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Picture of Ernest Hemingway, twentieth century American novelist and author of For Whom the Bell Tolls, by Yousef Karsh

October 21, 1940
Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald
For Whom the Bell Tolls
by Steve King

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On 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:
    For him it was a dark passage which led to nowhere, then to nowhere, then again to nowhere, once again to nowhere, always and forever to nowhere, heavy on the elbows in the earth to nowhere, dark, never any end to nowhere, hung on all time always to unknowing nowhere, this time and again for always to nowhere, now not to be borne once again always and to nowhere, now beyond all bearing up, up, up and into nowhere, suddenly scaldingly, holdingly all nowhere gone and time absolutely still and they were both there, time having stopped and he felt the earth move out and away from under them.
As with all things Hemingway, the novel seems to lead to the life, and the mixed messages of the life seem to lead nowhere for those trying to puzzle him out. Just after the above passage, Jordan rouses himself to greet Maria with "Hello, rabbit." Just after sending off the last proofsheets for the novel from Sun Valley, he and the family went rabbit hunting, bagging some five hundred of them on one day. Hemingway said that the writing of For Whom the Bell Tolls cost him his second wife, so the family at this point included Martha Gellhorn. During courtship, Hemingway explained in detail how a person could commit suicide with a shotgun triggered by the big toe, and hinted darkly about what he would do if Martha withdrew her love. The biographers also tell us-here we reach the more-than-I-need-to-know line that is so difficult to establish with Hemingway-that in his notes to Martha she was "Mookie" while his penis was "Mr. Scrooby."

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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Related authors:  A. P. Herbert, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Gertrude Stein, James Joyce, Janet Flanner, John Dos Passos, Michael Palin, Morley Callaghan, Raymond Carver, Sherwood Anderson, Sinclair Lewis, Sylvia Beach, Thornton Wilder, Wyndham Lewis, Anita Loos, Ernest Hemingway, H. L. Mencken, Ring Lardner, The Saturday Evening Post, William Faulkner
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