During the Spanish Civil War (1936–1939), Spain became a battleground in the fight between freedom and fascism. Fascism prevailed. To gain a powerful and palpable impression of the civil war in Spain you can do no better than to read Ernest Hemingway’s masterpiece, For Whom the Bell Tolls. It is a story about a young American volunteer in the International Brigades, named Robert Jordan, who is attached to an anti-fascist guerrilla unit in the mountains of Spain. All of life—hope, fear, and love—plays out in three days of intense action. Though entirely a work of fiction, it transports you to that time and place so that you feel as though you have experienced it yourself. For Whom the Bell Tolls is Hemingway’s longest and, for many readers, finest novel and his most in-depth treatment of war. It is also simply a great story.
An ardent lover of Spain since his first visit there, when he was twenty-four, to see the bullfights at Pamplona in 1923, Hemingway followed the Spanish conflict from its inception. At the onset of the war he supported the Loyalist cause as the chairman of the Ambulance Committee for the Medical Bureau of the American Friends of Spanish Democracy and through his own personal contributions to buy ambulances, a form of support sanctioned by the U.S. government, which was not yet involved in the conflict. Having volunteered as an ambulance driver in Italy during World War I, Hemingway knew from firsthand experience the critical value of medical aid in wartime. He also supported the Spanish Republic when, in 1937, together with Jörg Ivens, he produced the movie The Spanish Earth, which was for him a new kind of writing endeavor.
In just under an hour, the masterful documentary attempts to show the reality of life amid the fighting in Spain. Hemingway wrote the script and narrated the film after Orson Welles declined. He also promoted the film in the United States, speaking at fund-raising events for the Loyalist cause. His speech to the American Writers Congress at Carnegie Hall on June 4, 1937, is included in this Hemingway Library Edition as Appendix I. In it, Hemingway discusses how a writer needs to write truly in order to create “in such a way that it becomes part of the experience of the person who reads it,” how dangerous it is to write the truth in war, and how no good writer can do his job working in a fascist state, which is built on lies. It received a standing ovation and remains to this day a powerful commentary on the importance of a writer’s accurate record of war and its atrocities.
Ernest Hemingway experienced the Spanish Civil War firsthand as a war correspondent for the North American Newspaper Association (NANA). He wrote twenty-eight dispatches for NANA that were published between March 13, 1937, and May 11, 1938. His journalism makes tangible the devastating effects of war on people, but it has been criticized for its partisanship and for not presenting a balanced assessment of events. However, some recent scholarship has, in my opinion, mischaracterized his contribution, which was significant and sincere. Adam Hochschild’s book on the Spanish Civil War and U.S. participation essentially omits Hemingway, for example, suggesting that he was self-aggrandizing and motivated by self-interest. I beg to differ. I believe that the tremendous body of work Hemingway produced during this period—his journalism; The Spanish Earth; his only full-length play, The Fifth Column; his excellent short stories including “The Butterfly and the Tank” and “Night Before Battle”; and For Whom the Bell Tolls—reflects my grandfather’s passion and commitment to his work, which was fueled by his enthusiastic support for the anti-fascist Loyalist cause and his love of Spain.
A previously unpublished account written by Hemingway just after his time as a war correspondent for NANA, and included as Appendix II (and Figure 1) in this book, gives a vivid sense of Hemingway’s wartime experience in Spain, his proximity to battle, and the strong psychological effects it had on him. The piece is full of anti-fascist opinion and thoughtfully argued assessments of military actions, which he supports with graphic details that bring the horrors of battle to life. Readers may judge for themselves how close to the truth it is.
Myths about Ernest Hemingway—the hard-living, hard-drinking, celebrity he-man—have proliferated almost to the same extent as his literary fame and have inevitably clouded opinions of his work, especially for those who have not read it or read it closely. Even a writer as fine as Orhan Pamuk has misjudged Hemingway’s literature, referring to “his war-loving heroes” since war is the focus of so much of his writing. Such an assessment of Robert Jordan, Hemingway’s greatest literary war hero, would be totally inaccurate. To be sure, Hemingway appreciated the deep bonds forged in wartime among its fellow combatants, but he viewed war itself as a crime against humanity. He explained to F. Scott Fitzgerald why he thought war made such a good subject for writing: “. . . war is the best subject of all. It groups the maximum of material and speeds up the action and brings out all sorts of stuff that normally you have to wait a lifetime to get.” The complexities of war and its many contradictions can make it very difficult to write about, but Hemingway succeeds beautifully in For Whom the Bell Tolls, one of the greatest war novels of all time.
