A Farewell to Arms

A Farewell to Arms is a novel by 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.

A Farewell to Arms
First edition
AuthorErnest Hemingway
Cover artistCleonike ‘Cleon’ Damianakes[1]
Published1929 (Scribner)
Media typePrint (hardcover)

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.[2] The book became his first best-seller,[3] and has been called "the premier American war novel from that debacle World War I."[4]

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.

Plot summary

The novel is divided into five sections or 'books'. In the first, Frederic Henry, an American paramedic serving in the Italian Army, is introduced to Catherine Barkley, an English nurse, by his good friend and roommate, Rinaldi, a surgeon. Frederic attempts to seduce her; although he does not want a serious relationship, his feelings for Catherine build. Frederic is wounded in the knee by a mortar on the Italian front and sent to a hospital in Milan, where Catherine is also sent.

Upon seeing Catherine in the hospital for the first time, Frederic is immediately lovestruck. The second book portrays the growth of their relationship over the summer. After his knee heals, Frederic is diagnosed with jaundice, but is soon kicked out of the hospital and sent back to the front after it is discovered he concealed alcohol. By the time he is sent back, Catherine is three months pregnant.

In the third book, Frederic returns to his unit and discovers morale has severely dropped. Not long afterwards, the Austro-Hungarians break through the Italian lines in the Battle of Caporetto, and the Italians retreat. There is considerable delay and chaos on the road during the retreat and Frederic, wishing to avoid a possible aerial attack while stuck en route, decides to take an alternate path. He and his men quickly get lost and their cars are stuck in the mud, after which a frustrated Frederic kills a sergeant for insubordination. After catching up to the main retreat, he is taken to a place by the military police, 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, only to discover that she has been sent to Stresa.

In the fourth book, Catherine and Frederic reunite and spend some time in Stresa before Frederic learns he is soon to be arrested. The couple flee to neutral Switzerland in a rowboat given to him by a barkeep. After interrogation by Swiss authorities, they are allowed to stay.

In the final book, Frederic and Catherine live a quiet life in the mountains until she goes into labor. After a long and painful birth, their son is stillborn. Catherine begins to hemorrhage and soon dies, leaving Frederic to return to their 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.[5] 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.[6]

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 à clef, readers assumed A Farewell to Arms to be autobiographical.[4] A Farewell to Arms was begun during his time at Willis M. Spear's guest ranch in Wyoming's Bighorns.[7] Some pieces of the novel were written in Piggott, Arkansas, at the home of his then wife Pauline Pfeiffer,[8] and in Mission Hills, Kansas while she was awaiting delivery of their baby.[9] Pauline underwent a caesarean section as Hemingway was writing the scene about Catherine Barkley's childbirth.[10]

Hemingway struggled with the ending. By his count, he wrote 39 of them "before I was satisfied."[11] However, a 2012 edition of the book included no less than 47 alternate endings.[11]

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.[12] The success of A Farewell to Arms made Hemingway financially independent.[13]

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.[14]

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.[15] 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.[16]


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.[17] Hemingway's corrected text has not been incorporated into modern published editions of the novel; however, there are some audiobook versions that are uncensored.

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 dictionary–held upside down.[18] 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.[19]

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."[20] The last line of the 1929 New York Times review reads: "It is a moving and beautiful book."[21]

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 publication—due to the medium of its release—through Scriber'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.[22]


The novel was first adapted for the stage by Laurence Stallings in 1930,[23] then as a film in 1932, with a 1957 remake. A three-part television miniseries was made 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.


  1. Cover stories: beautiful book-jacket designs – in pictures | Books | The Guardian Retrieved 2019-06-23.
  2. Mellow (1992), 378
  3. Wagner-Martin, Linda; Reynolds, Michael (2000). "Ernest Hemingway 1899-1961: A Brief Biography". A Historical Guide to Ernest Hemingway. New York: Oxford University Press. p. 31. ISBN 0-19-512151-1.
  4. Reynolds (2000), 31
  5. Villard, Henry Serrano & Nagel, James. Hemingway in Love and War: The Lost Diary of Agnes von Kurowsky: Her letters, and Correspondence of Ernest Hemingway (ISBN 1-55553-057-5 H/B/ISBN 0-340-68898-X P/B)
  6. "Frederic J. Agate Papers | Rare Books and Special Collections". rbsc.princeton.edu. Retrieved July 22, 2018.
  7. Spear-o-Wigwam history
  8. "Hemingway-Pfeiffer Home Page". Arkansas State University. Archived from the original on February 16, 2007. Retrieved January 30, 2007.
  9. "A Writer's Haunts: Where He Worked and Where He Lived"
  10. Meyers (1985), 216–217
  11. Julie Bosman (July 4, 2012). "To Use and Use Not". The New York Times.
  12. Oliver (1999), 91
  13. Meyers, Jeffrey. Hemingway: A Biography. Da Capo Press, 1999, p. 219.
  14. Boseman, Julie. (July 4, 2012)."To Use and Use Not". The New York Times. Retrieved July 9, 2012
  15. Hemingway, Ernest (1929). Hemingway, Seán (ed.). A Farewell To Arms (The Special ed.). London: William Heinemann. p. XIX. ISBN 9780434022489.
  16. Brasch, James D.; Sigman, Joseph (1981). Hemingway's Library: A Composite Record (PDF) (Electronic Edition John F. Kennedy Library, 2000 ed.). New York and London: Garland Pub. ISBN 0-8240-9499-9. Retrieved September 21, 2013.
  17. Hemingway, Ernest. A Farewell to Arms (New York: Scribner, 1929). James Joyce Collection, the Poetry Collection (State University of New York at Buffalo), item J69.23.8 TC141 H45 F37 1929
  18. Fernanda Pivano, Hemingway, Rusconi, Milan 1985) (ISBN 8818701657, 9788818701654)
  19. "A Farewell to Arms by Ernest Hemingway". the Guardian. August 30, 2002.
  20. "The Norman Mailer Syndrome". Los Angeles Times.
  21. "Hemingway's Farewell". New York Times.
  22. "A Farewell to Arms Steaminess Rating". www.shmoop.com.
  23. Young, Stark (1994). "A Farewell to Dramatization". Critical essays on Ernest Hemingway's A Farewell to Arms. New York: Hall [u.a.] pp. 91–95. ISBN 0-7838-0011-8. Archived from the original on May 30, 2013. Retrieved January 4, 2013.


  • Baker, Carlos (1972). Hemingway: The Writer as Artist. Princeton: Princeton UP. ISBN 978-0-691-01305-3
  • Mellow, James (1992). Hemingway: A Life Without Consequences. Boston: Houghton Mifflin. ISBN 0-395-37777-3
  • Meyers, Jeffrey (1985). Hemingway: A Biography. New York: Macmillan. ISBN 978-0-333-42126-0
  • Oliver, Charles (1999). Ernest Hemingway A to Z: The Essential Reference to the Life and Work. New York: Checkmark Publishing. ISBN 978-0-8160-3467-3
  • Reynolds, Michael (2000). "Ernest Hemingway, 1899–1961: A Brief Biography". in Wagner-Martin, Linda (ed). A Historical Guide to Ernest Hemingway. New York: Oxford UP. ISBN 978-0-19-512152-0
  • Roy, Pinaki (2012). Hemingway's 'A Farewell to Arms': A Critical Appraisal. Kolkata: Books Way. ISBN 978-93-81672-12-9
  • Tyler, Lisa, ed. (2008). "Teaching Hemingway's A Farewell to Arms." Kent, OH: The Kent State UP.
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