one thousand words by noon, drunk by 3:00

At the risk of being accused of defrauding you, the title of today’s post does have a bearing on the next sentence, but you’ll have to earn it.

For whom the bell tolls.

An allusion, a title, a question, or a sentence (in both senses of the word)? A sentence, yes, that’s certainly it.

I’ve read the book twice. Once years ago. Hated it. I was put off by the thees and thous.

A second time just last week. Loved it.

Representing Old Castilian with archaic expressions may be awkward. But it works well enough to capture intimacies and flashes of anger, among other things.

Anyhow, here’s where the novel really shines: Our young American hero (a Snowden, perhaps, maybe, anyone?) knows he’s going to die. An idealistic fight against fascists in a foreign country yields predictable results.

He has less than four days to live, our hero. He knows this to be the case, it’s unavoidable. Yet the young man lives his life, intensely, with gusto and enjoyment. He drinks wine and savors food. He makes love and talks to people. And he recalls his life.

When his head begins to fret, he fights off the rising panic of death. Hemingway’s gift is the closing image. It’s stunning, really, recapitulating as it does the central theme of the novel. The young American hero is lying on the forest floor, wounded. His leg has been mangled. Retreat is impossible. So he lies in wait to take one or two or three more fascists with him. Instead of portraying his death, Hemingway ends the novel with our hero’s heart beating against the ground. A beating heart. A thing pulsing with life, pressed hard against the pine needles and fertile soil, on a green mountain slope.

Well played.

Postscript. In a biography of Hemingway, I recently learned that his motto was, “One thousand words by noon. Drunk by 3:00.” He was productive that way, the old boy, downing words and alcohol like nobody’s business.

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3 Responses to one thousand words by noon, drunk by 3:00

  1. Kat says:

    Kevin, I’m so glad you’re blogging again. But I very much disliked For Whom the Bell Tolls when I read it long ago. I absolutely hated “Rabbit”: is that what he called his girlfriend, or am I misremembering? The only book I really liked by Hemingway was A Farewell to Arms.

    I should try him again: all these years For Whom would read like a different book.

  2. I’ve only temporarily rolled back the stone. I’m likely to return to hiding soon. Yes, Maria is his lover. He calls her rabbit or guapa or even wife, depending. Like you, I had a very negative reaction to For Whom The Bell Tolls first time through. But this time I was touched by Hemingway’s treatment of time, death and landscape, in particular of his memory of pines and meadows and canyons. While Maria may not stand out as a memorable character, Pablo — the violent, murderous realist — easily makes up for it.

  3. Colleen says:

    For all that is good and holy (on the internet), DON’T ROLL BACK THE STONE. I just realized you were back DON’T LEAVE.

    Also, how do you do that thing you do? You know, write great stuff about books that I think are not great stuff?

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