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For Whom the Bell Tolls by Ernest Hemingway

For Whom the Bell Tolls (1940)

by Ernest Hemingway

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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English (113)  Spanish (4)  All (1)  Dutch (1)  Finnish (1)  Swedish (1)  French (1)  Danish (1)  Norwegian (1)  All (1)  German (1)  All (126)
Showing 1-5 of 113 (next | show all)
Fictional account of the Spanish Civil War ( )
  JackSweeney | Jan 10, 2017 |
Oh dear, I fear this review will be lambasted and that people will note that this is the second time I have dismissed a "classic" this week. In my defence, I did enjoy Orwell's Animal Farm.

I really wanted to like this and persevered to past the half way point. But when I got to the stage where I was dreading picking up the book as I was finding it so monotonous, I decided enough was enough--it was going back to the library from whence it came.

The lengthy novel tells the story of Robert Jordan, a young American in the International Brigades attached to a republican guerrilla unit during the Spanish Civil War. As a dynamiter, he is assigned to blow up a bridge during an attack on the city of Segovia.

By the half-way point, he still hadn't blown up the bridge but was instead engaging in seemingly never-ending debate about why it needed blowing up, how to do it, whether or not everyone in his group was in favour of the destruction .....the list could go on but I will spare you. I turned each page wondering if it would be the culmination of 250 pages of planning but sadly it was not to be. Or maybe that was a good thing because the soldiers guarding the bridge were spared for another day.

Imagine writing down every single action you take in a typical day from morning until evening whether relevant and interesting or not. Then gather a group of people and ask them to do the same. Then merge the pages and you have this book.

There is limited bad language although I found it amusing that for the stronger language they have simply inserted the word "obscenity" whether it made sense or not. There is some violence and some sexual content. The content wasn't offensive enough to put me off. I just thought this was extremely dull...

I now await the barrage of comments bemoaning my ignorance and explaining why I should have been excited about this book.....please feel free. ( )
  sparkleandchico | Sep 27, 2016 |
This was kind of a long haul for me. If I could give it another half a star, I would. I wanted to give it 4 stars, but I couldn't. It was just a little too slow for me. The characters were well developed and interesting, but Hemingway's prose and style I did not take to as I hoped I might. A little too terse and short in it's delivery. Definitely written in a world where men are brave heroes and women are there to love them. ( )
  bpeters65 | Jul 16, 2016 |
This story of the Spanish Civil War takes place over three days. it tells of an American professor who has been fighting the Fascists for about a year when he is given the assignment of blowing up a bridge. To do this, he works with local people, and this is the story of this small group with tragedy in their pasts, fierce determination and love of their country, shifting loyalties, love, friendship...everything a good story needs. Mr. Hemingway is a great writer and I enjoyed this book. ( )
  LynnB | Jun 26, 2016 |
Maria was very hard on his bigotry. So far she had not affected his resolution but he would much prefer not to die. He would abandon a hero's or a martyr's end gladly. He did not want to make a Thermopylae, nor be Horatius at any bridge, nor be the Dutch boy with his finger in that dyke. No. He would like to spend some time with Maria. That was the simplest expression of it. He would like to spend a long, long time with her." (pp171-2).

There are a great many books that have a great reputation but fail to live up to them. Classic literature in particular can often have a reputation that those who slug through their weighty prose and dull characters find hard to fathom. In what must seem like heresy to many book lovers, I often personally prefer the notion of having read a book, rather than enjoying the act of reading it and immersing oneself in it. I anticipated a similar response from myself when I sat down to read my first Hemingway novel, For Whom the Bell Tolls. Thankfully, and somewhat to my surprise, it did not elicit such a response and touched something deeper and more joyful.

