Wednesday, 8 August 2012

Review of 'A Farewell To Arms' By Ernest Hemingway

It's great when you have several books on the go and a miracle that you never get confused!
I've just finished reading 'A Farewell To Arms,' by Ernest Hemingway. It was great. Right now I'm busy exploring a whole array of view points of war experiences, from both World Wars. It's been very interesting absorbing the view point of particular German officers and pilots, but for now we'll stick with Hemingway.


World War 1 was meant to be the war to end all wars! Hemingway volunteered to be an ambulance driver and left for the Italian front. He was seriously wounded on July 8th 1918 whilst delivering cigarettes and chocolate to men at the front. Despite his injuries, he managed to carry a wounded Italian soldier back to safety, and would later receive the Italian Silver Medal of Bravery. Ernest would spend the next 6 months at a Red Cross Hospital in Milan. There he met and fell in love with nurse, Agnes von Kurowsky.  Hemingway returned to the States in January 1919 and was due to marry Agnes soon after. Unfortunately she wrote to inform him that she was to marry an Italian officer. According to reports at that time, Hemingway was devastated. He went on to become a great writer but not to enjoy the same success in his personal life, enduring multiple divorces. He died in 1961 after committing suicide.

This novel was inspired by his events of World War 1. It's first person narration and it's the voice of the protagonist, Lieutenant Frederick Henry who is serving in the ambulance core in Italy. He meets nurse Catherine Barkley and we follow the story through war, loss and physical trauma as their relationship develops.  Henry is wounded in both legs and sent to a hospital in Milan. Catherine goes to work there with a friend, so that she may be close to him. Eventually he is fit to return to the ambulance core. Back at the Front, Italian troops are retreating and he is soon forced to desert his position, fleeing to the safety of Switzerland with his beloved Catherine.

Hemingway introduces you to a taste of the fears and atrocities of war and it's an honest account as opposed to a heroic one. We learn of the comradeship; the brotherhood among soldiers. The sentence structure, typical of Hemingway's style, is either short and simple or long with short phrases connected by  conjunctions. The emphasis is upon nouns and verbs as opposed to adjectives and adverbs. Description and narration are subtly interwoven. The effect is simple syntax and rhythmic sentences with vivid, rich imagery. I will just point out that some reviewers have responded negatively to the dialogue but it must be remembered that this was written back in the 1920's in a completely different era.

In conclusion, it's a great book written in Hemingway's distinctive prose and an excellent modernist achievement - a break away from the previous Victorian literary prose and it illustrates the literary revolution that was Ernest Hemingway.