74. A Farewell to Arms by Ernest Hemingway

Holy hell. Finally a book written in the 20s. -M.R.

Uncomfortable Plot Summary: Ernest Hemingway recounts his exploits disguised as fiction.

Year Published: 1929
Pages: 484 (in large print, bitchez)
First Sentence: 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.
Rating: 3/3 (read it!)

So let's talk about Ernest Hemingway. For some reason I know him as a famous misogynist, but I don't remember where I got that idea. Ten Things I Hate About You? I have no clue. (In an effort to figure out where this accusation comes from before reading much/any of his fiction, I did read this article about Hemingway and early 20th century crises of manliness that was kind of intriguing.)

I read For Whom the Bell Tolls a few years ago and mostly came away from it with the feeling that I really don't know anything about Spain. Also the book was quite a bit of a slog, so I'm relieved to report that A Farewell to Arms is quite a bit better. Like, way better.

But it also makes it extremely clear why Hemingway is considered a misogynist.

The book is the story of Lieutenant Frederic Henry, who is, for some reason, an American driving ambulances for the Italian army during World War I. (I'll tell you right now, it took me an embarrassingly long time to remember that the Italians were Good Guys that time around.) Henry meets an English not-quite-nurse named Catherine Barkley, and then gets injured. Catherine ends up caring for him in the hospital, and Henry ends up caring for her in the hospital by getting her pregnant. (I saw a Hemingway biopic called In Love and War about a million years ago starring, no kidding, Chris O'Donnell in the lead role, that basically fictionalized the real-life version of this story. Y u so semi-autobiographical, Hemingway?) The ordeal of the story is basically Henry and Catherine's effort to stay together during wartime and also a time when unmarried women really weren't supposed to be having babies.

So this is a love story, but just look at this:

"And that's it?" Catherine said. "She says just what he wants her to?"
"Not always."
"But I will. I'll say just what you wish and I'll do what you wish and then you will never want any other girls, will you?" She looked at me very happily. "I'll do what you want and say what you want and then I'll be a great success, won't I?"
"What would you like me to do now that you're all ready?"
"Come to the bed again."
"All right. I'll come."
"Oh, darling, darling, darling," I said.
"You see," she said. "I do anything you want."
"You're so lovely."
"I'm afraid I'm not very good at it yet."
"You're lovely."
"I want what you want. There isn't any me any more. Just what you want."
"You sweet."
"I'm good. Aren't I good? You don't want any other girls, do you?"
"You see? I'm good. I do what you want."

I hope I don't have to explain why that passage makes me a bit uncomfortable. Catherine doesn't really seem like a fleshed out person, just a sort of beautiful fantasy creature.

I'm also not going to pretend that that ruined the book for me, though. There's strong stuff in it, Hemingway being, after all, the manliest of manly men. The style took a bit of getting used to (see a probable upcoming post on the topic for a more thorough discussion of this), but after that I had no problem with it. Ironweed was a little bit like this, although Hemingway is a more masterful writer than Kennedy, conveying everything he needs to in spite of his sparseness, at least emotionally. I found most of the actual action really dry, though.

The novel gets stronger as it goes on, and hopefully I'm not spoiling too much by saying that there's a lot of moving stuff that comes up at the end when Catherine finally goes into labour. (Not to mention my modern horror throughout at her constant alcohol consumption and apparent total lack of prenatal care.)

There are further Hemingway novels ahead on The List, but for the time being I'll say that this one is well worth a read, long before I'd recommend picking up For Whom the Bell Tolls.

- - - - -
"I wish there was some place we could go," I said. I was experiencing the masculine difficulty of making love very long standing up.
- - - - -
"Yes," said Gino. "But those were Frenchmen and you can work out military problems clearly when you are fighting in somebody else's country."
"Yes," I agreed, "when it is your own country you cannot use it so scientifically."
"The Russians did, to trap Napoleon."
"Yes, but they had plenty of country. If you tried to retreat to trap Napoleon in Italy you would find yourself in Brindisi."
"A terrible place," said Gino. "Have you ever been there?"
"Not to stay."
"I am a patriot," Gino said. "But I cannot love Brindisi or Taranto."
- - - - -


Here's a summary of all the stuff I tweeted while reading Fifty Shades of Grey in August and September. Apologies to those of you who are already following me on Twitter.

