Ernest Hemingway – For Whom the Bell Tolls (1940)

One year after having spent an hour referencing all the fiction books Art Of Manliness recommanded, I felt cornered by this long list that remained untouched so far. I rarely read fiction as I felt most of the books I found to be more a distraction than something I would really engage in. Nonetheless, the distinction that Camus makes between a author asking questions and fiction authors (here Dostoievski) keeps resonate (‘But he illustrates the consequences that such intellectual pastimes may have in a man’s life, and in this regard he is an artist’). This time I picked For Whom the Bell Tolls, and I had exactly this!

“What lies beneath the surface”, from FFFFOUND!

The underlying themes of the book are classic: a man is fighting a war and falling in love. But the mastery with which Hemingway presents the characters inner feelings is impressing, and delightful.
Now they lay all that before had been shielded was unshielded. Where there had been roughness of fabric all was smooth with smoothness and firm and rounded pressing and a long warm coolness, cool outside and warm within, long and light and closely holding, closely held, lonely, hollow-making with contours, happy-making, young and loving and now all warmly smooth with a hollowing, chest-aching, thight-held loneliness that was such that Robert Jordan felt he could not stand it and he said, “Hast thou loved others?” p69
For a important part of the book, the characters are just waiting for an attack to happen, everyone fulfilling the role they gave to themselves: they try and remain impassible and calm for the sake of victory and mental health of each other, but we as readers are let to observe the ever-changing internal landscapes of dispute, doubt, fear and exhaustion they are all going through.
He would not think himself into any defeatism. The first thing was to win the war. If we did not win the war everything was lost. But he noticed, and listened to, and remembered everything. He was serving in a war and he gave absolute loyalty and as complete performance as he could give while he was serving. But nobody owned his mind, nor his faculties for seeing and hearing, and if he were going to form judgements he would form them afterwards. And there would be plenty of material  to draw them from. There was plenty already. There was a little too much. p136
I felt heavy while reading this book, under the weight that the fighting clan is putting on Robert Jordan, the soldier they are looking for for hope. Like Camus said, questions are not answered, still you witness the strength with which these can torment humans. And I was impressed.
Stop making dubious literature about the Berbers and the old Iberians and admit that you have liked to kill as all who are soldiers by choice have enjoyed it at some time whether they lie about it or not. Anselmo does not like to because he is a hunter, not a soldier. Don’t idealize him, either. Hunters killl animals and soldiers kill men. Don’t lie to yourself, he thought. Not make up literature about it. You have been tainted with it for a long time now. And do not think against Anselmo either. He is a Christian. Something very rare in Catholic countries. p287

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