Pop Culture Princess

Pop Culture Princess
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Thursday, May 26, 2016

My Year with Hemingway welcomes A Farewell to Arms

While my list of books for My Year with Hemingway project isn't set up as a one-per-month deal, I did find myself wondering why a relatively short book like A Farewell To Arms was taking so long of a time to finish.

The edition that I own is about three hundred and thirty two pages, which for a major novel is a moderate page number. Other personal factors(including a readathon break) came into play but my ultimate conclusion upon turning that last page this morning was that this was a story that worked best when taking a good amount of time to fully absorb it.

On the surface,AFTA seems like your typical war time romance; boy meets girl, boy goes off to war, boy seeks girl out after the battle is done. However, when it comes to Hemingway, things are never that simple despite his style of simply laid out sentences.

  Lt.Frederic Henry and Catherine Barker are thrown together by chance but also by choice. Henry is an American who chose to join the Italian forces during WWI as an ambulance driver while Catherine is a British nurse who volunteered as well. Their connection is intense, made more so by the ever present war fare nipping at their heels.

Henry's emotional and physical journey truly takes off when during a retreat from battle, he is separated from his men and forced to flee, due to officers being executed by those seeking a scapegoat for their military loss. His main motive for survival is Catherine,who is pregnant with his child, but also the sheer determination to get as far away from the collapsing battle front as possible:

 While A Farewell to Arms is a solid enough love story, the most vivid parts of the book are between Lt. Henry and his fellow soldiers in those calm before the storm scenes during meals or sharing a drink as well as the long trek that he and his men go on after the retreat has begun.

You can feel the mud beneath your feet or that tang of frustration in the air as Henry and company are trying to figure out which move is the right one to take next. Don't get me wrong, his romantic reunion with Catherine is great and their time spent together in Switzerland is an oasis of relief in the narrative.

However, when it comes to love and war in this novel, it's the war that wins out in the end. There's a bit more depth of feeling in Henry's friendships with the men he meets such as Rinaldi(who he even brings up briefly to Catherine once they're reunited),the priest that he encounters from time to time and even Count Greffi, a mentor of sorts who he spends one afternoon with.

There is a solid spark between Lt. Henry and Catherine yet it has a steam pressured energy to it that is destined to fizzle out once they hit the shores of conventional life.  In my opinion, their entire relationship is firmly cemented by the time and place they're in, which is not to say that their love wasn't true. It's just that like many romances that spring up during times of tension due to greater outside forces, Catherine and Henry's long term chances weren't the best.

I suspect that Hemingway sort of knew that(he probably wouldn't admit it) when he wrote the tragic ending there. Granted, the real life love affair that he had which inspired this book didn't end the same way but I have no doubt that he felt it was just as harshly painful. The ending does have an abruptness to it,which does suit the whole tone of the story but I can see some people not being happy with that. Well, if you're looking for a happy ending, Hemingway is definitely not your man:

Speaking of Hemingway's inspiration for AFTA, I also watched the 1996 film based on that story entitled In Love and War.  I had my doubts about Chris O'Donnell playing a young Ernest but he did reasonably well. However, he and Sandra Bullock(as American nurse Agnes von Kurowsky) didn't really have much onscreen chemistry there.

The two of them do their best but there's a very stagey vibe to the whole film that they can't quite shake off. Frankly, it might have been better to turn this production into a made for TV movie, as the style of acting and story telling is far too small for such a vastly arrayed cinematic canvas that director Richard Attenborough provides. Visually, it's  lovely looking but there is a hollowness that even he is unable to fill.

The screenplay is based upon a nonfiction account of the romance between Hemingway and von Kurowsky but with several screenwriters attached, it clearly shows that there was some debate over how the overall story line should go. The reviews were not great as many pointed out that the true facts of the story were changed(for example, Hemingway and Agnes never met again after their time in Italy) in order to make a more "romantic" film.

That sound valid but I'm sure that some people like it anyway because of the romance and that's valid,too. It reminds me in a way of the Anne Hathaway Jane Austen biopic Becoming Jane; while far from the most accurate retelling of an author's life and times, it does have enough pleasing elements to make it watchable there:

Well, I am glad that I took my time with A Farewell to Arms. Some meals taste better when slowly savored rather than rushed down in one gulp. I don't know if I will reread it at some point in the future but then again, I might enjoy it more the next time around.

My next read for My Year with Hemingway will be Erika Robuck's Hemingway's Girl, set in Key West,Florida where Hemingway resided with second wife Pauline but the leading lady here is Mariella, a maid in the Hemingway household who finds herself influenced by the author in more ways than one.

I'll most likely pair this with a look at Michael Palin's Hemingway Adventure, which does make a stop in Key West. Should be a good way to start my summer off nicely. To wrap up this time with AFTA, I have chosen yet another song that I think is a suitable theme for the story. Yes, this also happens to be the theme song for the popular cable drama Outlander but the passionate power of this melody speaks to the epic nature of the book to me:

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