Hemingway visited the front in Spain for the last time in November of 1938. When he returned he did not know he would soon begin work on his novel. He began it as a short story. That fall and winter he wrote two powerful short stories based on his recent war experiences, “Night Before Battle” and “The Butterfly and the Tank.” In the middle of February of 1939, he went to Cuba and set himself up at the Hotel Sevilla Biltmore in Havana intending to write three more stories. Upon completing the first, “Under the Ridge,” he began typing a second story in March, and after writing some fifteen thousand words knew that it would be a novel.
Fidel Castro famously said that he had used the book as a kind of training manual for his military insurrection that began in December of 1956.
His regimen was to begin writing at eight-thirty in the morning and continue until two or three in the afternoon, the same practice he had established with A Farewell to Arms. He frequently recorded the number of words he wrote each day, which ranged from about three hundred to over a thousand (see Figure 7). On the fourth of April he wrote to his friend Tommy Shevlin: “It is the most important thing that I’ve done and it is the place in my career as a writer where I have to write a real one.” Later that month, Martha Gellhorn, his new love, joined him in Cuba and found Finca Vigía (“Lookout Farm”) in San Francisco di Paula outside of Havana. Hemingway soon moved in with her and continued to work on the book there until late August 1939. By May 23, 1939, he had completed 199 pages of the manuscript, and by July 10, 352 pages.
Finca Vigía was located high in the hills above Havana and was susceptible to electrical storms that frequently occurred in the summertime. Papa related to his sons Patrick and Gregory how lightning struck that July just before he had hung up the phone from speaking with their mother, Pauline, and sent him flying nearly ten feet across the living room, stiffening his arm and neck and taking away his voice for a long time. He joked with the boys then that it was lucky he had on dry shoes and was standing on a stone floor or it could have been the end of him and it would have been up to them to finish the novel.
After a family vacation with Pauline and his three sons at Nordquist’s L-Bar-T Ranch in Montana, Hemingway resumed writing the book between September 20 and December 9, 1939, in Sun Valley, Idaho, where he and Martha Gellhorn were guests at the nascent Sun Valley Resort. On Christmas Day he returned to the Finca alone and resigned himself to continue writing until the manuscript was done. By April 20, 1940, he told Max Perkins that he had thirty-two chapters completed. That month he decided on a title. As he had done in the past, he turned to the Bible and Shakespeare for inspiration, and after considering some twenty-five possibilities he settled on The Undiscovered Country. But he was not completely satisfied with it. Persevering, he looked to the Oxford Book of English Verse where he found a quote from John Donne, which expressed the interconnectedness of humanity that matched the aspirations of his work. On April 21 he wired Max Perkins that he had decided on the title For Whom the Bell Tolls. By the beginning of July he was working on the last chapter and contemplating how to end it. He considered having an epilogue, which he sent to Max Perkins, who describes it in some detail. However, he ultimately decided against it. On August 26 Hemingway wrote Perkins:
What would you think of ending the book as it ends now without the epilogue?
I have written it and rewritten it and it is okay but it seems sort of like going back into the dressing room or following Catherine Barclay to the cemetery (as I originally did in A Farewell to Arms) and explaining what happened to Rinaldi and all.
I have a strong tendency to do that always on account of wanting everything knit up and stowed away ship-shape. I can write it like Tolstoi and make the book seem larger, wiser, and all the rest of it. But then I remember that was what I always skipped in Tolstoi.
What do you think? . . .
You see that the epilogue only shows that good generals suffer after an unsuccessful attack (which isn’t new); that they get over it (that’s a little newer) Golz haveing killed so much that day is forgiving of Marty because he has that kindliness you get sometimes. I can and do make Karkov see how it will all go. But that seems to me to date it. The part about Andres at the end is very good and very pitiful and very fine.
