13 Not-So-Depressing Facts About A Farewell to Arms

Although it seems tame by today’s standards, Ernest Hemingway’s novel about love and loss during World War I created quite a stir when it came out in 1929. Critics hounded Hemingway for writing about retreating armies, corpse-strewn battlefields and other inglorious realities of war, and for featuring a young soldier who deserts and runs off with a recently widowed nurse. Morality quibbles have fallen aside with time (well, mostly), and nowadays A Farewell to Arms stands as a classic antiwar novel. Here, we look at the story behind the story, and the controversy it kicked up nearly 100 years ago.

1. THE TITLE COMES FROM A 16TH CENTURY POEM.

George Peele’s poem channels a knight’s lament at being too old to bear arms for his queen (Queen Elizabeth I, in this case). Hemingway’s title is an ironic reference, then, since his protagonist, Frederic, shirks his duty as a deserter.

2. HEMINGWAY DREW UPON HIS OWN EXPERIENCES DURING WWI...

In 1918, Hemingway left Kansas City for the European front. Like Frederic, he served as an ambulance driver in Italy, and was injured in a mortar attack along the Austrian border after just a month of service. He spent six months convalescing at a hospital in Milan. For a year or so after the war, Hemingway pecked away at an autobiographical novel, tentatively titled Along with Youth, but eventually gave it up. He also published two stories—one about his bouts with insomnia titled “Now I Lay Me,” and another called “In Another Country”—that scholars now believe laid the groundwork for A Farewell to Arms.

3. ...INCLUDING FALLING IN LOVE WITH A NURSE NAMED AGNES.

While in the hospital in Milan, the 19-year-old Hemingway fell in love with Agnes von Kurowsky, a Red Cross nurse who was seven years older than him. The two planned to marry in America after Hemingway recovered, but shortly after returning home he received a letter in which she told him she was engaged to an Italian officer. Their relationship is the basis for the classic (ahem) Sandra Bullock-Chris O’Donnell film, In Love and War.

4. BUT MUCH OF IT COMES FROM GOOD-OLD-FASHIONED RESEARCH.

Many readers assume that Hemingway’s detailed description of the Italian retreat from Caporetto, and of places like Gorizia and Pava, came from personal experience. But because he’d spent most of his time in Italy confined to a hospital bed, the former Kansas City Star reporter engaged in methodical research, including interviews. Scholars note that he’s accurate down to the finest detail.

5. BACH INSPIRED HEMINGWAY’S WRITING.

Hemingway’s frequent use of the conjunction “and” came by way of the famous composer. Years after the publication of A Farewell to Arms, he wrote that he used the word for its rhythmic quality, as a “conscious imitation of the way Mr. Johann Sebastian Bach used a note in music when he was emitting counterpoint.”

6. HE WROTE WHILE ON THE ROAD, FROM PARIS TO PIGGOTT, ARKANSAS.

During the 15 months it took him to write and revise A Farewell to Arms, Hemingway spent time in Paris, Kansas City, Wyoming and at his wife Pauline’s family home in Piggott, Ark. He looked over proofs in Key West and corrected galleys of the book while in Spain.

7. HE REVISED THE ENDING NEARLY 50 TIMES.

Hemingway was a consummate editor, revising the previous day’s work every morning before beginning anything new. But even by his standards, the number of times he wrote and re-wrote the ending of A Farewell to Arms is extreme. There’s a new edition that includes all of the alternate endings, compiled by Hemingway’s grandson Seán. They include one in which Catherine and the baby both live, and one that might be even more depressing than the one that made the cut: “Catherine died and you will die and I will die and that is all I can promise you.”

8. HEMINGWAY’S EDITOR READ THE MANUSCRIPT ON A FISHING TRIP WITH HIM.

Hemingway’s longtime editor Maxwell Perkins traveled down to Key West in January 1929 to fish for tarpon and discuss the writer’s almost-finished novel. The New York-based Perkins was not an outdoorsman, and wrote to F. Scott Fitzgerald that “I might leave a leg with a shark, or do worse.” He later reported having a fine time and was enthusiastic about A Farewell to Arms. Upon returning to New York, he secured $16,000 from Scribner’s to serialize the novel—the most the magazine had ever paid for a serialized work.

