A Farewell to Arms

Ernest Miller Hemingway:

He was born in 1899 in a Chicago suburb as the second of six children of a doctor

In 1918 he volunteered to work as an ambulance driver on the Italian front, where he was badly wounded, but twice decorated for it.

He returned to America, where he got married. In 1922 he reported on the Greco-Turkish war, however two years later he resigned from journalism to devote himself to fiction.

His first published works: "Three Stories and Ten Poems", "In our Time" and the satirical novel "The Torrents of Spring", which helped him to the road of success. His international reputation was secured by his next three books: "Fiesta", Men without women" and "A Farewell to Arms". Another bestseller was: "For whom the bell tolls".

In 1954 Hemingway was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature following the publication of "The old Man and the Sea".

Ernest Miller Hemingway died in 1961


In "A Farewell to Arms" Hemingway digests his own experiences of the First World War; therefore the main character of this book - Mr. Frederic Henry - resembles himself.

Henry is an American officer, who volunteered to work as an ambulance driver on the Italian front in the First World War. He is stationed in Gorizia, a town in the south-east of Udine, near to those places where Austrian and Italian troops are fighting.

In the middle of the whole chaos of war Henry meets the English nurse Catherine Barkley. At their very first meeting they have feelings for each other, but they both just want to make a game of it. Henry wants to play the role of a perfect lover, whereas Catherine dreams of being a perfect wife. Soon you realise that their love is growing steadily, becoming bigger each time they think of each other. When they both reach the point to confess their love, they don't have any time as something unfortunate happens: Henry is ordered to an action in the mountains. While he and some other drivers are waiting for some wounded men to take them into a hospital, a Trench Mortor Shell is thrown and explodes next to them. Whereas one driver is killed and the others injured, Henry is wounded badly at both knees. As he has a high rank, he is luckily soon patched up and taken to the hospital. There they inform him about an arranged decoration, although he hasn't done anything heroic. However he is not interested in anything, but Catherine.

After some days a transfer to a hospital in Milan, where better medical supply and faciliteis are available, is organised. Henry, who loves Milan, is very pleased to hear that, but is overjoyed about Catherine's decision to go to Milan as well, of course to work in the same hospital.

In Milan a couple of doctors are called to give their advice for Henry's knee. Although the majority of them recommends him to wait six months before having an operation, Henry, who isn't willing to stay in bed for such a long time, chooses the surgeon who offers him an operation the next day.

At that time Catherine has already arrived. When they meet for the first time they both are so happy and so much in love that the first thing they do is making love, though they both know that absolute caution and observance of secrecy of their relationship is necessary.

After Henry has got new plates in his knees through operation they start having a great time in Milan. They spend marvellous days and nights full of love together; while Catherine is caring for Henry in the hospital they start making plans about their common future.

At the end of September Henry has three weeks left before returning to the front, but as he drinks himself to jaundice, he is sent back earlier. So he has to leave Milan and the pregnant Catherine.

In Gorizia the situation is tense, as everyone is expecting an Austrian attack. Now everybody is hoping for an end of this war.

Already the second day after Henry's return the Italian troops are called for a retreat and the whole of Italy seems to start moving. With two cars and a couple of other men they leave for Udine. Unfortunately the roads are crowded soon and they keep waiting in a column of hundreds of vehicles until they decide to change onto a country lane. They soon get stuck in the mud and don't have another choice than trying to walk to Udine. On their way one man is shot dead in the darkness by frightened Italian troops. At a river Italian soldiers stop Italian officers to execute them for one reason: German soldiers have dressed like Italian officers so everyone is afraid of them, even true ones.

Henry can escape in the last second by jumping into the river. Out again he immediately takes a train to Milan, where he hopes to find Catherine, however she has moved to Stresa only two days before.

He goes to see a friend, who gives him civilian clothes, as they otherwise would arrest him. This friend also helps him to plan a possible escape to Switzerland.

He buys a ticket to Stresa, where he meets Catherine again. They take a room in a luxury hotel, where they can live out there love again together.

However, Henry can't hide his identity too long as there are many people who have known him before. One night they are informed about a planned arrest of Henry; this fact forces them to flee. In a rowing boat they take their way through the sea and the rivers to the coast of Switzerland. For the winter months until March they rent a romantic wooden house in the mountains. When the snow starts melting Catherine, who is in the eighth month pregnant, prefers moving into the town to be close to the hospital.

One day in the morning Catherine's contractions start, so Henry takes her to the hospital. Her pains are so strong she gets gas to diminish them. Half a day later the doctors advise to have a Caesarian. With doubts, but not seeing another solution he allows it.

Catherine gives birth to a boy, however he hasn't ever been alive, he has probably been strangled by the cord five days before.

This is the turning point, from now on Henry knows that Catherine is going to die.

When he wants to go back into her room they inform him she had a hemorrhage. When they meet for the last time, her death is in the awareness of both of them. Soon she falls unconscious and doesn't wake up again until she dies.

Main Characters:

Frederic Henry: An american soldier, working at the italian front as an ambulance driver

Catherine Barkley: An english nurse, working at the italian front in a hospital


The novel consists of five individual books. Although one story continues the other, you realise a change in the style of writing. Characteristic for book one and two is that "love" is rather the disturbing element in the war, which the emphasis is laid upon. The fourth and fifth book are the complete opposite: The war has lost its importance; the love is the only emphasis in the life of those two people. The third book forms the connection between the two parts.

As this book is based on Hemingway's own experiences the reality is always present. Probably Hemingway wanted to give all those people who haven't been or don't have to be in the war an impression of how much you lose, while you shoot "your" enemy dead instead of finding the love of your life in the world. He successfully showed how much time a rather short period of time can mean to someone who is able to spend it with the one and only loved person.

Personal Comment:

When I read it I wasn't convinced of the value of the first two books, but the rest of it was entrancing enough to compensate the first disappointment. At the end I was glad to have read it as especially the last part has given me a new cause for thought on the value of love.Because of this book Hemingway has become one of my favourite writer as I'm convinced that he is one of very few authors who have the talent to give their love-stories a very real appearance with a deeper meaning.

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