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May 2018 > A Farewell to Arms

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message 1: by Denise (last edited May 30, 2018 08:26AM) (new)

Denise | 6 comments Hi all.
My apologies for chiming in late with my observations on “A Farewell to Arms.” I wanted to read this book for a few reasons. First, this book was chosen for the “One Community, One Book” initiative with B&ECPL and secondly, I thought it would be great to read a classic piece of literature. That being said, it took me a while to get used to Hemingway’s writing style and his short, staccato sentences. I had to slog my way through this book. However, there is a reason why this book is a classic and I think one reason may be his cynical view of war at a time when that sentiment was not publicly expressed. Hemingway’s description of this “goddam war” as being “rotten” and his representation of the ugly, non-heroic side of war may not have been well received in 1929.
What drove me crazy in this book was his portrayal of Catherine Barkley. In the beginning of the book she is continually asking Frederic if he loves her…all the time! She seems so simple and insecure and based on her character, I couldn’t help but wonder what Hemingway’s view of women was. Catherine describes herself as a “good girl” over and over again, and at the same time says she feels like a whore at one point in the book. I found her character frustrating.
I didn’t like the way Frederic, and Rinaldi for that matter, treated women. Was that behavior the norm when the book was written? Even when I saw the movie, the one with Gary Cooper, I got the same feeling. I also thought there was something strange about the Rinaldi-Frederic friendship. What did all of you think?
Well, this should get us started….

message 2: by Ellen (new)

Ellen | 225 comments I sort of forget until I start reading a Hemingway that he really is not my favorite author. It's funny that Denise mentioned the staccato sentences. I didn't notice those so much as the descriptive, run-on sentences, especially at the beginning of the book. Quite a combination, he covers all the bases ... only not in a good way.

I wondered about the device of presenting a war story from the perspective of a sort of mercenary. Is it to focus on the general aspects of war, unclouded by patriotism? Although I would suspect that the patriotism falls away fairly soon in most wars.

The affect of all the characters bothered me in some way. The veneer of humor and constant drinking, while probably true, bothered me almost as much as the actual war skirmishes. The interactions with the priest puzzled me.

I hadn't thought much about the treatment and view of women, until Denise pointed it out. I'd guess it was more common at that time and it was likely heightened even more in a mostly male event like war at that point in time.

I just read a brief online bio about Hemingway in WWI and see that this book is pretty autobiographical. Or maybe all his books are, I'm not that familiar with him. The thing with the medals seems to have happened to him too.

This was a very unusual look at WWI, that's for sure.

message 3: by Kath (new)

Kath | 206 comments Mod
I found this a bit of a slog as well, Denise. It is interesting to think about how this viewpoint on war would have been received at the time. Also an intriguing idea to create a character who doesn’t really take sides in the war but rather viewed it as an outsider who becomes so disillusioned. My impression lines up with something Ellen mentions; that it was to focus on the nastiness of war in general, without notions of patriotism or even duty to fog your view.

I didn’t feel anything strange about the Rinaldi-Frederic friendship –the relationships all felt so shallow to me that I didn’t have strong feelings about any of them.

My main issue was with the female portrayals – Oy! I’m with you, Denise, Catherine drove me bonkers with everything she said: "I'm good. Aren't I good? You don't want any other girls, do you?" or "I'll do what you want and say what you want and then I'll be a great success, won't I?"... "I want what you want. There isn't any me any more. Just what you want." Ugh. Or the female friend Fergy where she alternated between sobbing over her friend’s unwed pregnancy and bitterness because she was alone. It just felt like none of the women had substance; they were all these insipid, fickle beings but maybe that is how he actually felt about women. I feel like it went beyond just how women were treated at the time; they were all so one-dimensional it felt like he’d never met an actual woman before. Maybe nearly ninety years later it is just hard for me to connect with that viewpoint.

message 4: by Denise (new)

Denise | 6 comments Kath and Ellen, I agree with both of you. For a book about war, there is not a feeling of patriotism that strongly comes through with any of the characters. Hemingway introduced, American , British and Italian characters, but each were absorbed with their own desires and seemed to detach themselves from any fervent allegiance to one's own country. Self first and then the cause.

message 5: by Ellen (new)

Ellen | 225 comments I like the war perspective given here. It is probably more truthful than one cloaked in patriotism. But even for the Italians in the Italian army, the long-term effects of the war have broken down any patriotic feelings that the men may have started with. War is horrific on a daily, slog-through-it level and this likely presents that more realistically than other narratives of the time.

I also wonder how it was received when it was published, given its different perspective. I'll have to poke around and see what I can find.

Even with our various objections to this book, I'm glad we read it.

message 6: by Kath (new)

Kath | 206 comments Mod
Here's a 1929 review from the New York Times after it came out.

It also has an interesting take on the staccato style Hemingway uses.

And here is the British perspective from the Guardian at the time:
It uses the phrase "subtle feminine charm" to describe Catherine as well as "most skilfully modelled as the eternal feminine in nursing dress." so I guess she was not as annoying to people of the time. :)

message 7: by Marlies (new)

Marlies Borzynski | 62 comments The only thing I can say is that I agree with all of you. Getting through any dialog with Catherine was painful but I did like his writing about the war. I think he should probably stick to that. This was the first Hemingway book I've read and not sure if I will attempt another. i'e heard it is known as his "love story" but you can tell through the writing that he probably didn't think much of women.

I agree with Ellen that his perspective of the ward is probably more truthful. I'm sure there were lots of soldiers (and mercenaries) that just looked to get out of the war. Although I'm sure there were many patriot people during the war, I think there were just as many disgruntled soldiers, especially after the war started dragging on.

I'm glad I've finally read something by Hemingway since he is such a classic author but I'm not sure I will read any of this other works anytime soon (unless it is a book club book :) )

message 8: by Kath (new)

Kath | 206 comments Mod
I agree, Marlies, that I will likely not be reading more Hemingway anytime soon!

I have to say the New York Times review did give me a better perspective on the story and the writing style. It also brought up the idea that many people might have a problem with Frederic's desertion. I have to say that never occurred to me. Knowing how horrific that war was and how officers were being shot for not holding the line, his desertion seemed reasonable to me (especially as America was not formally in the war yet, right?).

Anyway, I am also glad we read it. Thanks, Denise!

message 9: by Kath (new)

Kath | 206 comments Mod
The last book selection before summer break is Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro and discussion will begin June 25th.

We will be taking July and August off as usual but will send out a poll to schedule an in-person meeting to plan for the next year.
Stay tuned!

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