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Thursday, August 07, 2014

A Farewell to Arms (1929) by Ernest Hemmingway

Sandra Bullock played the real life "inspiration" for the love interest in A Farewell to Arms in the film In Love and War.

Book Review
A Farewell to Arms (1929)
by Ernest Hemmingway

 A list which included all the 1929 titles from the 1001 Books project would be;  The Maltese Falcon & Red Harvest by Dashiell Hammett, Hebdomeros by Giorgio de Chirico, Passing by Nella Larsen,  Living by Henry Green, The Time of Indifference by Albert Moravia,  All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque, Berlin Anderplatz by Alfred Doblin, The Last September by Elizabeth Bowen, Harriet Hume by Rebecca West, The Sound and the Fury by William Faulkner,  Les Enfants Terribles by Jean Cocteau and Look Homeward, Angel by Thomas Wolfe.

  Including A Farewell to Arms that is 16 titles from a single year.  We are talking double the number of titles in 1929 than in any other year prior.  It is a veritable explosion, with authors writing in English, French, Italian and German.  There are also representatives from genre fiction (Hammett), Surrealism (Chirico), experimental Modernism (Doblin, Faulkner) and a plethora of works addressing the trauma of World War I (Remarque,  Bowen, West, Wolfe and of course Hemmingway.)

  Personally, I'd take A Farewell to Arms first, then the two Hammett novels and All Quiet on the Western Front as my "top 3."   In contrast to the effeteness and femininity that characterizes much of the writing in the 1001 Books project prior to the 1920s,  Hammett, Hemingway and Remarque write in both a clipped, "macho" style about "manly" subjects, namely war and crime.  If you look at the style and subjects of what normal people actually read: genre thrillers, romance novels and science fiction, the style of writing is closer to the thematic, stylistic developments of the end of the 1920s  then to anything that comes before.

  A Farewell to Arms is tops because Hemingway not only writes in a style that is both refreshing and in stark contradiction to prevailing literary taste, he also eschews the cardboard characters that haunt the world of genre fiction that Hammett tried so hard to transcend.  Hemingway's first book, The Sun Also Rises was a "roman a clef," or novel which describes ones friends.  Many people assumed that A Farewell to Arms was similarly based on experience, but not so. It's a pretty clever trick that, going from a roman a clef to something that LOOKS and FEELS like a thinly veiled biographical novel but is actually "real" fiction.


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