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.

Wayfair’s Fourth of July Clearance Sale Takes Up to 60 Percent Off Grills and Outdoor Furniture

Wayfair/Weber
Wayfair/Weber

This Fourth of July, Wayfair is making sure you can turn your backyard into an oasis while keeping your bank account intact with a clearance sale that features savings of up to 60 percent on essentials like chairs, hammocks, games, and grills. Take a look at some of the highlights below.

Outdoor Furniture

Brisbane bench from Wayfair
Brisbane/Wayfair

- Jericho 9-Foot Market Umbrella $92 (Save 15 percent)
- Woodstock Patio Chairs (Set of Two) $310 (Save 54 percent)
- Brisbane Wooden Storage Bench $243 (Save 62 percent)
- Kordell Nine-Piece Rattan Sectional Seating Group with Cushions $1800 (Save 27 percent)
- Nelsonville 12-Piece Multiple Chairs Seating Group $1860 (Save 56 percent)
- Collingswood Three-Piece Seating Group with Cushions $410 (Save 33 percent)

Grills and Accessories

Dyna-Glo electric smoker.
Dyna-Glo/Wayfair

- Spirit® II E-310 Gas Grill $479 (Save 17 percent)
- Portable Three-Burner Propane Gas Grill $104 (Save 20 percent)
- Digital Bluetooth Electric Smoker $224 (Save 25 percent)
- Cuisinart Grilling Tool Set $38 (Save 5 percent)

Outdoor games

American flag cornhole game.
GoSports

- American Flag Cornhole Board $57 (Save 19 percent)
- Giant Four in a Row Game $30 (Save 6 percent)
- Giant Jenga Game $119 (Save 30 percent)

This article contains affiliate links to products selected by our editors. Mental Floss may receive a commission for purchases made through these links.

Good Gnews: Remembering The Great Space Coaster

Tubby Baxter and Gary Gnu in The Great Space Coaster.
Tubby Baxter and Gary Gnu in The Great Space Coaster.
YouTube

Tubby Baxter. Gary Gnu. Goriddle Gorilla. Speed Reader. For people of a certain age, these names probably tug on distant memories of a television series that blended live-action, puppetry, and animation. It was The Great Space Coaster, and it aired daily in syndication from 1981 to 1986. Earning both a Daytime Emmy and a Peabody Award for excellence in children’s programming, The Great Space Coaster fell somewhere in between Sesame Street and The Muppet Show—a series for kids who wanted a little more edge to their puppet performances.

Unlike most classic kid’s shows, fans have had a hard time locating footage of The Great Space Coaster. Even after five seasons and 250 episodes, no collections are available on home video. So what happened?

Get On Board

The Great Space Coaster was created by Kermit Love, who worked closely with Jim Henson on Sesame Street and created Big Bird, and Jim Martin, a master puppeteer who also collaborated with Henson. Produced by Sunbow Productions and sponsored by the Kellogg Company and toy manufacturer Hasbro, The Great Space Coaster took the same approach as Sesame Street of being educational entertainment. In fact, many of the puppeteers and writers were veterans of Sesame Street or The Muppet Show. Producers met with educators to determine subjects and content that could result in a positive cognitive or personal development goal for the audience, which was intended to be children from ages 6 to 11. There would be music, comedy, and cartoons, but all of it would be working toward a lesson on everything from claustrophobia to the hazards of being a litterbug.

The premise involved three teens—Danny (Chris Gifford), Roy (Ray Stephens), and Francine (Emily Bindiger)—who hitch a ride on a space vehicle piloted by a clown named Tubby Baxter. The crew would head for an asteroid populated by a variety of characters like Goriddle Gorilla (Kevin Clash). Roy carried a monitor that played La Linea, an animated segment from Italian creator Osvaldo Cavandoli that featured a figure at odds with his animator. The kids—all of whom looked a fair bit older than their purported teens—also sang in segments with original or cover songs.

The most memorable segment might have been the newscast with Gary Gnu, a stuffy puppet broadcaster who delivered the day’s top stories with his catchphrase: “No gnews is good gnews!” Aside from Gnu, there was Speed Reader (Ken Myles), a super-fast sprinter and reader who reviewed the books he breezed through. Often, the show would also have guest stars, including Mark Hamill, boxer “Sugar” Ray Leonard, and Henry Winkler.

All of it had a slightly irreverent tone, with humor that was more biting than most other kid’s programming of the era. The circus that Tubby Baxter ran away from was run by a character named M.T. Promises. Gnu had subversive takes on his news stories. Other characters weren’t always as well-intentioned as the residents of Sesame Street.

Off We Go

The Great Space Coaster was popular among viewers and critics. In 1982, it won a Daytime Emmy for Outstanding Individual Achievement in Children’s Programming—Graphic Design and a Peabody Award in 1983. But after the show ceased production in 1986, it failed to have a second life in reruns or on video. Only one VHS tape, The Great Space Coaster Supershow, was ever released in the 1980s. And while fan sites like TheGreatSpaceCoaster.TV surfaced, it was difficult to compile a complete library of the series.

In 2012, Tanslin Media, which had acquired the rights to the show, explained why. Owing to the musical interludes, re-licensing songs would be prohibitively expensive—potentially far more than the company would make selling the program. Worse, the original episodes, which were recorded on 1-inch or 2-inch reel tapes, were in the process of degrading.

That same year, Jim Martin mounted an Indiegogo crowdfunding campaign to try and raise funds to begin salvaging episodes and digitizing them for preservation. That work has continued over the years, with Tanslin releasing episodes and clips online that don’t require expensive licensing agreements and fans uploading episodes from their original VHS recordings to YouTube.

There’s been no further word on digitizing efforts for the complete series, though Tanslin has reported that a future home video release isn’t out of the question. If that materializes, it’s likely Gary Gnu will be first to deliver the news.