But it really stops where Jordan is feeling his heart beating against the pine needle floor of the forest.
You see every damn word and action in this book depends on every other word and action. You see he’s laying there on the pine needles at the start [see Figure 2] and that is where he is at the end [see Figure 8]. He has had his problem and all his life before him at the start and he has all his life in those days and, at the end there is only death there for him and he truly isn’t afraid of it at all because he has the chance to finish his mission.
An early false start of the epilogue is preserved among the papers at the Finca (Appendix III, n. 38), though no complete copy is known to exist.
Hemingway completed his manuscript on July 21, 1940, and hand-delivered it to Max Perkins at Scribner’s in New York around July 25. By August 25 he had sent the first batch of corrected galley proofs back to Scribner’s from Cuba (see Figures 9–10). The last corrected proofs were sent from Sun Valley on September 10. The book was published on October 31, 1940.
There are many cases where Hemingway expands on passages from the first draft to make them more poignant, such as the lovemaking scenes between Robert Jordan and Maria (Appendix III, nn. 13–14, Figures 5–6) or El Sordo reflecting on life during his last stand on the hilltop (Appendix III, n. 25). The manuscript shows how Hemingway grappled with trying to translate certain words in the Spanish language (Appendix III, n. 5). He was also very familiar with the danger of censorship and its impact on book sales, having dealt with these issues in The Sun Also Rises and A Farewell to Arms. In For Whom the Bell Tolls he tried to avoid such problems as much as possible at the outset while still conveying the realism that was central to his storytelling. His editor, Max Perkins, and publisher, Charles Scribner, had very few criticisms of the manuscript text. Scribner objected to the graphic wording of the scene in chapter 31 where Robert Jordan masturbates the night before battle. Hemingway cut the offending sentence, “There is no need to spill that on the pine needles now,” and wrote instead, “There are no pine needles that need that now as I will need it tomorrow.”
In response to Scribner’s objection, Hemingway also changed at the galley stage Robert Jordan’s status as a card-carrying member of the Communist Party (Appendix III, n. 16) to someone working under communist discipline. However, while Perkins and Scribner were both concerned by Pilar’s discussion of the stench of death and suggested removing it, Hemingway insisted that it was important and left it as he wrote it originally. Despite the length of the manuscript, the differences between the published version and the original manuscript are relatively small. The missing epilogue and list of possible titles and a few draft pages preserved among my grandfather’s papers at the Ernest Hemingway Museum at the Finca in Cuba make clear that additional drafts and supporting materials existed.
For Whom the Bell Tolls depicts guerrilla warfare—a war of resilience involving small-scale skirmishes over an indefinite period of time. It is a type of combat that goes back at least to ancient Roman times. The term itself derives from the diminutive form of the Spanish word for war, guerre, and means “little war.” It became popular during the Peninsular War in the early nineteenth century when the Spanish and Portuguese people used the guerrilla strategy against Napoleon Bonaparte’s vastly superior army during his invasion of the Iberian Peninsula. Francisco Goya’s Disasters of War (1810–1820), his graphic etchings of the Spanish struggle against Napoleon’s army, were well known to my grandfather, who owned a set that was made from the original plates during the Spanish Civil War. Goya’s images of executions, such as the etching entitled “Y no hai remedio” (“And there is nothing to be done”), are a visual pretext for some of the more powerful scenes in the novel, like the brutal execution of citizens described by Pilar in chapter 10. In a passage cut from this very chapter of the novel, Hemingway wrote that “You heard about it; you heard the shots. You saw the bodies but no Goya yet had made the pictures” (Appendix III, n. 11).
Hemingway counted Stendhal as among the most important literary predecessors for his novel. In a famous interview with Lillian Ross, Hemingway, using the metaphor of boxing, said that he had fought two draws with Stendhal and that he thought he had the edge in the last one. Hemingway saw For Whom the Bell Tolls as his first great bout with Stendhal and Across the River and Into the Trees, which he had just finished at the time he spoke with Ross, as his second. There are distinct similarities between Stendhal’s The Charterhouse of Parma, where a participant in the Battle of Waterloo gives the reader a strong sense of battle from a soldier’s perspective, and For Whom the Bell Tolls; Hemingway even calls out the book as a superlative example of war literature in a passage he cut from the novel (Appendix III, no. 10).
