NEA Big Read
A Farewell to Arms

A Farewell to Arms

by Ernest Hemingway

All good books are alike in that they are truer than if they had really happened and after you are finished reading one you will feel that all that happened to you and afterwards it all belongs to you...

Ernest Hemingway in Paris, 1928 (The John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, Boston)

Hemingway and His Other Works

The works of Ernest Hemingway have a long and varied publication history. Some have disappeared, like the stolen early stories that his first wife mislaid; others are ignored, like his first novel, The Torrents of Spring (1926), and his only play, The Fifth Column (1938). Several novels and dozens of short stories are considered classics—and though Hemingway died in 1961, works bearing his name have appeared as recently as 1999.

Only 300 copies of Hemingway's first book, Three Stories and Ten Poems (1923), were printed in Paris. The short story collection In Our Time (1925) cemented Hemingway's reputation as one of the finest American writers alive.

F. Scott Fitzgerald convinced Hemingway that he should dump his current publisher and sign with Scribner, where Maxwell Perkins (who also worked with Fitzgerald and Thomas Wolfe) would serve as his editor. In order to do so, Hemingway needed to write an "unpublishable" book to break his three-book contract. So, he wrote The Torrents of Spring (1926) in ten days; it arrived in the same year as his classic The Sun Also Rises.

In 1929, A Farewell to Arms became Hemingway's first bestseller, selling 100,000 copies in twelve months. It was adapted for the stage a year later and has been made into a film twice. The same year that he divorced his first wife, he published more stories in Men Without Women (1927). The bullfighting memoir Death in the Afternoon (1932) was followed by the safari hunting memoir Green Hills of Africa (1935).

By now, Hemingway had established a pattern—each mediocre book was followed by a masterpiece. His novel To Have and Have Not (1937) is as neglected today as For Whom the Bell Tolls (1940) is celebrated. Across the River and Into the Trees (1950) had critics calling him a has-been—a charge they had to retract when The Old Man and the Sea (1952) won the Pulitzer Prize.

After his death, Hemingway's unfinished manuscripts continued to appear for many years—most notably the Paris memoir A Moveable Feast (1964), and the two novels Islands in the Stream (1970) and The Garden of Eden (1986). His Selected Letters appeared in 1981, followed by the Complete Short Stories in 1987; while True at First Light, billed as Hemingway's last posthumous work, was edited by his son Patrick and released to commemorate his 100th birthday in 1999.

"The hardest thing in the world is to write straight honest prose on human beings. First you have to know the subject; then you have to know how to write. Both take a lifetime to learn, and anybody is cheating who takes politics as a way out. All the outs are too easy, and the thing itself is too hard to do."
—Ernest Hemingway

Hemingway at the Movies

A Farewell to Arms was made into a movie twice: the 1932 adaptation, starring Gary Cooper and Helen Hayes, is generally considered superior to the 1957 extravaganza with Rock Hudson and Jennifer Jones in the lead roles. The latter movie should have been a great success—directed by the legendary John Huston, it was to be the last film produced by David O. Selznick, who had made Gone with the Wind. However, Selznick replaced Huston with Charles Vidor mid-picture, after the pair clashed over the sentimental direction that Selznick wanted. It was not an inspired substitution. With Hudson and Jones overacting in every scene, the film can be hard to watch.

The 1932 version, directed by Frank Borzage, is better—and half as long. It won an Oscar for Charles Lang's gorgeous black-and-white cinematography. Gary Cooper, who played the lead role both here and in For Whom the Bell Tolls (1943), became for many people the personification of Hemingway's heroes. The scenes in A Farewell to Arms with Cooper and Helen Hayes are intense (Hayes reportedly fell in love with her co-star on the set), and the film has a stark and brooding energy. The movie is not, however, entirely faithful to the book. Worried that audiences would dislike the grim ending, Paramount Pictures ordered that an alternate, upbeat finale be added. Hemingway was hardly thrilled with the result.

There are plenty of other Hemingway books to savor on screen. One of the best is Howard Hawks's To Have and Have Not (1944), which sizzles with the chemistry between Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall (who also fell in love on the set). With a screenplay co-written by the great novelist William Faulkner, the film is considered a classic—including some of the most memorable dialogue ever written. The movie's plot hardly resembles the book, but then Hemingway supposedly made a bet with Hawks that the director would find the novel impossible to film.

Another great movie is Robert Siodmak's The Killers (1946), a film noir starring Burt Lancaster (in his debut) and Ava Gardner. Based on one of Hemingway's short stories, The Killers is the tale of a duped ex-boxer who turns into a crook and then a victim for the sake of a dangerous woman. Nominated for four Academy Awards, the film made Ava Gardner a movie star and a sex symbol almost overnight. Reportedly, this was Hemingway's favorite movie made from his work.

Other Hemingway-inspired films include John Sturges's The Old Man and the Sea (1958) with a grizzled Spencer Tracy as the lonely fisherman. And good luck finding a copy of The Sun Also Rises (1957). Despite its all-star cast with Tyrone Power, Errol Flynn, and Ava Gardner, it has never been released on video or DVD.

Selected Works by Hemingway

  • In Our Time, 1925 (stories)
  • The Sun Also Rises, 1926 (novel)
  • A Farewell to Arms, 1929 (novel)
  • Death in the Afternoon, 1932 (non-fiction)
  • Green Hills of Africa, 1935 (non-fiction)
  • For Whom the Bell Tolls, 1940 (novel)
  • The Old Man and the Sea, 1952 (novel)
  • A Moveable Feast, 1964 (non-fiction)
  • Islands in the Stream, 1970 (novel)
NEA Big Read
Get involved with NEA Big Read!
Learn More

© Arts Midwest