Hemingway goes in and out of fashion. I liked him when I was a teen, and I like him now. Even this book, which has no plot, but is a character study, pleases me. At times he sounds like a parody of himself, and the colonel constantly addressing his young (19) mistress as ‘Daughter’ seems a little creepy. Those things aside, this book has a melancholy beauty all its own. Perhaps part of this is due to its setting in Venice, a town that embodies melancholy beauty for me.
The love relationship between a precocious young aristocrat and a broken-down army office was entirely believable. We are not told where he met her or how the relationship formed, but rather presented with it fully formed and nearing its end. The colonel is aware of his approaching death and takes what sweetness is offered in this last relationship.
The title is from the last words of Gen. Stonewall Jackson as he lay dying on the battlefield and serves as an appropriate epitaph for the dying colonel. Hemingway is very tender in this treatment of an old soldier and his last love, the beautiful and tender Renata.