As Graham Greene wrote in his review of the book, For Whom the Bell Tolls is “a record more truthful than history.”
Hemingway conceived For Whom the Bell Tolls out of his own experience and the knowledge that he had gained about Spain and its people. As he told Malcolm Cowley in an interview for Life Magazine in 1949, “But it wasn’t just the Spanish Civil War that I put into it, . . . it was everything I had learned about Spain for eighteen years.” The terrain of the book is realistic but does not correspond exactly to an actual place. It is what Allen Josephs, in his excellent book about the novel, calls “Hemingway’s undiscovered country,” echoing the author’s early title for For Whom the Bell Tolls. Patrick Hemingway notes in his foreword to this edition that his father drew considerably from his experiences in the American West to write truly the passages about life in the mountains and tracking in snow.
For Whom the Bell Tolls was an immediate success. Hemingway wrote to his first wife, Hadley, that it was “selling like frozen daiquiris in hell.” It has had tremendous impact and has been valued for its accurate depiction of guerrilla warfare. Fidel Castro famously said that he had used it as a kind of training manual for his military insurrection that began in December of 1956 and played out in the southern mountains of Cuba until his reverberant guerrilla triumph over the government of Cuba in 1959. When I visited Cuba in early November of 2002 as part of a delegation to preserve my grandfather’s papers at Finca Vigía, I had the opportunity to meet Castro. I asked him what parts of the book were especially instructive for him and he recalled that the passage about machine-gun placement in the mountains was perhaps the most instructive.
In their recent documentary on the Vietnam War, Ken Burns and Lynn Novick interviewed a Vietnamese woman, the writer Le Minh Khue, who as a youth volunteer working on the Ho Chi Minh Trail during the Vietnam War carried with her a copy of For Whom the Bell Tolls. Le Minh Khue greatly admired Robert Jordan and learned a great deal from his character about how to endure war. These are but two testaments to the realism of the book in its many parts. Hemingway, in his own words, believed that “A writer’s job is to tell the truth. His standard of fidelity to the truth should be so high that his invention, out of his experience, should produce a truer account than anything factual can be. For facts can be observed badly; but when a good writer is creating something, he has time and scope to make it of an absolute truth.” As Graham Greene wrote in his review of the book, For Whom the Bell Tolls is “a record more truthful than history.”
A new edition of For Whom the Bell Tolls also includes three short stories about my grandfather’s experiences during World War II, the great conflict that followed the Spanish Civil War, which Hemingway predicted as early as September of 1935. The stories were never published in his lifetime although he wrote them in several drafts (see Figures 13–15) and even sent them to Charles Scribner suggesting that if they were too provocative they could be published after his death. Scholars have long been interested in these stories, two of which have never before been published. Colonel David Bruce of the Office of Strategic Services (OSS) remembered being with my grandfather on August 25, 1944, when the Second Armored Division of General Philippe LeClerc, accompanied by an American infantry division, successfully entered and assumed control of Paris from the Nazis. Bruce and Hemingway were with the advance fighting units that headed into the center of the city and together they climbed to the top of the Arc de Triomphe to look across all of Paris. How magnificent it must have felt to be there at that moment. Hemingway suggested that they go straight to the Ritz Hotel. Paris was the city my grandfather loved more than any other in the world. He was proud to assist the OSS in the city’s liberation and the liberation of the Ritz Hotel became one of his most memorable moveable feasts. When he arrived at the Ritz with Colonel Bruce and their band of irregulars, the hotel manager greeted them joyously and asked Hemingway if there was anything he could get for them, to which Hemingway replied, “How about seventy-three dry martinis?”