9. HE REJECTED EDITS FROM F. SCOTT FITZGERALD.

Hemingway sent a draft of A Farewell to Arms to Fitzgerald, but when the Great Gatsby author wrote back with 10 pages of notes, Hemingway responded, "Kiss my ass." This was typical of the sarcastic, contentious relationship the two enjoyed. In a 1927 letter, Fitzgerald poked fun at Hemingway’s dashing, hard-living lifestyle, asking him, “Just before you pass out next time think of me.”

10. THE ORIGINAL MANUSCRIPT WAS CENSORED.

Hemingway wanted to faithfully reproduce the way soldiers talked in wartime. But colorful language like “son of a bitch,” “Jesus Christ,” and “whorehound,” Perkins knew, wouldn’t go over well with Scribner’s mainstream audience. Hemingway didn’t want the words taken out, so Perkins inserted dashes in place of the offending language. Scribner’s editor Robert Bridges ended up deleting many of the words altogether. Even with these changes, readers canceled their subscriptions and railed against the novel’s “vile language.” Frustrated by the whole ordeal, Hemingway re-inserted the words by hand in a few copies, one of which he gave to James Joyce.

11. IT WAS BANNED IN BOSTON...

Police chief Michael H. Crowley ordered that the Scribner’s issue be banned from bookstands throughout the city, citing the book’s “salacious” love affair between Frederic and Catherine. In a letter to readers, Scribner’s stood behind its decision to publish, calling Crowley’s actions “improper” and defending Hemingway’s work as “distinctly moral.”

12. ... AND IN ITALY.

Hemingway had a feeling his portrayal of the Italian retreat from Caporetto wouldn’t go over too well with that country’s officials. He even wrote a disclaimer that appeared with the second installment in Scribner’s emphasizing it was a work of fiction. Nevertheless, Italy banned A Farewell to Arms until 1948, and officials were also able to influence the 1932 film version.

13. ONE REVIEWER CALLED IT “VENEREAL FICTION.”

“The obvious purpose of the story,” the critic, cited in Scott Donaldson’s New Essays on A Farewell to Arms, wrote, “is to offer a vicarious satisfaction to those who are either too jaded or too timid to get the satisfaction in a normal way through natural experiences.” Talk about an early 20th-century burn.

The Very Real Events That Inspired Game of Thrones's Red Wedding

Peter Graham's After the Massacre of Glencoe
Peter Graham's After the Massacre of Glencoe
Peter Graham, Google Cultural Institute, Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

Ask any Game of Thrones fan to cite a few of the show's most shocking moments, and the so-called "Red Wedding" from season 3's "The Rains of Castamere" episode will likely be at the top of their list. The events that unfolded during the episode shocked fans because of their brutality, but what might be even more surprising to know is that the episode was based on very real events.

Author George R.R. Martin has said that the inspiration for the matrimonial bloodbath is based on two dark events in Scottish history: the Black Dinner of 1440 and 1692's Massacre of Glencoe. “No matter how much I make up, there’s stuff in history that’s just as bad, or worse,” Martin told Entertainment Weekly in 2013. And he’s absolutely right. See for yourself.

The Massacre of Glencoe

The West Highland Way in 2005, view from the summit of the Devil's Staircase looking south over the east end of Glen Coe, towards Buachaille Etive Mòr with Creise and Meall a' Bhuiridh beyond
Colin Souza, Edited by Dave Souza, CC BY-SA 2.5, Wikimedia Commons

In 1691, all Scottish clans were called upon to renounce the deposed King of Scotland, James VII, and swear allegiance to King William of Orange (of William and Mary fame). The chief of each clan had until January 1, 1692, to provide a signed document swearing an oath to William. The Highland Clan MacDonald had two things working against them here. First of all, the Secretary of State, John Dalrymple, was a Lowlander who loathed Clan MacDonald. Secondly, Clan MacDonald had already sworn an oath to James VII and had to wait on him to send word that they were free to break that oath.

Unfortunately, it was December 28 before a messenger arrived with this all-important letter from the former king. That gave Maclain, the chief of the MacDonald clan, just three days to get the newly-signed oath to the Secretary of State.

Maclain was detained for days when he went through Inveraray, the town of the rival Clan Campbell, but still managed to deliver the oath, albeit several days late. The Secretary of State’s legal team wasn't interested in late documents. They rejected the MacDonalds's sworn allegiance to William, and set plans in place to cut the clan down, “root and branch.”