Set over three days, this nearly-500-page novel (in my paperback Arrow edition) is set in the Spanish Civil War of the 1930s, with Robert Jordan, an American volunteer for the Republican side, being ordered to meet up with a band of guerrilla fighters behind enemy lines and blow up a bridge for military reasons that one does not need to go into here (nor does one need to have a particular interest in history to enjoy the story). But it is more than just a war novel, as it is upon linking up with the guerrilla band that he meets Maria, and the story begins a romantic arc. Both the war and romance angles are well-developed and executed; indeed, so perfect is the balance between the two that, if pushed, one could not firmly place Hemingway's novel in either the war or the romance genre if it meant its unjust exclusion from the other.

It is a beautiful story expertly told; this is often called Hemingway's masterpiece and though, as I mentioned earlier, I have not (yet) read any of his other work, For Whom the Bell Tolls seems to show an author at the peak of his craft. The pacing is superb; one might reasonably assume that, given it stretches a three-day period over nearly 500 pages, it might stumble or digress or indulge on occasion - but it does not. Though it may seem strange to label it so for a book of this type, it is something of a page-turner from page one right through to its powerful ending. The strength of that ending is largely due to the impressive characterisation. With 500 pages to work with, Hemingway adds a depth and camaraderie to all the members of Jordan's diverse guerrilla band so that when the attack on the bridge does come, one is invested in each and every one of them.

True to its title, Hemingway lends a sense of inevitable doom to the novel. The spectre of the bridge looms large throughout the guerrilla camp for the three days that precede the battle, but it is not the only episode of tension. The story of the start of the 'movement' - the civil war - as told by Pilar to Robert Jordan and Maria in Chapter 10 is of a brooding, operatic brutality that, to my mind, would not be out of place as the opening set-piece of a Sergio Leone western. And the echoes of battle which torture Primitivo's ears in Chapter 25 also wear heavily on the reader as we share his anguish. As a journalist who covered the Spanish Civil War, Hemingway is also able to provide perceptive and wry commentary on the contemptuous nature of war, mostly from Robert Jordan's inner monologue but also from others. ('I hate these pistol brandishers,' one minor character states of his superior officer. 'They cannot give an order without jerking a gun out. They probably pull out their pistols when they go to the toilet and order the move they will make.' (pg. 329)).

It may seem churlish to propose any criticisms of the novel given my admiration for it, but some of the language of the novel seemed bizarre, to say the least, and these irregularities I found somewhat difficult to shake. All the characters speak with 'thou' and 'thee' (Understandest thou?' one character asks), which seems far too much of a formality for a mostly-peasant band of guerrillas ('Eatest thou always onions for breakfast?' goes another casual conversation). I understand Hemingway did this as a sort of transliteration from the Spanish 'tú', and employed other archaisms to suggest to the English-speaking reader that the characters are speaking a foreign language, but it does hinder one's immersion in the dialogue. It nagged at me persistently throughout the novel, and I found it hard to shake that I was not reading the Gospel According to Ernest ('guard well thy explosive' must be one of the lost commandments!). Furthermore, there is a lot of censoring of obscenities which borders on the absurd at times. Hemingway has a bit of fun with it ('go muck yourself' and 'we are mucked', for example) but it reaches such levels of unwieldy absurdity that at one point a character is asked, 'What are you doing now, you lazy drunken obscene unsayable son of an unnameable unmarried gypsy obscenity?' (pg. 32). Another guerrilla bemoans how they must 'blow up an obscene bridge and then have to obscenely well obscenity ourselves off out of these mountains', before instructing Jordan to 'go to the unprintable... and unprint thyself' (pg. 48). However, one does begin to become accustomed to these and some of the peculiar phrases I found rather enjoyable ('thou art rare' for when someone is acting strangely, or 'how art thou called?' instead of 'what is your name?', as two examples). Indeed, one might even have a bit of fun by replacing their own choice obscenities in place of the 'unspeakables' and 'unnameables'. But I still wouldn't drink the milk...

