Friday, March 8, 2019

Further Words On A Farewell To Arms, Including A Comparison With Romeo And Juliet

R to me on (see immediately below post) my strange comment on a passage in A Farewell To Arms:

Eloquent.  Both the passage and you.  That Hemingway intuitively gets the logic of contracts right suggests that it follows from something deep within us, as does his taking what happened with utter seriousness.  Contrast Celine, who takes the satiric, view that war amounts to people trying to kill him, thus all bets are off (a kind of Hobbesian view) which is also part of Catch 22.  Both of those books are often hilarious, never profound.  



I haven’t read Celine but Heller I did and made mention of it to you.

I knew something terrible was going to happen at the end of this novel. But as I read the final pages I didn’t want it to, terribly much I didn’t want it to. So I agree with those who call the novel a tragedy, which to me, most simply, is the representation of great loss.

I see that Hemingway said he intended this book as his Romeo and Juliet. I can see that in some ways, essentially in the pure, deep love and then death. 

But in a big way not.

In Shakespeare, Romeo’s and Juliet’s deaths, while immediately caused by bizarre error, bizarre bad timing and bizarre coincidence, are ultimately the necessary result of their families’ feud. The feud and their deaths are locked in nexus. The lovers’ fated doom is sealed, and, more, in that dramatic world, metaphysically sealed: they are star crossed. The play’s foreshadowing expresses that structurally. Their death is the wages of their families’ murderous enmity.

In A Farewell To Arms, there’s none of precisely that as such: the war doesn’t cause Catherine’s death: sheer contingency does. Yes, there’s foreshadowing of her death too, but it goes to a different world view, a view of a menacing, arbitrary world that in its menacing, bullying reality will inevitably kill, kill in ways not attributable to human evil. It will kill, as Henry soliloquizes in his head, the kind, the gentle and the good. 

Catherine’s death happens in Switzerland, peaceable, welcoming, civilized, “grand,” non war-torn Switzerland. And in awful irony her and their baby’s deaths come after two harrowing, life affirming, life and death escapes—first Henry’s from the Italian army, then the escape of both of them from Italy to Switzerland—and come in the midst of a loving, devoted life in Switzerland. It all adds a terrifying benign layer of menace to the way things are. 

Such a great, beautiful, moving novel. As you say, “profound,” le mot juste. 

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