In late January or early February, 120 men under the command of Captain Robert Campbell arrived at the MacDonalds's in Glencoe, claiming to need shelter because a nearby fort was full. The MacDonalds offered their hospitality, as was custom, and the soldiers stayed there for nearly two weeks before Captain Drummond arrived with instructions to “put all to the sword under seventy.”

After playing cards with their victims and wishing them goodnight, the soldiers waited until the MacDonalds were asleep ... then murdered as many men as they could manage. In all, 38 people—some still in their beds—were killed. At least 40 women and children escaped, but fleeing into a blizzard blowing outside as their houses burned down meant that they all died of exposure.

The massacre was considered especially awful because it was “Slaughter Under Trust.” To this day, the door at Clachaig Inn in Glen Coe has a sign on the door that says "No hawkers or Campbells."

The Black Dinner

In November of 1440, the newly-appointed 6th Earl of Douglas, who was just 16, and his little brother David, were invited to join the 10-year-old King of Scotland, James II, for dinner at Edinburgh Castle. But it wasn’t the young King who had invited the Douglas brothers. The invitation had been issued by Sir William Crichton, Chancellor of Scotland, who feared that the Black Douglas (there was another clan called the Red Douglas) were growing too powerful.

As legend has it, the children were all getting along marvelously, enjoying food, entertainment and talking until the end of the dinner, when the head of a black bull was dropped on the table, symbolizing the death of the Black Douglas. The two young Douglases were dragged outside, given a mock trial, found guilty of high treason, and beheaded. It’s said that the Earl pleaded for his brother to be killed first so that the younger boy wouldn’t have to witness his older brother’s beheading.

Sir Walter Scott wrote this of the horrific event:

"Edinburgh Castle, toune and towre,
God grant thou sink for sin!
And that e'en for the black dinner
Earl Douglas gat therein."

This article has been updated for 2019.

15 Game of Thrones Products Every Fan Needs

Kit Harington and Emilia Clarke in Game of Thrones
Kit Harington and Emilia Clarke in Game of Thrones
Helen Sloan, HBO

Though Game of Thrones might be coming to its official end, that doesn’t mean that your fandom can’t—or won’t—carry on. Whether you’re a years-long defender of House Stark or have been rooting for House Targaryen since the beginning, there’s a candle, collectible pin, coffee mug, card game, and pretty much anything else you can imagine with your name (and preferred sigil) on it.

1. A Song of Ice and Fire Book Series; $46

Bantam's 'A Song of Ice and Fire' book series

Bantam, Amazon

If you’ve never read George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire, the book series upon which the series is based, plenty more Westerosi drama awaits. And just because you’ve seen every episode of the series 10 times doesn’t mean you know which way the books will turn. (The TV show diverged from their narrative a long time ago—and dozens of the characters who have been killed off on your television screen are still alive and well in the books.) Plus, as Martin has yet to complete the series, you may just catch up in time for the newest book.

Buy it: Amazon

2. Map Marker Wine Stopper Set; $50

Nobody solves a problem like Tyrion Lannister … and his thought process usually includes copious amounts of wine (Dornish if you’ve got it). Something tells us you’re going need some vino yourself to get through the giant, hour-long hole left in your Sunday nights once Game of Thrones officially ends. Make sure you don’t let a drop of it go to waste by keeping one of these six wine stoppers—each one carved to represent the sigil of the most noble houses in the Seven Kingdoms—handy.

Buy it: HBO Shop or BoxLunch

3. Winterfell Coffee Mug; $25

If coffee is more your speed—we get it: the night is dark and full of terrors—this simple-yet-elegant Winterfell mug is an easy way to communicate to your co-workers why you’re typically a little bleary-eyed on Monday mornings.

Buy it: HBO Shop

4. Hodor Door Stop; $12

A 3D-printed Hodor door stop, inspired by 'Game of Thrones'

3D Cauldron, Amazon

An important part of being a Game of Thrones fan is accepting that showrunners D.B. Weiss and David Benioff have no problem killing off your favorite characters, often in brutal ways. One of the series’ most memorable deaths was that of Hodor, Bran Stark’s personal mode of transport, who we loved despite the fact that the only word he ever uttered for six seasons was “Hodor”—and who we loved even more when, in the final moments of his life, we learned why that was the case. Pay tribute to the gentle giant, and his backstory, with this 3D-printed door stop.