Overall, For Whom the Bell Tolls is a fantastic novel executed perfectly by a writer at his peak. Both the war and romance arcs of the story coalesce into a single ending that satisfies both arcs. Hemingway convincingly shows how a man and woman can meet and fall in love in just a few days ('What we do not have is time. Tomorrow we must fight. To me that is nothing. But for the Maria and me it means that we must live all of our life in this time.' (pg. 302)). Maria may seem rather timid and perhaps a bit of a doormat to modern readers (though she has suffered much from the war and can be excused her timidity and dutiful deference), but she is a nice tender foil for Robert Jordan's resoluteness. Similarly, the reader is never beaten over the head with an anti-war message; there are no glaringly obvious monologues about man's inhumanity to man, or clichéd political messages like 'why are we here?' shoehorned into the dialogue. Rather, Hemingway's impressive characterisation compels us to invest in the men and women of Jordan's guerrilla band as human beings, so that their loss is felt keenly, and the reader angrily condemns the war and violence that caused such losses. By painting such a rich tapestry of a civil war and allowing us to experience the loss it engenders ourselves, Hemingway creates a more powerful anti-war message than any novel that beats the reader over the head with a crude 'war is bad' cudgel ever could. When Hemingway does finally raise said cudgel ('War is a bitchery,' one character cries on pg. 484) it is brought down with grace and is well-placed in the context of an emotionally powerful ending. The ending of For Whom the Bell Tolls is perfect, satisfying both the war and romance arcs told within the novel. As Jordan says in something of an epiphany, 'If we win here we will win everywhere. The world is a fine place and worth the fighting for and I hate very much to leave it.' (pg. 485). This revelation captures the three main aspects of the story; in essence, it summarises the theme of the novel in two succinct sentences. In Maria, Robert Jordan found the perfect expression of all the finery and beauty the world had to offer. He believed this world, with all its finery, was why he was fighting the civil war there on that damnable bridge. And finally, as he is leaving it, when the bell tolls, he hates that he could not experience more of it with her. But he won anyway because he experienced the fullness of life in those three days. It is a truly breathtaking message well-articulated and a perfect end to a perfect novel." ( )
1 vote MikeFutcher | Jun 3, 2016 |
Showing 1-5 of 113 (next | show all)
Hemingway the artist is with us again; and it is like having an old friend back. That he should thus go back to his art, after a period of artistic demoralization, and give it a larger scope, that, in an era of general perplexity and panic, he should dramatize the events of the immediate past in terms, not of partisan journalism, but of the common human instincts that make men both fraternal and combative, is a reassuring evidence of the soundness of our intellectual life.
added by danielx | editNew Republic, Edmund Wilson (Jan 23, 2015)
". . . a tremendous piece of work. . . . Mr. Hemingway has always been the writer, but he has never been the master that he is in 'For Whom the Bell Tolls' . . . his finest novel."
added by GYKM | editNew York Times, Ralph Thompson (Oct 21, 1940)
The greatness of this book is the greatness of these people's triumph over their foreknowledge of death-to-come... For Whom the Bell Tolls, unlike other novels of the Spanish Civil War, is told not in terms of the heroics and dubious politics of the International Brigades, but as a simple human struggle of the Spanish people. The bell in this book tolls for all mankind.
added by jjlong | editTime (Oct 21, 1940)

» Add other authors (53 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Ernest Hemingwayprimary authorall editionscalculated
Arbonès, JordiTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Baudisch, PaulTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Dietsch, J.N.C. vanTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Lewis, SinclairIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
NeelyCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Pedrolo, Manuel deForewordsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Scott, CampbellNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed

Is contained in

Four Novels: A Farewell to Arms / For Whom The Bell Tolls / The Old Man and the Sea / The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway

Romanzi by Ernest Hemingway

The Novels Of Ernest Hemingway by Ernest Hemingway

Five Novels: The Sun Also Rises / A Farewell to Arms / To Have and Have Not / The Old Man and the Sea / For Whom the Bell Tolls (FOLIO SOCIETY) by Ernest Hemingway

For Whom the Bell Tolls / The Snows of Kilimanjaro / Fiesta / The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber / Across the River and into the Trees / The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway

Ernest Hemingway Book-of-the-Month-Club Set of 6: A Farewell to Arms, A Moveable Feast, For Whom the Bell Tolls, The Sun Also Rises, The Old Man and the Sea, The Complete Short Stories by Ernest Hemingway


