A Farewell to Arms - Ernest Hemingway
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About the Book
A Farewell to Arms
Published in 1929
July 21, 1899 – July 2, 1961
American journalist, novelist, short-story writer, and sportsman
A Farewell to Arms is particularly notable for its autobiographical elements.
While working with the Italian ambulance service during World War I (1914–18), the American lieutenant Frederic Henry meets the English nurse Catherine Barkley. Although she still mourns the death of her fiancé, who was killed in the war, Catherine encourages Henry’s advances.
After Henry is badly wounded by a trench mortar shell near the Isonzo River in Italy, he is brought to a hospital in Milan, where he is eventually joined by Catherine. She tends to him as he recovers. During this time their relationship deepens. Henry admits that he has fallen in love with her. Catherine soon becomes pregnant by Henry but refuses to marry him.
After the hospital superintendent, Miss Van Campen, discovers that Henry has been hiding alcohol in his hospital room, he is sent back to the front. During his absence, morale on the front had significantly worsened. During the Italian retreat after the disastrous Battle of Caporetto (1917), he deserts the army, just barely escaping execution by Italian military police.
Back in Milan, Henry searches for Catherine. He soon learns that she has been sent to Stresa, some 95 miles (153 km) away. Henry journeys to Stresa by train. Once there, he reunites with Catherine, and the couple flee Italy by crossing the border into neutral Switzerland.
Upon arrival, Henry and Catherine are arrested by Swiss border authorities. They decide to allow Henry and Catherine—who masquerade as architecture and art students seeking “winter sport”—to stay in Switzerland. The couple pass several happy months in a wooden house near Montreux.
Late one night Catherine goes into labour. She and Henry take a taxi to the hospital. A long and painful labour ensues, and Henry wonders if Catherine will survive. Sadly, their son is stillborn. Soon after, Catherine begins to hemorrhage and dies with Henry by her side. He tries to say goodbye but cannot. He returns to their hotel alone, in the rain.
The novel was based on Hemingway's own experiences serving in the Italian campaigns during the First World War.
The inspiration for Catherine Barkley was Agnes von Kurowsky, a nurse who cared for Hemingway in a hospital in Milan after he had been wounded. He had planned to marry her but she spurned his love when he returned to America.
Lieutenant Frederic Henry
The protagonist and fairly aloof narrator, Henry is a young American ambulance driver with the Italian army.
A British Voluntary Aid Detachment (a second-tier nurse), Catherine is in grief over her fiancé's recent death at the start of the novel.
Henry's Italian surgeon roommate, Rinaldi is an alcoholic womanizer who does not believe in romance and love as Henry does.
The unnamed priest in Henry's unit is the butt of all jokes by the others, but Henry, though he is not religious, treats him kindly.
A Scottish nurse, Helen is Catherine's best female friend in the war.
An Italian ambulance driver, Bonello happily kills off the engineering sergeant that Henry shoots.
An Italian-American soldier in the Italian army, Ettore boasts of his medals and rank while insulting others.
A brash, fast-talking doctor who successfully operates on Henry's knee, Dr. Valentini is a good example of the masculine Hemingway hero, especially in comparison to the effete, incompetent doctors who first diagnose Henry.
An Italian ambulance driver who is shot and killed during the retreat.
An opera singer Henry knows, Simmons gives Henry food and civilian clothing after Henry escapes from the army.
A young, pretty nurse Henry befriends with while he recovers in the Milan hospital. She appears to be attracted to Henry.
Miss Van Campen
The shrewish superintendent of the Milan hospital, she takes an immediate disliking to Henry.
The bartender at the hotel in Stresa, Emilio warns Henry of his impending arrest and provides him with his boat to escape.
A rich elderly man Henry knows who plays billiards with Henry at the hotel in Stresa.