“I couldn’t believe it—this totally uncluttered, precise, true prose, which was also very moving and lyrical.”

Edna O’Brien discovers A Farewell to Arms.

From the Writer’s Almanac with Garrison Keillor:

It’s the birthday of Edna O’Brien, born in County Clare, Ireland. She was always interested in writing, but her family distrusted anything literary; to please them, she studied pharmacy in Dublin, and earned her license in 1950. She met her future husband at the Dublin chemist’s shop where she went to work, and they moved to London in 1954. Shortly after they arrived, she went to a lecture given by Arthur Mizener on Hemingway and Fitzgerald. “You must remember that I had no literary education, but a fervid religious one,” she told The Paris Review in 1984. “So I went to the lecture and it was like a thunderbolt—Saul of Tarsus on his horse! Mizener read out the first paragraph of A Farewell to Arms and I couldn’t believe it—this totally uncluttered, precise, true prose, which was also very moving and lyrical. I can say that the two things came together then: my being ready for the revelation and my urgency to write.”

The opening paragraph:

In the late summer of that year we lived in a house in a village that looked across the river and the plain to the mountains. In the bed of the river there were pebbles and boulders, dry and white in the sun, and the water was clear and swiftly moving and blue in the channels. Troops went by the house and down the road and the dust they raised powdered the leaves of the trees. The trunks of the trees too were dusty and leaves fell early that year and we saw the troops marching along the road and the dust rising and leaves, stirred by the breeze, falling and the soldiers marching and afterward the road bare and white except for the leaves.
Hemingway said he wrote the book’s ending 39 times. Here’s a New York Times story about the endings, including this one, which Hemingway called “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.”

And in No. 34, the “Fitzgerald ending,” suggested by F. Scott Fitzgerald, Hemingway wrote:

“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.”

The book’s ending as first published:

“After a while I went out and left the hospital and walked back to the hotel in the rain.”

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