Ernest Hemingway’s 1929 novel, A Farewell to Arms, is often regarded as his best artistic achievement. It was certainly his greatest commercial success to date with 80,000 copies sold within the first four months. The money earned for the novel, though, came too late to prevent his father from committing suicide due to financial stress and a losing struggle with diabetes. The novel established Ernest Hemingway as the literary master of a style that was characterized by brisk assertive staccato, or crisp precise prose. The novel also gave rise to the infamous myth of Hemingway as the epitome of American machismo. This owed as much to the popularity of his novel and his friendship with Gary Cooper-who played Frederic Henry in the film version of the novel-as it did to Hemingway’s own heroism.
The book is the story of a young American named Frederic Henry who volunteers for service with the Italian army in World War I and falls in love with his English nurse, with whom he deserts from the retreating Italian Front. Having escaped to Switzerland, they live in harmony until the tragic end of her pregnancy, during which both she and the child die. Much has been said about the prose style Hemingway used and a great debate has been waged over whether the novel is about machismo and the sex object, Catherine Barkley. However, A Farewell to Arms is not a novel glorifying war. Instead, it is a tragic love story whose farewell is from Frederic to the woman whose arms held sanity in the crazy world of the Great War.