In an interview in The Paris Review in 1958 Ernest Hemingway made an admission that has inspired frustrated novelists ever since: The final words of “A Farewell to Arms,” his wartime masterpiece, were rewritten “39 times before I was satisfied.”
Those endings have become part of literary lore, but they have never been published together in their entirety, according to his longtime publisher, Scribner.
A new edition of “A Farewell to Arms,” which was originally published in 1929, will be released next week, including all the alternate endings, along with early drafts of other passages in the book.
The new edition is the result of an agreement between Hemingway`s estate and Scribner, now an imprint of Simon & Schuster.
It is also an attempt to redirect some of the attention paid in recent years to Hemingway`s swashbuckling, hard-drinking image — through fictional depictions in the best-selling novel “The Paris Wife” and the Woody Allen film “Midnight in Paris,” for instance — back to his sizable body of work.
“I think people who are interested in writing and trying to write themselves will find it interesting to look at a great work and have some insight to how it was done,” Seán Hemingway, a grandson of Ernest Hemingway who is also a curator of Greek and Roman art at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, said in an interview. “But he is a writer who has captured the imagination of the American public, and these editions are interesting because they really focus on his work. Ultimately that`s his lasting contribution.”
The new edition concludes that the 39 endings that Hemingway referred to are really more like 47. They have been preserved in the Ernest Hemingway Collection at the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum in Boston since 1979, where Seán Hemingway studied them carefully.
The alternate endings are labeled and gathered in an appendix in the new edition, a 330-page book whose cover bears the novel`s original artwork, an illustration of a reclining man and woman, both topless.
For close readers of Hemingway the endings are a fascinating glimpse into how the novel could have concluded on a different note, sometimes more blunt and sometimes more optimistic. And since modern authors tend to produce their work on computers, the new edition also serves as an artifact of a bygone craft, with handwritten notes and long passages crossed out, giving readers a sense of an author`s process. (When asked in the 1958 Paris Review interview with George Plimpton what had stumped him, Hemingway said, “Getting the words right.”)
The endings range from a short sentence or two to several paragraphs.
Susan Moldow, the publisher of Scribner, said that while Hemingway is a perennial strong seller, especially for schools and libraries, “the estate is constantly wanting to present the work afresh.”