Hemingway tries to get the words right

Apropos of these post about revising and rewriting, it turns out the Simon & Schuster has released a new edition of A Farewell to Arms that includes all Hemingway’s alternate endings.  He claimed that he wrote the ending 39 times before he was satisfied.  The basic issue, he famously said, was “getting the words right.” Turns out that the actual number of endings was probably more like 47.

Here’s the first page of the manuscript, which is stored, with the rest of Hemingway’s papers, at the JFK Library in Dorchester, MA, about ten miles away from where I am sitting.

Endings are hard because they are so important. They don’t need to sum up what the novel was all about, but they control what readers are going to be feeling when they put the book down.

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.

One of the endings was suggested by Fitzgerald.  Speaking of Fitzgerald, has anyone written a better ending than the one he wrote for The Great Gatsby?

And as I sat there, brooding on the old unknown world, I thought of Gatsby’s wonder when he first picked out the green light at the end of Daisy’s dock. He had come a long way to this blue lawn and his dream must have seemed so close that he could hardly fail to grasp it. He did not know that it was already behind him, somewhere back in that vast obscurity beyond the city, where the dark fields of the republic rolled on under the night.
Gatsby believed in the green light, the orgiastic future that year by year recedes before us. It eluded us then, but that’s no matter — tomorrow we will run faster, stretch out our arms farther…. And one fine morning —
So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.


1 thought on “Hemingway tries to get the words right

  1. Pingback: Great Expectations and sad endings | richard bowker

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