Buy it: Amazon

5. Tarot Card Deck; $25

A 'Game of Thrones' tarot card deck, from Chronicle Books

Chronicle Books, Amazon

Channel your inner Maggy the Frog and see what the future holds for you and your loved ones (your enemies, too, if the mood strikes you) with Chronicle Books’s gorgeously packaged tarot card deck. The tarot tradition and Game of Thrones mythology blend seamlessly together in this box of goodies, which includes an instruction book and illustrated cards featuring your favorite characters and most beloved scenes from the show.

Buy it: Amazon or Chronicle Books

6. Fire and Blood Candle; $12

Mad Queen or not, show that you still stand behind the Mother of Dragons by filling your home with this House Targaryen-inspired votive candle. Best of all: Just wait to see the look on the faces of your guests when they ask “Mmmm … what’s that smell?” If you’d prefer not to answer with “fire and blood—doesn’t it smell delicious?,” there are other scents available: one called "Moon of My Life My Sun and Stars," another called "Be a Dragon," and one inspired by the Iron Throne itself (which must smell like victory).

Buy it: HBO Shop

7. Clue: Game of Thrones; $50

Margaery Tyrell with the battle axe in Cersei’s bedchambers. Rewrite the rules—and brutal deaths—of Game of Thrones with this special edition of the classic board game, which tasks you with figuring out who murdered whom, using what weapon, and where the incident took place. A double-sided playing board lets you choose whether you want to set the game in The Red Keep or Meereen.

Buy it: HBO Shop or BoxLunch

8. Game of Thrones Monopoly; $24

'Game of Thrones Monopoly' game board

Hasbro, Amazon

Who wants to be the Lord or Lady of Winterfell when you can become the preeminent real estate mogul of all the Seven Kingdoms? This special-edition Monopoly board puts a distinctly Westerosian twist on the classic game, with silver tokens to represent the sigils of each of the main houses and a card holder that plays the series’ haunting score whenever you press it.

Buy it: Amazon or Best Buy

9. House Stark Hoodie; $60

If you really wanted to dress like a Stark, you’d have a master blacksmith on hand to help customize your armor—or at least turn your IKEA rug into a luxurious cape. If you’re far less crafty, there’s always this full-zip hoodie featuring an embroidered direwolf on the front and an outlined illustration of the same on the back. The minimalist design is a way to show your fandom in a way that, to the untrained eye, might just look like you’re a fan of wolves. But the rest of us will know better. And approve.

Buy it: ThinkGeek

10. Deluxe Iron Throne Funko Pop! Set; $130

Funko's Iron Throne Pop! set of five

Funko, HBO Shop

Though it seems unlikely that a few of these characters will ever sit on the Iron Throne (either because they’re dead or have gone mad), a fan can always hope. And buying them as part of this five-piece set is an easy way to collect them all. If you don’t see your favorite character here, Amazon has got plenty more squat-headed figures to choose from, including Arya, Brienne of Tarth, Rhaegal (poor Rhaegal), and Ghost (poor Ghost). If you ever happen upon a headless Ned Stark Pop!, grab it; this hard-to-find figure can sell for more than $2000 on eBay.

Buy it: HBO Shop

11. Iron Throne Bookend; $60

After devoting more than eight years of your life to seeing Game of Thrones all the way through, maybe it’s you who deserves the Iron Throne. You can’t sit on this 7.5-inch replica, the base of which features sigils from all the noble houses, but you can show off your fancy George R.R. Martin book collection … or all that dragon fan fiction you’ve been working on.

Buy it: Best Buy or the HBO Shop

12. Game of Thrones Music Box; $13

'Game of Thrones' music box

Shenzhen Youtang Trade Co., Amazon

Channel your inner Arya by psyching yourself up with the iconic Game of Thrones theme song whenever you feel the need to hear it with this hand-cranked music box.

Buy it: Amazon

13. Iron Throne Tankard; $70

Show your guests who's boss at your next dinner party—or raucous feast—as you take your place at the head of the table and guzzle your mead (or giant's milk—we don't judge) from this Iron Throne-themed tankard, completed with sword handle.

Buy it: HBO Shop

14. Game of Thrones Socks; $8

It gets cold in the North. Keep your tootsies warm with this six-pack of stylish ankle-cut socks.

Buy it: Target

15. Living Language Dothraki; $16

A copy of the Living Language Dothraki language course

Living Language, Amazon

By now, you've surely learned at least a handful of common Dothraki words and phrases. But if you wan to become fluent in the (fictional) language, this language course is one way to do it. Now: Finne zhavvorsa anni?

Buy it: Amazon

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