"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."
It’s with those words that Ernest Hemingway concluded the second of his greatest masterpieces, 1929’s semi-autobiographical A Farewell To Arms.
But a new edition of the Nobel Prize winner’s book, due to be published next week, includes the 46 alternative endings he wrestled when writing the novel.
'Papa' hard at work
‘The first draft is always shit’ the American once said about writing – so, it seems, can be the 45th.
As with the ‘alternative endings’ extra on the DVD of a classic film, the usual response to hearing what might have been is relief that the ending you know and love was the right choice.
Take for example this particularly bleak revision, rounding off the story in which (spoiler alert) the protagonist Frederic Henry's pregnant lover, the nurse Catherine Barkley, dies:
“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.”
This, of course, would have been a rather blunt betrayal of Hemingway’s core writing philosophy – essentially to show, not tell.
Still, the release of these details, the result of an agreement between Hemingway’s estate and publishers Scribner, will offer a fascinating opportunity to see how Hemingway whittled his final line down to one he was finally happy with.
The alternative endings, including one recommended by F Scott Fitzgerald and one in which Frederic and Catherine’s baby survives, will appear in an appendix in the new 330-page edition of the novel.
It will also includes details of the alternative titles Hemingway had for A Farewell To Arms, including The Enchantment, Love In War, Every Night And All, Of Wounds and Other Causes.
His final choice was inspired by a 16-century poem by George Peele, just as the title of For Whom The Bell Tolls would later be inspired by a poet, John Donne.
The new edition will also feature the novel’s original cover artwork, a pair of topless lovers drawn by illustrator Rockwell Kent.
A Farewell To Arms was the second of Hemingway’s novels after The Sun Also Rises (1926) to be hailed as a masterpiece, and cemented his reputation as America’s preeminent fiction writer.
It was based on his own experiences serving in the Italian campaigns during the First World War, during which he fell in love with a real nurse who had cared for him in Milan – Agnes von Kurowsky.
However, in real life Hemingway returned to America after he was healed and was rejected by Agnes, despite his hopes to marry her.
The final parts of the novel, in which the young soldier and his nurse escape to Switzerland and live a blissful life until she dies in childbirth, are entirely fictitious.