For Whom the Bell Tolls by Hemingway: 6/12/08

For Whom the Bell Tolls
For Whom the Bell Tolls by Ernest Hemingway

On the plus side, we had a couple of readers who just couldn’t put this one down. There was admiration for Hemingway’s skill at bringing us into the minds of “minor” characters like the sentries and the cavalry captain, making a powerful human connection in the middle of a war story. We marveled at the unique Spanish obscenities used by the characters. I liked Jordan’s reflections on the idealists on the ground and the Russian-trained realists running the war from a hotel in Madrid.

On the other hand, at least 6 of our 17 readers couldn’t bring themselves to finish the book, finding it too ponderous. Even the people who enjoyed the book found themselves exclaiming half-way through the book, “Blow up the un-nameable bridge already! I obscenity in the milk of this bridge!”

We thought a good editor could have made this a much better story. CD pointed out that Hemingway was in Spain in the late 30’s and the book was published in 1940, so it was put out very quickly. It would have benefited from a few more drafts.

One reader questioned the speed with which Maria seemed to recover from her trauma and be able to respond to Jordan’s attentions. Another was skeptical of the engineering involved in the demolition of the bridge – when it was finally described. TL thought Pablo was a lot like Manny Ramirez. The Spanish/English hybrid language was not a success for most readers in our group.

JS was a big Hemingway fan in her youth. After this recent reading, her feelings about it were similar to those she might feel upon running into an old boyfriend after many years, finding it impossible to remember what was so fascinating about him before.

Several readers encouraged the disenchanted not to give up on this author until reading A Farewell to Arms, a much shorter and more successful Hemingway novel.

A brief biography from
Ernest Hemingway
Hemingway in Spain, 1937

Ilya Ehrenburg and Gustav Regler with Hemingway, 1937, Spain

Michael Palin’s Hemingway Adventure Palin travels the globe to recapture the world of Hemingway

More about Hemingway
  • For more articles on Hemingway and his books, try Infotrac Onefile or Contemporary Literary Criticism, available at the library, or from home (with a Minuteman Library Network card).

Reflections on Hemingway by Tom Stoppard

Information about Hemingway and his writing