Summary and Analysis
Book Two: Chapter XXIII
On their last evening together in Milan, Lieutenant Henry and Catherine Barkley take a room in a hotel after he buys a pistol.
We have been introduced earlier to the theme that Catherine Barkley has no conventional religion, and it is reiterated here in her refusal of Lieutenant Henry's invitation to enter the Milan Cathedral. The author contrasts Henry and Catherine to the soldier and his girlfriend standing together in the shelter of the church; the former have no conventional faith to protect them. Remember that the officers at the front took their refuge in houses of prostitution — obviously not an option for Henry and Catherine. What they have is their love for one another.
Henry buys a pistol to replace the one lost when he was injured. As this is the second time that our attention has been directed to Henry's pistol, we can only assume that it is an object of some importance. Notice that Henry refuses the offer of a "used, very cheap" sword. "I'm going to the front," he explains, and the proprietor of the armorer's shop replies, "Oh yes, then you won't need a sword." As Hemingway has made clear from the novel's first scene, this is not a storybook war in which combatants carry swords, much less use them: World War I is modern, unromantic, brutal. During Henry and Catherine's trip from the armorer's to the hotel near the train station, the fog that has covered the city from the start of the chapter turns to rain, the novel's symbol of death.
Staying in a hotel room for less than an entire night, with a man who is not her husband, makes Catherine feel like a whore. (The room's bordello-like décor surely doesn't help matters.) Here we are reminded of Henry's leave from the front early in the novel, which he spent for the most part in exciting but unfulfilling encounters with prostitutes, and we realize how much he has matured since.
With regard to the Hemingway style, notice that only now, after months of intimacy, does Henry learn that Catherine has a father; she learns, in turn, that he doesn't. Again, Hemingway's novels and stories are remarkable, and distinctively modern, for their lack of exposition. Though A Farewell to Arms contains almost no information about Henry's life prior to the war, much less Catherine's, we don't particularly miss it, as the present action is so compelling.
musette a small bag of canvas or leather for toilet articles, etc., worn suspended from a shoulder strap.
Mürren alpine resort.
woodcock a migratory European shorebird, with short legs and a long bill: it is hunted as game.
St. Estephe a type of wine.
purée de marron chestnuts ground or mashed until smooth.
zabaione a frothy dessert or sauce made of eggs, sugar, and wine, typically Marsala, beaten together over boiling water.
Hotel Cavour a fancy Milanese hotel.
gout a hereditary form of recurrent, acute arthritis with swelling and severe pain, resulting from a disturbance of uric acid metabolism and characterized by an excess of uric acid in the blood and deposits of uric acid salts usually in the joints of the feet and hands, especially in the big toe.
"But at my back I always hear/Time's winged chariot hurrying near" Lieutenant Henry quotes from "To His Coy Mistress," a lyric poem by Andrew Marvell (see below). The reference to the poem itself, about a woman who is sexually unavailable, is ironic, considering all of Henry and Catherine's premarital sexual activity. But the lines themselves are consistent with the sense of doom that pervades the novel.
Marvell Andrew Marvell (1621-78), English poet.