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No man is an Island, entire of it self; every man is a piece of the Continent, a part of the maine; if a clod be washed away by the Sea, Europe is the lesser, as well as if a Promontorie were, as well as if a Mannor of thy friends or of thine own were; any man's death diminishes me, because I am involved in Mankind; And therefore never tend to know for whom the bell tolls; It tolls for thee. —John Dunne
This book is for Martha Gellhorn
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He lay flat on the brown, pine-needled floor of the forest, his chin on his folded arms, and high overhead the wind blew in the tops of the pine trees.
Your nationality and your politics did not show when you were dead.
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0684803356, Paperback)

For Whom the Bell Tolls begins and ends in a pine-scented forest, somewhere in Spain. The year is 1937 and the Spanish Civil War is in full swing. Robert Jordan, a demolitions expert attached to the International Brigades, lies "flat on the brown, pine-needled floor of the forest, his chin on his folded arms, and high overhead the wind blew in the tops of the pine trees." The sylvan setting, however, is at sharp odds with the reason Jordan is there: he has come to blow up a bridge on behalf of the antifascist guerrilla forces. He hopes he'll be able to rely on their local leader, Pablo, to help carry out the mission, but upon meeting him, Jordan has his doubts: "I don't like that sadness, he thought. That sadness is bad. That's the sadness they get before they quit or before they betray. That is the sadness that comes before the sell-out." For Pablo, it seems, has had enough of the war. He has amassed for himself a small herd of horses and wants only to stay quietly in the hills and attract as little attention as possible. Jordan's arrival--and his mission--have seriously alarmed him.
"I am tired of being hunted. Here we are all right. Now if you blow a bridge here, we will be hunted. If they know we are here and hunt for us with planes, they will find us. If they send Moors to hunt us out, they will find us and we must go. I am tired of all this. You hear?" He turned to Robert Jordan. "What right have you, a foreigner, to come to me and tell me what I must do?"
In one short chapter Hemingway lays out the blueprint for what is to come: Jordan's sense of duty versus Pablo's dangerous self-interest and weariness with the war. Complicating matters even more are two members of the guerrilla leader's small band: his "woman" Pilar, and Maria, a young woman whom Pablo rescued from a Republican prison train. Unlike her man, Pilar is still fiercely devoted to the cause and as Pablo's loyalty wanes, she becomes the moral center of the group. Soon Jordan finds himself caught between the two, even as his own resolve is tested by his growing feelings for Maria.

For Whom the Bell Tolls combines two of the author's recurring obsessions: war and personal honor. The pivotal battle scene involving El Sordo's last stand is a showcase for Hemingway's narrative powers, but the quieter, ongoing conflict within Robert Jordan as he struggles to fulfill his mission perhaps at the cost of his own life is a testament to his creator's psychological acuity. By turns brutal and compassionate, it is arguably Hemingway's most mature work and one of the best war novels of the 20th century. --Alix Wilber

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:00:49 -0400)

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In 1937 Ernest Hemingway traveled to Spain to cover the civil war there for the North American Newspaper Alliance. Three years later he completed the greatest novel to emerge from "the good fight," For Whom the Bell Tolls. The story of Robert Jordan, a young American in the International Brigades attached to an antifascist guerilla unit in the mountains of Spain, it tells of loyalty and courage, love and defeat, and the tragic death of an ideal. In his portrayal of Jordan's love for the beautiful Maria and his superb account of El Sordo's last stand, in his brilliant travesty of La Pasionaria and his unwillingness to believe in blind faith, Hemingway surpasses his achievement in The Sun Also Rises and A Farewell to Arms to create a work at once rare and beautiful, strong and brutal, compassionate, moving, and wise. "If the function of a writer is to reveal reality," Maxwell Perkins wrote Hemingway after reading the manuscript, "no one ever so completely performed it." Greater in power, broader in scope, and more intensely emotional than any of the author's previous works, it stands as one of the best war novels of all time.… (more)

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