A Farewell to Arms
Moving all our books around has made me want to re-read more of them, and this month I was attracted to the Hemingway titles and to a read-along, something I rarely join. So for the next few weeks, on Thursday, I’m going to be documenting my progress re-reading Hemingway’s A Farewell to Arms.
I’m pretty sure that the last time I read this novel was before I became a parent, because the proximity of the fighting to the village where the narrator lives struck me with more fear than I remember, the fear of a person who is responsible for more lives than her own: “Now the fighting was in the next mountains beyond and was not a mile away. The town was very nice and our house was very fine. The river ran behind us and the town had been captured very handsomely but the mountains beyond it could not be taken and I was very glad the Austrians seemed to want to come back to the town some time, if the war should end, because they did not bombard it to destroy it but only a little in a military way.”
I think that when I read it before, I bought into the narrator’s matter-of-fact tone about how he lived, which pins down the time frame for me–I must have first read this novel in college, when some of the description would have sounded like a romantic version of how I was living at the time, surrounded by people my own age: “when the room whirled and you needed to look at the wall to make it stop, nights in bed, drunk, when you knew that that was all there was, and the strange excitement of waking and not knowing who it was with you, and the world all unreal in the dark and so exciting that you must resume again unknowing and not caring in the night, sure that this was all and all and all and not caring….If you have had it you know.”
So when the narrator falls for the girl his friend admires, embarks on a wartime romance with her, and goes off to be wounded, despite her Saint Anthony on a chain around his neck, it struck me as more desperate than it did the first time through. I didn’t originally appreciate the level of irony that the matter-0f-fact tone gives to the first part of the novel: “He said there was so much dirt blown into the wound that there had not been much hemorrhage.”
This time through, I feel like I care more about the narrator’s welfare than he cares himself. He is a young man, and therefore practically immortal. I am the mother of a sixteen-year-old son, and therefore practically paralyzed with fear.