Ernest Hemingway's A Farewell to Arms

By Harold Bloom | Go to book overview

The Novel as Pure Poetry

Daniel J. Schneider

In a well-known essay Robert Penn Warren has drawn a distinction between two kinds of poetry, a "pure" poetry, which seeks more or less systematically to exclude so-called "unpoetic" elements from its hushed and hypnotic atmosphere, and an "impure," a poetry of inclusion or synthesis, which welcomes into itself such supposedly recalcitrant and inhospitable stuff as wit, cacophony, jagged rhythms, and intellectual debate. The distinction between the two types, so helpful in the analysis of lyrics, may obviously be employed to advantage in the criticism of novels, and I should like to use it here to call attention to an aspect of Hemingway's art that has not received any extended comment. For if there are works, such as War and Peace, Ulysses, Moby-Dick, and The Magic Mountain, whose power and beauty are best explained by their very "impurity"—novels that batten on the diversity of life and are most themselves when they are most "loose and baggy" (to use James's fine phrase)—the strength of Hemingway's novels is explained best, I think, by noting that they are in spirit and in method closer to pure lyric than to epic, and that they systematically exclude whatever threatens to interfere with the illusion of life beheld under the aspect of a single, dominant, all-pervasive mood or state of mind. They attempt to sustain perfectly a single emotion: they begin with it and end with it, and any scenes, characters, thoughts, or stylistic elements that might tend to weaken the dominant emotion are ruthlessly rejected. Consequently, Hemingway's

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From Modem Fiction Studies 14, no. 3 ( Autumn 1968). © 1968 by the Purdue Research Foundation, West Lafayette, Indiana.

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Ernest Hemingway's A Farewell to Arms
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Ernest Hemingway's a Farewell to Arms *
  • Modern Critical Interpretations *
  • A Farewell to Arms *
  • Contents *
  • Editor's Note vii
  • Introduction 1
  • The Novel as Pure Poetry 9
  • Tragic Form in a Farewell to Arms 25
  • A Farewell to Arms: A Dream Book 33
  • Going Back 49
  • Hemingway's "Resentful Cryptogram" 61
  • The Sense of an Ending in a Farewell to Arms 77
  • Frederic Henry's Escape and the Pose of Passivity 97
  • Pseudoautobiography and Personal Metaphor 113
  • Catherine Barkley and the Hemingway Code: Ritual and Survival in a Farewell to Arms 131
  • Chronology 149
  • Contributors 151
  • Bibliography 153
  • Acknowledgments 157
  • Index 159
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