“A Room on the Garden Side” is a fictional account of the days following the liberation. Hemingway stayed at the Ritz before setting out to catch up with the 22nd Regiment, who were chasing Nazi troops from France across Belgium and into Germany. In conversation with the hotel owner Charles Ritz and the French novelist cum military leader André Malraux, as well as various GIs, the protagonist (named Robert but clearly based on Hemingway) sips champagne in his room on the quieter garden side of the hotel and riffs on war, French writers, literature, and Paris. The author displays a wry wit and gives us a sense of the camaraderie among the men who lived through this momentous time in Paris. As Hemingway wrote later, “How different it was, when you were there.” The short story ends with Robert planning to leave Paris early the next morning. Hemingway left Paris on September 7, 1944, in a small well-armed convoy of two cars, two jeeps, and a motorcycle with Archie “Red” Pelkey serving as his driver.
“Indian Country and the White Army” continues the story only a few days later. It is a thinly fictionalized account of Hemingway with his small band of irregulars and two other journalists traveling through the Ardennes forest in Belgium toward Houffalize, the first town taken by the Germans. Captain Stevie, the American soldier in charge, remarks that the two Frenchmen with them are all that is left of an outfit of irregulars originally two thousand strong. They are remnants of the foreign volunteers who first served the anti-fascist Loyalist cause during the Spanish Civil War and went on to assist the underground resistance in France. The Ardennes forest reminds Hemingway of the northern Michigan of his youth when the Native American presence was very much a part of the territory. The “White Army” is a witty reference to the Belgians, who wore white armbands and are portrayed as rather inferior and uncourageous guerrilla fighters. Hemingway captures with sly humor the delicate tensions between the Belgian farmhouse owner and his liberators over the killing of a goose amid the real dangers of combat. The difficulties of feeding an army on the move, a topic discussed in the abstract in the previous short story, are presented here in vivid detail. While they are sitting with the owner, they hear the bridge at Houffalize being blown up by the Germans during their retreat.
The theme of blowing up a bridge continues in “The Monument,” a point of comparison to For Whom the Bell Tolls, in which a bridge is also blown but for notably different tactical reasons. Hemingway rejoins his old friend Buck Lanham, commander of the 22nd Infantry Regiment, just after Lanham has taken the Belgian town of Houffalize. He and Buck talk together while the bridge that the Nazis blew up is repaired so that they can bring their tank destroyers across it. Peter Lawless, a London Daily News correspondent, describes to Hemingway a monument in town dedicated to the first Belgian soldier killed in World War I. He was from Houffalize. The monument recalls the Homeric warrior Protesilaos, the first Greek soldier to die in the Trojan War, and makes us reflect on the tragic cost of human life in war, notions of fame and glory, and the significance of place. At the end of the story, Hemingway states that another monument was built there to record their own liberation of Houffalize and the rebuilding of the bridge. In reality, the monument is a small plaque set up near the bridge that records how Lanham and his men had managed to rebuild the bridge in forty-five minutes on September 10, 1944.
Hemingway wrote all three of the stories in Paris during the summer of 1956 long after the war. As Patrick notes in his foreword, they present a much more personal vision of my grandfather’s experiences in the European theater of operations than what he wrote about World War II combat in Across the River and Into the Trees. In fact, an inquiry during World War II by the U.S. military into Hemingway’s participation in the war beyond the parameters of a journalist likely weighed heavily on his decision not to write about these experiences until much later. We can be thankful that he did.
Nearly eighty years later, For Whom the Bell Tolls retains the power that made it an instant classic at the time of its publication in 1940. With this new Hemingway Library Edition the reader gains a better appreciation of Ernest Hemingway’s commitment to the Loyalist cause during the Spanish Civil War. It was arguably the single most important thing that my grandfather ever believed in, besides writing truly. The Loyalist defeat was profoundly disappointing, but his experiences in Spain inspired him to write a true account of the war in the medium that mattered most to him—fiction—where he could draw on his passion for Spain, exceptional knowledge, and formidable talent. Through his manuscripts we glimpse something of the creative magic and hard work that went into how Hemingway wrote what is perhaps his finest novel.
Excerpted from For Whom the Bell Tolls: The Hemingway Library Edition. Used with permission of Scribner. Copyright © 2019 by Seán Hemingway.