A Farewell to Arms

Work Name: A Farewell to Arms
Work Type: Novel
Date: 1929
Movement: Modern Literature

A Farewell to Arms

A Farewell to Arms is a novel by American writer Ernest Hemingway, set during the Italian campaign of World War I. First published in 1929, it is a first-person account of an American, Frederic Henry, serving as a lieutenant ("tenente") in the ambulance corps of the Italian Army. The title is taken from a poem by the 16th-century English dramatist George Peele.

The novel, set against the backdrop of World War I, describes a love affair between the expatriate Henry and an English nurse, Catherine Barkley. Its publication ensured Hemingway's place as a modern American writer of considerable stature. The book became his first best-seller, and has been called "the premier American war novel from that debacle World War I."

The novel has been adapted a number of times, initially for the stage in 1930; as a film in 1932 and again in 1957, and as a three-part television miniseries in 1966. The 1996 film In Love and War, directed by Richard Attenborough and starring Chris O'Donnell and Sandra Bullock, depicts Hemingway's life in Italy as an ambulance driver in the events prior to his writing of A Farewell to Arms.


  • Lieutenant Frederic Henry - An American taking part as an ambulance driver in the Italian Army.
  • Miss Catherine Barkley - A nurse and love interest of Frederic Henry.
  • Rinaldi - A surgeon in the Italian Army and friend of Frederic Henry.
  • The Priest - A priest in the Italian Army, often has discussions about God and war with Frederic.
  • Helen Ferguson - A friend and fellow nurse of Miss Catherine.
  • Miss Van Campen - A superintendent of nurses.
  • Miss Gage - An American nurse in Milan.
  • Dr. Valentini - An Italian surgeon.
  • Gino - A patriotic Italian.
  • Bonello - An ambulance driver under Frederic Henry's command.
  • Passini - Another ambulance driver who died in a mortar attack.
  • Emilio - A bartender in the town of Stresa who helps them flee to Switzerland.
  • Count Greffi - A ninety-four year old Nobleman, having some past acquaintance with Frederic.
  • Ralph Simmons and Edgar Saunders - Two opera singers working in the Italian Army.

Plot summary

The novel is divided into five sections or 'books'. Frederic Henry is first person narrator of the story.

Book - I

Lieutenant Frederic Henry, an American paramedic, is serving in the Italian Army. The novel begins during the First World War. It is the start of winter when a Cholera epidemic kills thousands of soldiers. Frederic has a brief visit to Gorizia where he meets with other army fellows and the priest. He finds there are two brothels, one for officers and the other for lower rank soldiers. On his return, he shares his experience with his friend, Surgeon Rinaldi, quite older than him. Rinaldi is fond of beautiful women. He has fallen in love with a nurse named Catherine Barkley, though not so seriously. Rinaldi takes Frederic to a British hospital where Frederic is introduced to Catherine Barkley, an English nurse. Frederic feels attracted towards her. She tells him about her fianc who was killed in the battle and also about her feeling uncomfortable in the rain, as it starts to rain. Frederic tries to kiss her but she slaps him; and then feels sorry. Eventually they kiss as now she feels somewhat inclined towards him. Frederic, with his fellow drivers Bonello and Passini takes the ambulance in war. Passini is killed in a mortar attack whereas Frederic is severely wounded in the knee on the Italian front and is sent to the hospital.

Book - II

Surgeon Rinaldi visits him in the hospital and praises him for his heroism. But Frederic denies of any display of heroism. Rinaldi also tells him that he will be shifted to a hospital in Milan soon for a better treatment. Frederic requests him to have Catherine there as a nurse. The Priest pays a visit. In a discussion again, Frederic expresses his views against war. Meanwhile, America has declared war on Germany; and the Italian army is also anxious about war against Austria. Frederic reaches an American hospital in Milan. There he is nursed by Miss Gage, Mrs Walker and their Superintendent Miss Van Campen. Miss Gage arranges wine for him. Catherine arrives there and Frederic realizes a strong sense of love and passion for her. They make love for the first time. Doctor Valentini comes to examine his injury and X-rays. This book portrays the growth of their relationship over the summer. They enjoy boating and horse races. Meanwhile, Frederic meets Helen Ferguson, a fellow nurse of Catherine. After his knee heals, Frederic is diagnosed with jaundice. A three weeks convalescent leave is sanctioned for him. Miss Van Campen discovers some empty liquor bottle in Frederic's room and takes alcoholism as the cause for his condition. She also concludes that Frederic is knowingly keeping himself ill to avoid the war front. She files a report for the cancellation of convalescent leave and Frederic is called back to the war front. Catherine informs him that she is three months pregnant. They promise to reunite and marry after his return from war. Frederic asks her to take care of 'Little Catherine'.

