Hemingway’s Last Farewell

“But after I got them to leave and shut the door and turned off the light it wasn’t any good. It was like saying good-by to a statue. After a while I went out and left the hospital and walked back to the hotel in the rain.”
- Ernest Hemingway, A Farewell to Arms, Chapter 41

So ends Ernest Hemingway’s 1929 novel A Farewell to Arms, a famously simple, perfunctory line at the end of an epic tale of war and love. But it almost wasn’t to be.

It has become the stuff of writing lore that Hemingway admitted to writing 39 variations on the novel’s ending before deciding on the published version. 39 could-have-been lines that the public never got to see–until now, that is. 

Hemingway’s long-time publishing house, Scribner, is releasing a new edition of A Farewell to Arms, complete with every possible alternate ending the novelist imagined (there are actually a total of 47, by his grandson’s careful analysis). The edition will also feature the original cover art for the book, at right, as well as the list of Hemingway’s other options for its title: these include “Love in War,” “World Enough and Time,” “Every Night and All,” “Of Wounds and Other Causes,” and “The Enchantment.” The last was crossed out by the author, but who knows how close the work could have been to being called by one of these other names.

The New York Times was able to provide a sneak peek to a few of these 47 endings, each of which was numbered and named. They range from the nihilistic…

No. 1, “The Nada Ending”:

“That is all there is to the story. Catherine died and you will die and I will die and that is all I can promise you.”

..to the optimistic.

No. 7, “The Live-Baby Ending”:

“There is no end except death and birth is the only beginning.”

One was even suggested by Hemingway’s good friend F. Scott Fitzgerald, and is named after him. In this, the author concluded that the world “breaks everyone,” and those “it does not break it kills…”

No. 34, “The Fitzgerald Ending”:

“It kills the very good and very gentle and the very brave impartially. If you are none of these you can be sure it will kill you too but there will be no special hurry.”

If you recognize the quote, it did in fact make its way into the published copy of the book, but earlier on, in Chapter 34.

So, why the need to uncover these now, after many decades safely tucked away within the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library? Though Hemingway is still a strong seller for his publisher, they admit the need to constantly present his body of work afresh. There has also been a push to place the author’s collected works further into the limelight than his formidable persona, which has appeared recently quite dramatized in the films “Midnight in Paris” and “Hemingway and Gellhorn,” as well as the bestselling novel The Paris Wife. Finally, the fact that the collection of alternate closing lines exists is a testament to a bygone way of writing, as well as to Hemingway’s commitment to “getting the words right,” as he once put it. With so many writers today composing on computers, would it be possible to uncover such a glimpse into the writing process as this? But also, is it fair that we should get to see it?

Not according to Sean Hemingway, one of the author’s grandsons:

“I think people who are interested in writing and trying to write themselves will find it interesting to look at a great work and have some insight to how it was done,” he says. “But he is a writer who has captured the imagination of the American public, and these editions are interesting because they really focus on his work. Ultimately that’s his lasting contribution.”

Others may disagree. Do you feel that the drafts should go unpublished? Or are you happier knowing how Hemingway arrived at A Farewell to Arms‘ classic ending? Did Hemingway, in your opinion, make the right choice with the ending he selected?


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