Have finally started reading Fifty Shades of Grey. Agh.
9:05 PM - 22 Aug 2012

Agh. Just noticed it's written in present tense. Agh. #50SoG
9:16 PM - 22 Aug 2012

"Penetrating gaze" lol #50SoG
9:20 PM - 22 Aug 2012

Are "long-fingered hands" a thing that women are into? I picture creepy spidery fingers when I read that. #50SoG
9:41 PM - 22 Aug 2012

Two chapters in and they haven't even kissed yet? What kind of romance novel is this?! #50SoG
9:49 PM - 22 Aug 2012

Is it weird that I still haven't figured out who'll be the D and who'll be the s? Also that no one's spoiled me about that yet? #50SoG
8:29 PM - 23 Aug 2012

No one says/thinks the word "crap" this often. #50SoG
8:32 PM - 23 Aug 2012

Ana is so ridiculously embarrassed about wanting like the most minor things. #50SoG
8:39 PM - 23 Aug 2012

"I wonder what it would be like to run my fingers through his hair--OH GOD HOW DARE I WHAT SORT OF DIRTY THOUGHT IS THAT" #50SoG
8:40 PM - 23 Aug 2012

"I'm used to getting my own way, Anastasia.. In all things." Ok spoiler alert he's the D. #50SoG
8:44 PM - 23 Aug 2012

"I inhale his clean, vital scent." Agh. #50SoG
8:49 PM - 23 Aug 2012

Not saying that people who don't drink or have sex during uni are bad or anything, but Ana's even more of a wet blanket than I am. #50SoG
9:01 PM - 23 Aug 2012

lololol Ana drunk dials Christian. Best part of this book so far. #50SoG
9:06 PM - 23 Aug 2012

I hope the T in CTG stands for Tiberius. No wait I don't. #50SoG
9:11 PM - 23 Aug 2012

"I mean, I'm all for pushing limits, but really this is beyond the pale." #50SoG
9:15 PM - 23 Aug 2012

Yeah right, not even a millionaire wouldn't have to wait for a glass of water at the bar. #50SoG
9:18 PM - 23 Aug 2012

Wow, these people in this book about sex are sure uncomfortable with their sexuality! #50SoG
9:22 PM - 23 Aug 2012

"He's my very own Christian Grey flavor popsicle." Agh. #50SoG
3:01 PM - 26 Aug 2012

9:30 PM - 28 Aug 2012

Reading through Christian and Ana's email exchanges is maybe the worst thing I've read in any novel ever. #50SoG
6:48 PM - 29 Aug 2012

Keep in mind "worst thing I've read" is always and forever short for "worst thing I've read with the exception of #FinnegansWake."
6:50 PM - 29 Aug 2012

Ana's stepdad person is watching a soccer game on tv. In America. NOT LIKELY. #50SoG
7:15 PM - 29 Aug 2012

Was it something I ate? Oh wait, no, it couldn't be that because I never eat anything for some reason. #50SoG
8:27 PM - 29 Aug 2012

"No one's ever said no to me before. And it's so - hot." I know this isn't meant to be rapey but it kinda is. #50SoG
7:44 PM - 7 Sep 2012

Somehow the characterization of Kate strikes me as the most abysmal thing about this book. #50SoG
7:50 PM - 7 Sep 2012

"My voice is quiet, unable to hide the anxiety in my voice." REALLY?! NO ONE caught that in the editing stage?! #50SoG
7:00 PM - 8 Sep 2012

The word "peek" appears 20 times in this book, usually in the phrase "I peek up at him." #50SoG
7:14 PM - 8 Sep 2012

You should not need to be "peeking" at a person you're in a relationship with/fucking. At least not that often. #50SoG
7:15 PM - 8 Sep 2012

#50SoG: He's got right under my skin... literally. Me: *cackles*
7:19 PM - 8 Sep 2012

Ana thinks she could be friends with a bohemian-looking black woman. I don't think Ana could be friends with anyone. #50SoG #TeamKate
7:22 PM - 8 Sep 2012

Ana: "To keep myself awake, I start a long stream of consciousness to Christian on my laptop." Me: Please God no. #50SoG
8:30 PM - 8 Sep 2012

"I gaze at my mom. She *is* on her fourth marriage. Maybe she does know something about men after all." Hahahaha what. #50SoG
8:36 PM - 8 Sep 2012

"Holy fuck, he's here." I don't know how anyone can find Christian Grey sexy when Ana is LITERALLY AFRAID OF HIM. #50SoG
8:53 PM - 8 Sep 2012

What does it say about me and/or about #50SoG that I think the amount of BDSM in it so far has been very minimal?
7:34 PM - 10 Sep 2012

People say things "dryly" no fewer than 24 times in this book. #50SoG
8:22 PM - 10 Sep 2012