Jazz Age January: Farewell to Arms

Pardon the price tag, I thrifted it off a second-hand store a few years back
Pardon the price tag, I thrifted it off a second-hand store a few years back (:

Moving away from lavish parties, exuberant lifestyles and Wall Street, “Farewell to Arms” is an anti-war book published in 1929 by World War One veteran Ernest Hemingway.

Set in Italy during the war, the book details the military experiences of Frederic Henry, an American who volunteered with the Italian ambulance services, and his romantic relationship with nurse Catherine Barkley. Wartime love stories have time and time again tugged at the heartstrings of readers, particularly at moments of separation when Henry was forced to leave for the war front leaving Catherine behind.

Yet “Farewell to Arms” elevates this love story to the next level by drawing upon Hemmingway’s personal experiences to express the brutality of war in a subtle but brilliant manner. As the Italian army retreated in disarray, the actual frenzy could be seen through the demoralization of the solders’ spirits, inside their crumbling minds, emotions and lives.

“I had hoped for something.”
“Defeat?”
“No. Something more.”
“There isn’t anything more. Except victory. It may be worse.”
“I hoped for a long time for victory.”
“Me too.”
“Now I don’t know.”
“It has to be one or the other.”
“I don’t believe in victory any more.”
“I don’t. But I don’t believe in defeat. Though it may be better.”
“What do you believe in?”
“In sleep,” I said.”

This is my first Hemingway book and was therefore surprised that his writing style – plain, simple and unadorned – emanated a very similar vibe to journalism reporting. In contrast with author F. Scott Fitzgerald of “The Great Gatsby,” who also wrote during the same period, Hemmingway kept his florid prose and adjective-heavy descriptive sentences to a minimum, preferring to adopt active voice to convey his emotions.

Such a writing style was used powerfully in translating Hemingway’s sensitivities and observance into the complexities of the human psyche unembellished into the written form.

“If people bring so much courage to this world the world has to kill them to break them, so of course it kills them. The world breaks every one and afterward many are strong at the broken places. But those that will not break it kills. It kills the very good and the very gentle and the very brave impartially. If you are none of these you can be sure it will kill you too but there will be no special hurry.”

Although the novel does not fall strictly within the Jazz Age period, it provides the backgrounder to understanding the disillusionment young Americans shared during the Roaring Twenties. The outpour of emotions and liberation by the post-war youths were largely a counterreaction to the atrocities witnessed during fighting across the Atlantic.

The book concluded on a rather bitter note about life and by extension the nature of war: we can never quite escape life’s cruel realities no matter how cheerful and positive we stay, and war on the other hand is never a happy affair no matter how it is glorified as ‘The war to end all wars.’

This post is part of my participation in Jazz Age January, a challenge created by fellow book blogger Leah from “Books Speak Volumes.” If you want to find out more about it, check it out on her blog.

Related posts:
The last Jazz Age January post I submitted was The Beautiful and Damned by F. Scott Fitzgerald.
For more Jazz Age posts, I have reviewed The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald.
The last anti-war book I have reviewed was Slaughterhouse-five by Kurt Vonnegut.

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13 thoughts on “Jazz Age January: Farewell to Arms

  1. I have always appreciated minimalism. I admire Hemingway’s talent of being able to convey a staggering amount of emotion using only a few words. If you liked Hemingway’s style, you should check out Raymond Carver! He is a more recent writer, so it feels more contemporary; he is also a master of conveying big emotions through short, simple sentences.

  2. Thanks for your review. I’ve not read any of Ernest Hemingway’s work yet, but based on this think I would love his short, frank and to-the-point style of writing. I will check it out! Thanks, Rebecca

  3. I’m glad to hear you enjoyed Hemingway’s concise writing style. I’m planning to read my first Hemingway this year as well—”For Whom the Bell Tolls”—and based on the excerpts you’ve included here, I think I will find the style refreshing.

  4. « At night, there was the feeling that we had come home, feeling no longer alone, waking in the night to find the other one there, and not gone away; all other things were unreal. We slept when we were tired and if we woke the other one woke too so one was not alone. Often a man wishes to be alone and a woman wishes to be alone too and if they love each other they are jealous of that in each other, but I can truly say we never felt that. We could feel alone when we were together, alone against the others (…) We were never lonely and never afraid when we were together. »

    This was the reading at my wedding… I had forgotten about it somehow. Thank you for reminding me…

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