DAVE VORLAND: It Occurs To Me — Rereading Hemingway

Call me old fashioned, but I have difficulty warming up to new novelists.

But I’m trying — Dorette and I have signed up to the Hennepin County Library’s annual “Pen Pals” lecture program. On tap for this season: Anna Quindlen, Billy Collins, Lee Child, Elizabeth Strout and James McBride.

I know nothing about any of them.

Not that I don’t read and reread novels. But they tend to be by authors I ran across in earlier times. For example, I first read Saul Bellow’s “The Adventures of Augie March” when I was a graduate student at Northwestern, mostly because it was set in Chicago. It’s again on my night stand. Recently, I read Bellow’s “Mr. Sammler’s Planet” for the first time.

Marcel Proust’s “In Search of Lost Time” is a special case — I discovered it in middle age and have read all 3,031 pages. More than once, in fact.

But, as many friends know, Ernest Hemingway is my favorite author.

On a recent trip with my daughter, Kristi Vorland, to Ketchum, Idaho, one goal was to pay homage at Ernest Hemingway’s grave.

I had packed in my bag this secondhand, 45-year-old copy of “A Farewell to Arms,” which I began rereading on the trip and completed just yesterday. It was first published 87 years ago.

The novel is a powerful work about a love affair set in Italy during World War I. The narrative is written in the first person by the narrator Frederic Henry at a time following the described events.

The plot is too complex to easily summarize in all its nuances. Suffice to say it’s an account of the war, Henry’s desertion and his relationship with the nurse Catherine Barkley.

I’ll always recall the absolute shock I felt when, in the closing pages, Catherine unexpectedly dies an agonizing death in a hospital while bearing their stillborn child.

Here is the ending, slightly edited. (As printed in the book, each of these sentences is a separate paragraph with quote marks).

“I went to the door of the room. You can’t come in now, one of the nurses said. Yes I can, I said. You can’t come in yet. You get out, I said. The other one, too. But after I had got them out and shut the door and turned off the light it wasn’t any good. It was like saying good-bye to a statue. After a while I went out and left the hospital and walked back to the hotel in the rain.”

Several years ago, I had the pleasure of participating in “Communiversity” seminar about this book at the University of North Dakota, taught by the late Hemingway scholar, Dr. Robert Lewis.

Now, in the aftermath of rereading of “Farewell,” I’m about to do the same with Bob’s 1992 book, “A Farewell to Arms: The War of the Words.”

I wish he was here to again discuss it with me.

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