Papa Hemingway is enjoying a reboot.
Woody Allen made him a star in Midnight in Paris, albeit a monosyllabic star so clichéd and boring that it would be inconceivable that minds as fine as Gertrude Stein’s and James Joyce’s would subject themselves to his infantile company.
Cambridge University Press is coming out with the collected letters (the first installment is already out), he’s a major presence in the best-selling novel The Paris Wife, and his 1929 novel on love and war, A Farewell to Arms, has just been re-issued by Scribners with a Foreword by his son Patrick Hemingway and an Introduction by his grandson Seán Hemingway.
The re-issue comes with 47 different attempts at an ending, showcasing the young Hemingway at the height of his laconic power. Some endings are mere fragments or a suite of corrections to a particular ending.
You know the story. A young soldier in the First World War falls in love with a nurse who treats his wounds in a hospital bed on the Italian front. At the end of the novel, the nurse finds herself in a hospital bed trying to give birth to their baby.
Of Hemingway’s possible endings, I rather like what’s called “The Nada Ending.” “That is all there is to the story. Catherine died and you will die and I will die and that is all I can promise you.” Hemingway famously said in Death in the Afternoon, his book on bulls and tragedy, that if you take any story far enough it ends in death.
He considered a “Live-Baby Ending.” “I could tell about the boy. He did not seem of any importance then except as trouble… Anyway he does not belong in the story. He starts a new one…”
“The Morning-After Ending” has Frederic falling asleep: “Finally I slept; I must have slept because in the morning I woke…and in that moment of waking everything was the way it had been…”
Another possible ending called simply “End” closes the narrative with these sentences: “Many things have happened. Things happen all the time. Everything blunts and the world keeps on. You get most of your life back like goods recovered from a fire…”
“The Fitzgerald Ending” has the novel end with two of Hemingway’s great sentences: “You learn a few things as you go along and one of them is that the world breaks everyone and afterward many are strong at the broken places. Those it does not break it kills.”
I won’t tell you the real ending Hemingway decided on, just in case you haven’t read the novel and intend to.