- Reading Hemingway's A Farewell to Arms: Glossary and Commentary by Robert W. Lewis and Michael Kim Roos
In an era awash with cultural, gender, biographical and myriad other ideological studies where art and artist become subsumed to a particularly dedicated focus, there emerges a series of trustworthy critical volumes devoted to the masterpieces of one of America's foremost 20th century authors, Ernest Hemingway. To date Kent State University Press has issued companion volumes to The Sun Also Rises, Men Without Women, Across the River and Into the Trees, To Have and Have Not, The Old Man and the Sea and A Farewell to Arms. The latter represents a laudable effort to set straight a record of mis-readings penned by legions of self-anointed Hemingway critics ranging from acquaintances, distant relatives, fans, and other equally unreliable amateurs, who for decades have appropriated Hemingway and his production to their own often selfish ends. It is refreshingly welcome to discover Lewis and Roos's explication de texte approach to A Farewell to Arms.
Their compendium is an exhaustive chapter-by-chapter-indeed almost line-by-line--elucidation of Hemingway's tragic novel of love and loss in the time of war that he once described as his Romeo and Juliet. Fredric and Catherine's brief and doomed love in the Italian war front echoes Shakespeare's own Veronese young couple's ill-fated demise. Attentive not only to the standard American Library edition but also reaching back constantly to the holographic manuscript as well as the definitive typescript housed at the John F. Kennedy Library, these two scholars pull back the curtain and let us see Hemingway's creative genius at work as he carefully, deliberately and consciously constructs his opus. Ranging from the relatively paltry eleven entries of chapters 8, 17 and 24, to an astounding ninety-five pertaining to chapter 41, Lewis and Roos offer up no fewer than 1,423 commentaries to orient readers with a guide map replete with detailed information necessary to fully apprehend and appreciate the narrative's textual richness.
No opportunity is missed to delve deep into Hemingway's [End Page 210] writing process, from his obsessive search for just the right ending (he essayed forty seven) to his adherence to the "iceberg principle," knowing just what to leave unsaid while trusting the reader's ability to collaborate in gauging the full meaning of the remaining 7/8 of the submerged iceberg. Precisely this mode of writing, which suggests more than it tells, compels Lewis and Roos to make certain that every reader becomes fully aware of the rich polysemious nature of AFTA. Simply put, whereas in the novelist's finished work the trick has always been to hide the trick, these critics see theirs' as just the opposite: to discover or uncover each, and every, trick.
In this vein, Lewis and Roos endow readers with the means to follow Hemingway's step-by-step building of his wonderful novel. Historical dates, topographical maps, intertextual references, toponyms, character appellations and real life identifications, battle locations, armaments, political factions, city descriptions, significant dates, text variations, eliminated sections, word changes and choices, relevant oenology, and many other similar founts which Hemingway himself may not have been familiar with since his initial stay in Italy postdates the novel's action of 1917. Thus, our critics mine works such as Baedeker's popular guides to Italy and Switzerland, G.M. Trevelyan's Scenes from Italy's War or Hugh Dalton's British Guns in Italy and reveal Hemingway's own invaluable references that he reached for in his determination to lend authenticity and the essence of truth he always sought.
Scribner's brought out AFTA "on the day the market broke" in 1929 as EH himself later remembered. He had begun writing it, probably in Wyoming, in the winter of 1928 and finished it in Paris in the spring of 1929. In spite of the tragedies and difficulties that darkened this period of his life, such as...