In an interview in the Paris Review in 1958 Ernest Hemingway made an admission that has inspired frustrated novelists ever since: The final words of A Farewell to Arms, his wartime masterpiece, were rewritten "39 times before I was satisfied."
Those endings have become part of literary lore, but they have never been published together in their entirety, according to his longtime publisher, Scribner.
A new edition of A Farewell to Arms, which was originally published in 1929, was released last week, including all the alternate endings, along with early drafts of other passages in the book.
The new edition is the result of an agreement between Hemingway's estate and Scribner, now an imprint of Simon & Schuster.
It is also an attempt to redirect some of the attention paid in recent years to Hemingway's swashbuckling, hard-drinking image -- through fictional depictions in the best-selling novel The Paris Wife and the Woody Allen film Midnight in Paris, for instance -- back to his sizable body of work.
''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 who is also a curator of Greek and Roman art at New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art. "But he is a writer who has captured the imagination of the American public, and these editions are interesting because they really focus on his work. Ultimately that's his lasting contribution."
The new edition concludes that the 39 endings that Hemingway referred to are really more like 47. They have been preserved in the Ernest Hemingway Collection at the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum in Boston since 1979, where Sean Hemingway studied them carefully. (Bernard S. Oldsey, a Hemingway scholar, listed 41 endings in his book Hemingway's Hidden Craft, but Sean Hemingway found 47 variations in manuscripts preserved at the Kennedy Library.)
The alternate endings are labeled and gathered in an appendix in the new edition, a 330-page book whose cover bears the novel's original artwork, an illustration of a reclining man and woman, both topless.
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. (When asked in the 1958 Paris Review interview with George Plimpton what had stumped him, Hemingway said, "Getting the words right.")
The endings range from a short sentence or two to several paragraphs.
In No. 1, "The Nada Ending," Hemingway wrote, "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 "Live-Baby Ending," listed as No. 7, concludes, "There is no end except death and birth is the only beginning."
And in No. 34, the "Fitzgerald ending," suggested by Hemingway's friend F. Scott Fitzgerald, Hemingway wrote that the world "breaks everyone," and those "it does not break it kills."
"It kills the very good and very gentle and the very brave impartially," he wrote. "If you are none of these you can be sure it will kill you too but there will be no special hurry."
Hemingway also left behind a list of alternate titles, which are reprinted in the new edition. They include "Love in War," "World Enough and Time," "Every Night and All," and "Of Wounds and Other Causes." One title, "The Enchantment," was crossed out by Hemingway.
Patrick Hemingway, Ernest Hemingway's only surviving son, said in an interview from his home in Montana that when Scribner suggested the raw material be published, he agreed.
"They do give insight to how Hemingway was thinking," said Patrick Hemingway, who is 84. "But it is absolutely true that no matter how much you analyze a classic bit of writing, you can never really figure out what makes talent work."
Susan Moldow, the publisher of Scribner, said that while Hemingway is a perennial strong seller, especially for schools and libraries, "the estate is constantly wanting to present the work afresh."
"This is one of the most important authors in American history," she said. "And fortunately or unfortunately you need to keep refreshing or people lose interest."
After reading the various endings, Moldow added, she didn't question the author's decision; the actual ending -- cool and passionless after an epic tale of war and love, with the protagonist leaving a hospital in the rain -- has stood the test of time.
"Ultimately," she said, "I think we have to be glad that he went with the ending that he went with."