A Farewell to Arms
Then you have a pivotal passage, one frequently quoted by commentators on Hemingway's themes and narrative methods. In it Henry scorns all the high-sounding abstractions- honor, glory, sacrifice, and so on- that leaders, politicians, and patriots use in discussing the war. They're obscene, Henry says, next to the concreteness and dignity of certain placenames and dates. Actually, this also describes the way Hemingway writes, doesn't it? He stacks up simple but concrete details so that in aggregate they acquire more power than the fancy abstractions could ever have.
It starts to storm. Fighting begins; attacks and counterattacks swirl. Word comes of an unsuccessful attack to the south, then of a successful attack near Caporetto, to the north. Germans have broken the Italian lines. A retreat is ordered. At first it is as orderly as an advance. In fact, it parallels the troop movements detailed in the first chapter, the men marching along, wet, tired, and sullen.
The retreat reaches Gorizia, where Henry had been quartered. Everything- the hospital, even the whorehouse- has been evacuated. Henry and his drivers scrounge some food and wine and arrange to grab a few hours' sleep in Henry's old rooms. The men seem glad to be retreating. They banter about the war, the king, and the country, and luxuriate in the officers' beds.
At chapter's end Henry tells them that the retreat will go beyond the Tagliamento River, where the line is supposed to be held.
NOTE: Caporetto was the site of one of the most massive military retreats in modern history. Austrians and Germans launched their offensive on October 24, 1917 quickly shattering Italian defenses, within two weeks they had advanced 70 miles. Forty thousand Italian troops were killed or wounded; another quarter of a million were taken prisoner. Like the Somme, the name was for a time synonymous with disaster. Although Hemingway did not begin his own service in Italy until after the battle, he would have been very familiar with it.
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