Book - III

Frederic returns to Gorizia. Rinaldi comes and examines his wounded leg. He further asks if they have married or not. The priest notices a change in Frederic and also predicts that the war will end soon. Frederic travels to Bainsizza where he meets Gino who tells him about a battery of terrifying guns that the Austrians have. Frederic realizes that Italians will not escape if the Austrians attack. It rains heavily and the bombarding begins. Frederic discovers that morale has severely dropped. Not long afterwards, the Austro-Hungarians break through the Italian lines in the Battle of Caporetto, and the Italians retreat. The houses are evacuated. Women and children are loaded in trucks. At the villa, Henry discovers that Rinaldi has taken off for the hospital; everyone else has evacuated too. There is considerable delay and chaos on the road during the retreat and Frederic, wishing to avoid a possible aerial attack while stuck on the main retreat route, decides to take an alternate path. He and his men quickly get lost and their cars are stuck in the mud, Frederic orders the two engineering sergeants riding with Bonello to help. Afraid of being overtaken by the enemy, they refuse and try to leave. Frederic draws his gun and shoots one of them; the other escapes. Several minor incidents also happen, but things only worsen as they catch up to the main retreat, Frederic is taken by the military police to a place where officers are being interrogated and executed for the "treachery" that supposedly led to the Italian defeat. Frederic escapes by jumping into a river. He heads to Milan to find Catherine.

Book - IV

Reaching Milan, he comes to know that Catherine has left for Stresa. He goes to visit Ralph Simmons, one of the opera singers that he encountered earlier, and asks about the procedures for traveling to Switzerland. Ralph helps him, giving him civilian clothes. Frederic feels very odd in those clothes as the people look at him scornfully. He reaches Stresa by train and goes to the hotel Isles Borromes. Emilio, a bartender, informs him that two English nurses are staying at a small hotel near the train station. Frederic meets Catherine and Helen Ferguson there. He also meets Count Greffi, a very old nobleman whom Frederic had met on his last visit to Stresa. Greffi is staying with his niece. Frederic avoids Catherine's question about the war experiences. He feels he is a criminal, a war deserter. Emilio informs him that Italian police are looking to arrest him. Catherine and Frederic plan to flee to Switzerland as Emilio makes all possible arrangements for their travel in a rowboat. Because of a storm, the waters are choppy and rough. Frederic rows the boat all night and Catherine also takes a turn rowing. Finally, they reach Switzerland. The guards verify their identity and provide them provisional visas for staying in Switzerland.

Book - V

Frederic and Catherine live a quiet life in the mountains. They move to a wooden house on a mountain outside the village of Montreux. They develop new acquaintance with Mr. and Mrs. Guttingen. At times, Catherine starts getting concerned about their child, especially about its health. They move to the town of Lausanne to be nearer to the hospital. Later, Catherine goes into labor and she is taken to the hospital. The doctor tells Frederic that the best solution would be a Cesarean operation. She suffers a lot of pain and finally baby boy is born but is a stillborn. Later the nurse tells him that Catherine is hemorrhaging. He is terrified. He goes to see her and she dies in his arms. He leaves the hospital and walks back to his hotel in the rain.

Background and publication history

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. Kitty Cannell, a Paris-based fashion correspondent, became Helen Ferguson. The unnamed priest was based on Don Giuseppe Bianchi, the priest of the 69th and 70th regiments of the Brigata Ancona. Although the sources for Rinaldi are unknown, the character had already appeared in In Our Time.

Much of the plot was written in correspondence with Frederic J. Agate. Agate, Hemingway's friend, had a collection of letters to his wife from his time in Italy, which were later used as inspiration.

Michael Reynolds, however, writes that Hemingway was not involved in the battles described. Because his previous novel, The Sun Also Rises, had been written as a roman clef, readers assumed A Farewell to Arms to be autobiographical.A Farewell to Arms was begun during his time at Willis M. Spear's guest ranch in Wyoming's Bighorns. Some pieces of the novel were written in Piggott, Arkansas, at the home of his then-wife Pauline Pfeiffer, and in Mission Hills, Kansas while she was awaiting delivery of their baby. Pauline underwent a caesarean section as Hemingway was writing the scene about Catherine Barkley's childbirth.

