The best American novel to emerge out of World War I, A FAREWELL TO ARMS is the unforgettable story of an American ambulance driver on the Italian front and his love for a beautiful English nurse. Hemingway's frank portrayal of the love between Lieutenant Henry and Catherine Barkley, caught in the inexorable sweep of war, glows with an intensity unrivaled in modern literature, while his description of the German attack on Caporetto - lines of tired men marching in the rain, hungry, weary, and demoralized - bears comparion to Stendhal's depiction of the retreat from Waterloo.
I wanted to do something for him. You see, I didn't care about the other thing and he could have had it all. He could have had anything he wanted if I would have known. I would have married him or anything. I know all about it now. But then he wanted to go to war and I didn't know.The two begin an affair, with Henry quite convinced that he "did not love Catherine Barkley nor had any idea of loving her. This was a game, like bridge, in which you said things instead of playing cards." Soon enough, however, the game turns serious for both of them and ultimately Henry ends up deserting to be with Catherine.
Hemingway was not known for either unbridled optimism or happy endings, and A Farewell to Arms, like his other novels (For Whom the Bell Tolls, The Sun Also Rises, and To Have and Have Not), offers neither. What it does provide is an unblinking portrayal of men and women behaving with grace under pressure, both physical and psychological, and somehow finding the courage to go on in the face of certain loss. --Alix Wilber