July 25, 2012
Choose your own Hemingway adventure
by Nick Davies
Ernest Hemingway’s second novel, A Farewell to Arms, has just come out in a new edition from Scribner, and for the first time, it includes the various alternate endings to the novel that Hemingway drafted and rejected. This doesn’t just mean an extra paragraph or two; there are 39 different endings to the American classic newly re-released as part of the Hemingway Library.
Hemingway had once told the Paris Review that he had rewritten the ending of A Farewell to Arms 39 times, and his grandson, Sean Hemingway, found 47 alternate endings among the author’s papers. He appeared on NPR’s Weekend Edition last Sunday, saying his discovery “pretty much bears out—depending on your definition of an ending, since some of them are fragments—his statement.”
Most of the newly found endings are similar to what ended up in the final book, as Hemingway reworked, refined, and trimmed down his prose until it satisfied, but a few of them really depart from the plot. Sean points to a particularly optimistic version as one of his favorites, a significant shift away from A Farewell to Arms’ tragic conclusion. He also mentions, though, his grandfather’s 1948 introduction to the book, in which he states that he always knew it would end in tragedy, and concludes, “To my mind, in looking at all the different endings, the one that he did settle on is the most powerful.”
Nick Davies was a publicist at Melville House.