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Free Barron's Booknotes-A Farewell to Arms by Ernest Hemingway
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Henry goes to call on Catherine but can't see her because she's on duty. In talking to the head nurse he tells his reasons for joining the Italian army. He's casual and understated as usual-"I was in Italy, and I spoke Italian."

He drives to the bridgehead where the Italians are about to launch their spring offensive. Hemingway describes the relative positions of the Italians and Austrians. The Italians are dug in, but certain parts of their lines can be shelled steadily by the Austrians-a fact that will be important later. He also introduces the Italian carabinieri, or battle police, the equivalent of American MPs. These men halt Henry's car when some shells land close by. You're going to hear from the carabinieri again.

Henry gets to see Catherine, first in company with Helen Ferguson, then alone. After a little chat about the war and her position as a V.A.D., a kind of aide, they both agree to "drop the war."

Then begins a subtly masterful scene. Note how skillfully yet how sparely Hemingway depicts the sexual fencing between these two who are getting to know each other in the charged urgency of wartime.

Henry moves to kiss her. She slaps him. He knows he has an advantage over her now. He plays on her sympathy, then flatters her. She, in turn, flatters him. Sure of himself, Henry sees his seduction of the young nurse "like the moves in a chess game." He succeeds in getting her to kiss him.

But she shakes him up a bit with her curious statement that he should be good to her "because we're going to have a strange life." Is she thinking of marriage? Or of some other semipermanent arrangement? Or is she just talking about their life during the war? You don't know yet. Neither does Henry, but he's bothered by her words. Catherine is turning out to be something more complicated than a quick conquest.

Back in their room, Rinaldi jokingly compares Henry to a dog in heat. Henry gets mad, but friendship prevails and the two stop before a real argument gets going.


Returning from a two-day absence, Henry goes to visit Catherine. His description of her hospital shows him to be a person of some artistic sensitivity. (You'll learn later that he was a student of architecture before he went to war.) He doesn't like the white marble busts that line the hospital walls, he tells us, and that bleak image of dead statuary will be repeated, tragically, at the end of the book. In his rambling thoughts Henry also tells of his ambivalent attitude toward the war. He stands a little apart from it, but he's undeniably involved. He thinks it's "theatrical" to wear a steel helmet in town, but unlike Rinaldi he is enough of a soldier to carry the required officer's side arm, though it embarrasses him.

Then Catherine appears. The two speak very formally in the presence of an orderly, but as soon as they are alone Catherine becomes waspish. Henry has been away for three days without sending her any word. "Where have you been?" she grills him. "You couldn't have sent me a note?" Is she jealous? Suspicious? Or is she thinking of the way her last lover failed to return? A certain desperation in her words leads you to believe the last.

Henry, at this stage, is willing to say anything to advance his erotic flirtation. "I love you," he lies. Even as he's kissing Catherine he thinks she's a little crazy, but she's certainly better than one of the trollops in the officers' brothel. Once again he sees the whole romance as a game, this time bridge, but where "you said things instead of playing cards." But it doesn't bother him at the moment.

Then, just as he's certain the strange, lovely girl is willing to be seduced, she brings him up short when she acknowledges that she's acting, too.

"This is a rotten game we play, isn't it?" Catherine asks. To save face as much as for any other reason, Henry feels he has to insist that he truly loves her, but she knows he's lying.

They kiss again.

On his way home, Henry passes the Villa Rossa, where "it was still going on." What is "it"? The same empty game of false emotions that he and Catherine had spent most of their evening playing but which Catherine's honesty showed a promise-or perhaps, for Henry, a threat-of ending. Back in the room, Rinaldi senses Henry's puzzlement over Catherine, and irritates him by saying that the Villa Rossa had been very instructive that night. Rinaldi thanks heaven that he didn't get involved with someone as complicated as the British nurse.

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Free Barron's Booknotes-A Farewell to Arms by Ernest Hemingway

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