I thought I owed the Horde a follow-up note on my reading of Farewell To Arms. With much anguish, I put the book down. I thought the book started out with a sense of humor. It also contains one of the best depictions of battle I've ever read. There's also a lot of really great sentence-craft in there. But then the novel just became a "this happened" and "this happened" and "this happened."
More problematic, I simply didn't believe Hemingway's characters. I thought the protagonist fell in love because the book required it, and I never got any firm picture of who Catherine Barkley actually was. The obvious contrast for me is Wharton's Madame Olenska and Newland Archer, where you see two people falling in love out of a kind of need. I don't really believe in literary romance for romance's sake. I think love comes from actual places.
I've had this problem with other "great books." I recently re-read Invisible Man and found myself not caring much about the characters. But I still enjoyed the form of the book. I was reading something more like an allegory, than a deep character study.
Anyway, I think as writers we find a few people we love and we devour them. Hemingway is off my menu.
We want to hear what you think about this article. Submit a letter to the editor or write to firstname.lastname@example.org.
is a national correspondent for The Atlantic
, where he writes about culture, politics, and social issues. He is the author of The Beautiful Struggle
, Between the World and Me,
and We Were Eight Years in Power