Parody or Parity: A Brief Note on Gertrude Stein and 'For Whom the Bell Tolls.'

By Brogan, Jacqueline Vaught | The Hemingway Review, Spring 1996 | Go to article overview

Parody or Parity: A Brief Note on Gertrude Stein and 'For Whom the Bell Tolls.'


Brogan, Jacqueline Vaught, The Hemingway Review


ERNEST HEMINGWAY helped to keep the much discussed and intricate relation between Gertrude Stein and himself particularly complicated throughout his career. From early works such as "Mr. and Mrs. Elliot" to passages in the late A Moveable Feast, he parodied her style, and in Green Hills of Africa and A Moveable Feast overtly disparaged Stein.(1) Numerous critics have noted the parody of her famous "A rose is a rose is a rose" in Robert Jordan's comment to Agustin in For Whom the Bell Tolls that "A rose is a rose is an onion" (followed by "An onion is an onion is an onion" (FWTBT 289). Jordan's subsequent musing that "a stone is a stein is a rock is a boulder is a pebble" (289) has also provided the occasion for very different interpretations of whether Gertrude Stein was a source for the character of Pilar in that novel. While Joseph Waldmeir argues that Jordan's musings signal readers to note how Pilar is modelled on both the strengths and weaknesses Hemingway perceived in Stein (43-45), Allen Josephs argues that the same line, by denigrating "stein" to a "pebble," indicates that Stein is not the source for the daunting character of Pilar, who rather takes her origins from Pastora Imperio (74-77).(2)

My purpose here, however, is not to continue the debate about whether Stein is or is not part model for Pilar, nor simply to point again to the obviously derisive parody of her style in the lines noted above, but to suggest that in one of the more memorable chapters of For Whom the Bell Tolk and one which he notably edited radically in manuscript form, Hemingway uses Stein's famous style thematically in a passage that achieves not mere parody, but at the very least parity with his authorial precursor.(3) I have in mind here the third (and last) of the specific love scenes between Robert Jordan and Maria, the central moment of Chapter Thirty-Seven which begins and ends with Jordan's looking at his wrist watch. In between, time crystallizes or expands during the act of making love to what Stein herself might well have called"the continuous present," an expression taken from her well-known essay "Composition as Explanation" (511-23):

Then they were together so that as the hand on the watch moved, unseen

now, they knew that nothing could ever happen to the one that did not

happen to the other, that no other thing could happen more than this;

that this was all and always; this was what had been and now and

whatever was to come. This, that they were not to have, they were

having. They were having now and before and always and now and now

and now. Oh, now, now, now, the only now, and above all now, and

there is no other now but thou now and now is thy prophet. Now and

forever now. Come now, now, for there is no now but now. Yes, now.

No, please now, only now, not anything else only this now, and where

are you and where am I and where is the other one, and not why, not

ever why, only this now; and on and always please then always now,

always now, for now always one now; one only one, there is no other

one but one now, one, going now, rising now, sailing now, leaving now,

wheeling now, soaring now, away now, all the way now, all of all the

way now; one and one is one, is one, is one, is one, is still one, is still

one.... (379)

At the level of sheer style, this passage is notably "Stein-esque," but with more interesting ramifications that involve both subject and theme.

While the sexual ecstasy of this scene intentionally borders upon religious ecstasy (thereby extending a venerable topoi in literature over the centuries), the temporal concentration of "this was what had been and now and whatever was to come" into the continuous present (as Stein puts it) or the "always now" (as Hemingway puts it above) is more than a simple inversion of the alpha and omega of Christian liturgy (specifically that Christ has died, is risen, and will come again). …

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