Hemingway struggled with the ending. By his count, he wrote 39 of them "before I was satisfied." However, a 2012 edition of the book included no less than 47 alternate endings.

The novel was first serialized in Scribner's Magazine in the May 1929 to October 1929 issues. The book was published in September 1929 with a first edition print-run of approximately 31,000 copies. The success of A Farewell to Arms made Hemingway financially independent.

The Hemingway Library Edition was released in July 2012, with a dust jacket facsimile of the first edition. The newly published edition presents an appendix with the many alternate endings Hemingway wrote for the novel in addition to pieces from early draft manuscripts.

The JFK Library Hemingway collection has two handwritten pages with possible titles for the book. Most of the titles come from The Oxford Book of English Verse. One of the possible titles Hemingway considered was In Another Country and Besides. This comes from The Jew of Malta by Christopher Marlowe. The poem Portrait of a Lady by T. S. Eliot also starts off by quoting this Marlowe work: "Thou hast committed/ Fornication: but that was in another country,/ And besides, the wench is dead." Hemingway's library included both works by Eliot and Marlowe.


There are at least two copies of the first edition in which Hemingway re-inserted the censored text by hand, so as to provide a corrected text. One of these copies was presented to Maurice Coindreau; the other, to James Joyce. Hemingway's corrected text has not been incorporated into modern published editions of the novel; however, there are some audiobook versions that are uncensored.

A Farewell to Arms was banned in the Irish Free State.

Also, the novel could not be published in Italy until 1948 because the Fascist regime considered it detrimental to the honor of the Armed Forces, both in its description of the Battle of Caporetto, and for a certain anti-militarism implied in the work. More than one biographer suggests that at the base of the censorship of the Fascist regime in the novel there had also been a personal antipathy between the writer and Benito Mussolini. Hemingway had interviewed him in 1923, shortly after he seized power, and in his article in the Toronto Star he poured scorn on Mussolini, calling him "the biggest bluff in Europe." But, apart from the official reactions, it is known that Mussolini did not like the article at all: Hemingway described Mussolini as trying to impress the media by pretending to be deeply absorbed in reading, while in reality holding a French-English dictionaryheld upside down. The Italian translation had in fact already been prepared illegally in 1943 by Fernanda Pivano, leading to her arrest in Turin.

Critical reception

A Farewell to Arms was met with favorable criticism and is considered one of Hemingway's best literary works.

Gore Vidal wrote of the text: "... a work of ambition, in which can be seen the beginning of the careful, artful, immaculate idiocy of tone that since has marked ... [Hemingway's] prose." The last line of the 1929 New York Times review reads: "It is a moving and beautiful book."

Baker remarks on the theme of A Farewell to Arms: "After ten years of meditation and digestive of his experience, Hemingway lays before his readers a work which is far from a mere war experience, nor a store of love and death during the war."

However, since publication, A Farewell to Arms has also been the target of various controversy. Upon its flimsy publicationdue to the medium of its releasethrough Scribner's Magazine, it was banned from Boston newsstands due to accusations of a pornographic nature, despite Hemingway's deliberate exclusion of graphic descriptions of sex, using omission as a literary device.

In other media

The novel was first adapted for the stage by Laurence Stallings in 1930, then as a film in 1932, with a 1957 remake. A three-part television miniseries was made in 1966.

In Sam Raimi's 1987 film Evil Dead 2, Ash's hand becomes possessed and begins attacking him. Ash amputates the offending extremity with a chainsaw and the hand escapes, roaming free around the cabin Ash is holed up in. Ash traps the disembodied hand under a pile of books; A Farewell to Arms is the book on top, humorously commenting on Ash's condition.

The 1996 film In Love and War, directed by Richard Attenborough and starring Chris O'Donnell and Sandra Bullock, depicts Hemingway's life in Italy as an ambulance driver in the events prior to his writing of A Farewell to Arms.



External links

  • Hemingway Archives at the John F. Kennedy Library
  • A Farewell to Arms at Faded Page (Canada)
  • A Farewell To Arms Quotes with page numbers

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