 1948, by the fascist regime in part for its description of the retreat from Caporetto and in part for its anti-militarism. It was also banned in Boston at that time. It was burned in Germany in 1933 by the Nazis as it was felt to be anti-war at at time when they were trying to drum up support. It was also banned in Ireland in 1939. ( )
1 vote marieatbookchatter | Apr 6, 2017 |
Written in 1929, the novel is very loosely based on Hemingway's service in the Italian ambulance corp during The Great War. As I found with For Whom the Bell Tolls, his writing can be both refreshingly straight, and uninspiring. What hurt this one for me is the 1920s female stereotype, here represented by Catherine Barkley, an English nurse our protagonist Frederic Henry meets after he is severely injured by shrapnel. She quickly becomes his doe-eyed lover, becomes pregnant, and so I begin to suspect things won't end well. The novel is divided into five 'Books', and by far my favorite is Book Four, in which Lieutenant Frederic leads a small group of engineers, frightened women and his fellow drivers, in a frantic retreat from the advancing Austrians. He detours them off the main, clogged, road of retreat, and their desperate flee through muddy farm tracks toward safe ground is well written. His water-borne escape to Switzerland is a tense episode as well. Glad I read this one, but The Old Man and the Sea remains my favorite E.H. ( )
  ThoughtPolice | Feb 8, 2017 |
This is, of course, a classic book. I'm not sure what writing was like before Hemmingway and his kind, but I found the writing difficult and strange. It got better as the book went on with lots of dialog, but it was still perhaps a product of its time, written in 1929. It is said that Earnest Hemmingway did much to change the style of prose and he won a Nobel Prize for literature. I found both the story and writing lacking, but I'm coming at that from many years past the time this was written and prose has changed a great deal. It's possible that Hemmingway's later works were different.

Classics are always worth reading, but don't expect this book to be like modern writing. The story was repetitious and if the dialog between the main character and his lady were all that happened, it's impossible they would ever get to know each other. It was crazy shallow and funny really. So was some of the dialog between the main character and his war buddies. Despite that, the author did somehow impart what was going on and how terrible war conditions were.

( )
  Rascalstar | Jan 21, 2017 |
Fictional account of WWI in the Austrian Alps ( )
  JackSweeney | Jan 10, 2017 |
Showing 1-5 of 161 (next | show all)
In its sustained, inexorable movement, its throbbing preoccupation with flesh and blood and nerves rather than the fanciful fabrics of intellect, it fulfills the prophecies that his most excited admirers have made about Ernest Hemingway... in its depiction of War, the novel bears comparison with its best predecessors. But it is in the hero's perhaps unethical quitting of the battle line to be with the woman whom he has gotten with child that it achieves its greatest significance.
added by jjlong | editTime (Oct 14, 1929)
 
It is a moving and beautiful book.
 

» Add other authors (16 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Hemingway, Ernestprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Bleck, CathieCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Bradbury, MalcolmIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Ford, Ford MadoxIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Hemingway, PatrickForewordsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Hemingway, SeánIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Renner, LouisTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Schuck, MaryCover designersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Vranken, KatjaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Warren, Robert PennIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed

Is contained in

Romanzi volume I by Ernest Hemingway

The Novels Of Ernest Hemingway by Ernest Hemingway

Five Novels: The Sun Also Rises / A Farewell to Arms / To Have and Have Not / The Old Man and the Sea / For Whom the Bell Tolls (FOLIO SOCIETY) by Ernest Hemingway

The Sun Also Rises / A Farewell to Arms / The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway

Four Book Set (QP) {Complete Short Stories; Farewell to Arms, For Whom the Bell Tolls, Sun Also Rises} by Ernest Hemingway

Ernest Hemingway Book-of-the-Month-Club Set of 6: A Farewell to Arms, A Moveable Feast, For Whom the Bell Tolls, The Sun Also Rises, The Old Man and the Sea, The Complete Short Stories by Ernest Hemingway

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To G. A. Pfeiffer
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In the late summer of that year we lived in a house in a village that looked across the river and the plain to the mountains.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0684801469, Paperback)

As a youth of 18, Ernest Hemingway was eager to fight in the Great War. Poor vision kept him out of the army, so he joined the ambulance corps instead and was sent to France. Then he transferred to Italy where he became the first American wounded in that country during World War I. Hemingway came out of the European battlefields with a medal for valor and a wealth of experience that he would, 10 years later, spin into literary gold with A Farewell to Arms. This is the story of Lieutenant Henry, an American, and Catherine Barkley, a British nurse. The two meet in Italy, and almost immediately Hemingway sets up the central tension of the novel: the tenuous nature of love in a time of war. During their first encounter, Catherine tells Henry about her fiancé of eight years who had been killed the year before in the Somme. Explaining why she hadn't married him, she says she was afraid marriage would be bad for him, then admits:
I wanted to do something for him. You see, I didn't care about the other thing and he could have had it all. He could have had anything he wanted if I would have known. I would have married him or anything. I know all about it now. But then he wanted to go to war and I didn't know.
The two begin an affair, with Henry quite convinced that he "did not love Catherine Barkley nor had any idea of loving her. This was a game, like bridge, in which you said things instead of playing cards." Soon enough, however, the game turns serious for both of them and ultimately Henry ends up deserting to be with Catherine.

Hemingway was not known for either unbridled optimism or happy endings, and A Farewell to Arms, like his other novels (For Whom the Bell Tolls, The Sun Also Rises, and To Have and Have Not), offers neither. What it does provide is an unblinking portrayal of men and women behaving with grace under pressure, both physical and psychological, and somehow finding the courage to go on in the face of certain loss. --Alix Wilber

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 17:59:43 -0400)

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An American officer in the Italian ambulance corps and an English Red Cross nurse find love on the battlefield during WW I.

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