December 11, 2017
For Whom the Bell TollsOn this day in 1940 Ernest Hemingway's For Whom the Bell Tolls was published. It had been over a decade since A Farewell to Arms, and though there had been a handful of books since, the critics had not thought much of them. About this one, many agreed with Edmund Wilson: "Hemingway the artist is with us again; and it is like having an old friend back." Sales kept pace, with half a million copies sold in the first six months, and a record-setting film deal. There were dissenting voices, some of them raised at Hemingway's view of the Spanish Civil War, some of them at his love-making. This is the famous moment in chapter thirteen when everything goes "red, orange, gold-red" for Maria and the earth moves for Robert Jordan:
F. Scott Fitzgerald died just as For Whom the Bell Tolls was sweeping the nation -- Oct. 21 for the book publication, Nov. 21 for the third marriage, Dec. 21 for Fitzgerald's fatal heart attack. Hemingway had sent Fitzgerald a copy of his book inscribed, "To Scott with affection and esteem," and Fitzgerald's last note to Hemingway expressed thanks and envy, but there was little left of their relationship by this point. Over the previous decade Hemingway had made clear what he thought of Fitzgerald's "whining for lost youth death-dance," and Scott had reciprocated, although more gentlemanly. "I talk with the authority of failure," he wrote in his notebook, "Ernest with the authority of success. We could never sit across the table again." After Hemingway had trashed him in "The Snows of Kilimanjaro," Fitzgerald wrote Maxwell Perkins that Papa had better lay off: "Somehow I love that man, no matter what he says or does ... but he has completely lost his head and the duller he gets about it, the more he is like a punch-drunk pug fighting himself in the movies." About a year and half before Fitzgerald died, Hemingway would express regrets for playing the "tough little boy," but only to Perkins: "If you write him give him my great affection...." Whatever the private bell-tolling, Hemingway did not go to Fitzgerald's funeral, and he was soon back to the view that his friend was just "not designed to take a punch."
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