Reading Hemingway's A Farewell to Arms: Glossary and Commentary.
Reading Hemingway's A Farewell to Arms is the sixth installment of Kent State University Press's Reading Hemingway series. It was begun by the late Robert W. Lewis, founding editor of the series, and skillfully completed by Michael Kim Roos under the guidance of current series editor Mark Cirino. As in the other texts in this series, it provides an extensive glossary along with in-depth commentary. A Farewell to Arms, Ernest Hemingway's third novel, is considered one of his greatest achievements and from its first publication in 1929 until now continues to be enjoyed by readers and studied extensively by scholars.
My first comments must address the massive amount and seemingly unlimited variety of sources consulted. To begin with, the editors make extensive use of manuscript material which, as Roos argues, "adds much more detail" (95). Often this information is utilized, according to Roos, "to fill in information of which Hemingway was fully aware as he was writing but chose to omit"(20). The editors also draw on numerous contemporary sources that Hemingway might have consulted during his research on the subject of the Italian Front during the years 1915-1917. Added to this are the references to innumerable modern studies of World War I battles, timelines, weaponry, strategies, etc. along with contemporary newspaper articles, weather reports, and descriptions of terrain. The sheer comprehensiveness of these sources proves invaluable in obtaining a better understanding of the novel and certainly serves to impress the reader with the novel's historical accuracy.
The editors should also be commended for delving deeply into the novel's rich literary context. Roos introduces the volume with an in-depth discussion of Hemingway's literary self-education between 1919 and 1928 and argues that six specific authors had a major influence on Hemingway as he began the writing of A Farewell to Arms: Turgenev, Tolstoy, Dostoevsky, Stendhal, Flaubert and Mann. Throughout the text, Roos draws various possible connections between the works of these authors and the narrative. The editors also consider the influences of John Dos Passos, T. S. Eliot, James Joyce, and F. Scott Fitzgerald.
Roos writes that, among other goals, he and Lewis saw their jobs as "interpreters" (100). This aspect of their work is most evident in the identification of themes and motifs in the novel. The themes that are most discussed are variously identified as: reason vs non reason, objective and subjective truth, belief vs opinion, and the conflict between science and faith. These, along with the motifs such as the significance of rain, the recurring instances of mistaken identity, and the inescapable weight of the passage of time all serve as points of entry into analyzing the motives and actions of the characters. This aspect of the book gives newer readers a roadmap, if you will, to appreciate the progression of the narrative and the psychological development of the characters and, at the same time, will stimulate long-time readers to deeper reflection. I must confess however, at moments some of the connections made between these themes in the text and certain outside sources seemed to be a bit far-reaching. That being said, it can be argued that these less obvious connections serve to stretch our creative thinking and encourage all possible approaches.
Another benefit of the editors' close examination of the manuscript is the opportunity to appreciate Hemingway's writing process and methodology. We are presented with numerous examples of Hemingway's adeptness in removing unnecessary descriptions, lengthy explanations, even characters in order to create his legendary clean prose. The editors also highlight Hemingway's use of repetition and "elegant understatement" (23). Another important component of the text is the thorough exploration of problematic and often-debated sentences. These include, for example, Frederic's statement, in response to Catherine's announcement of her pregnancy, "You always feel trapped biologically" (166), and Catherine's declaration to Frederic, "There isn't any me any more" (132).
Especially helpful for readers new to the novel are the connections that are established between the text and Hemingway's short stories. For example, the editors discuss Frederic's struggles with insomnia in relationship to Nick Adams's post-traumatic induced insomnia in "Now I Lay Me" and demonstrate how the shady nature of horseracing in "My Old Man," is echoed in the section of the novel in which Catherine and Frederic visit the horse track. Quite often it is these short stories that, for many, serve as entry points into the Hemingway oeuvre and consequently drawing upon recognizable themes and topics in these stories help to further engage these types of readers with the novel.
Along with the extensive glossary and commentary the editors have included interesting photos and several pertinent maps. The maps compliment the descriptions in the novel of, for example, Frederic's path of escape from the firing squad during the retreat at Caporetto and the lovers' flight across Lake Maggiore to safety in Switzerland. These maps, combined with the extensive commentary provided in the text, are invaluable to readers because the movement, timing and location of these particular scenes are often confusing or misunderstood.
The editors refer extensively to Mark Cirino's 2005 Hemingway Review article '"You Don't Know the Italian Language Well Enough': The Bilingual Dialogue of A Farewell to Arms," in which Cirino points out the numerous times Hemingway failed to properly translate specific Italian words and/or phrases. The editors concur with Cirino that these errors be changed for future editions of the novel. Another subject prominent in the text is the listing of numerous instances in the recently published Hemingway Library edition of the novel in which there are omissions of spaces before key paragraphs. With the exception of this new edition, these spaces appear in all previous editions. The contention is that, in every case, Hemingway was using these spaces to indicate the passage of time--a period often crucial to the following paragraph. Roos argues that these omissions merit serious attention contending, "the removal of these spaces does not take into account Hemingway's intentions in the manuscript" (74).
Reading Hemingway's A Farewell to Arms can certainly stand proudly alongside the preceding volumes in the Reading Hemingway series. The editors have provided us with a highly readable presentation of facts, interpretations, and sources. It is an immense endeavor, an incredible resource, and a fitting tribute to one of Ernest Hemingway's most enduring masterpieces.
|Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback|
|Publication:||The Hemingway Review|
|Article Type:||Book review|
|Date:||Sep 22, 2019|
|Previous Article:||The Ambulance Drivers: Hemingway, Dos Passos, and a Friendship Made and Lost in War.|
|Next Article:||Reading Hemingway's The Old Man and the Sea: Glossary and Commentary.|