In a famous 1958 interview, Ernest Hemingway admitted he had rewritten the final words of A Farewell to Arms "39 times before I was satisfied."
His longtime publisher, Scribner, now an imprint of Simon & Schuster, plans to publish a new edition of A Farewell to Arms on Tuesday, with all those multiple endings, as well as earlier drafts of other passages in the book.
Hemingway’s estate has agreed to the new edition, which is meant to direct attention away from Hemingway’s reputation as a carouser and back toward his literary legacy.
"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," said Sean Hemingway, a grandson of Ernest Hemingway.
The right ending
These are the words that Hemingway finally considered right.
"...I went to the door of the room.
''You can't come in now," one of the nurses said.
"Yes I can," I said.
"You can't come in yet."
"You get out," I said. "The other one too."
But after I had got them out and shut the door and turned off the light it wasn't any good. It was like saying good-bye to a statue. After a while I went out and left the hospital and walked back to the hotel in the rain."
The multiple endings – 47 to be exact – were found in Hemingway’s papers at the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum in Boston.
In his 1958 interview with George Plimpton for The Paris Review, Hemingway said he wrote so many endings because he was having difficulty "getting the words right."
A Farewell to Arms, published in 1929, is the story of a doomed romance between a British nurse and an American serving in the ambulance corps in the Italian campaign, set against a backdrop of the First World War. It was Hemingway’s first best-seller. The novel ends with the death of the nurse Catherine in childbirth.
But the writer, who relentlessly wrote and rewrote his books, apparently considered more upbeat and optimistic endings, including one in which both Catherine and the baby survive. That one ended: "There is no end except death and birth is the only beginning."
Another ending reflects further on death. "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."
The new edition will have the original cover, Hemingway's introduction and a new introduction by his grandson, Sean Hemingway, who helped select the alternative endings from the archives.