Academic journal article Studies in the Novel

A Matter of Love or Death: Hemingway's Developing Psychosexuality in for Whom the Bell Tolls

Academic journal article Studies in the Novel

A Matter of Love or Death: Hemingway's Developing Psychosexuality in for Whom the Bell Tolls

Article excerpt

The recuperation of Ernest Hemingway as a writer sensitive to problems of gender and sexuality has become almost a critical commonplace in the last decade or so. Increasingly, his work is investigated as evidence that the macho public image he cultivate--and that remains the most widely held impression of him as a man and writer--hid a more troubled soul from view. While the important posthumous novel The Garden of Eden has been at the forefront of this scholarly interest, given its twin concerns of female sexual liberation and resultant masculine fear of lost power, the recovery process has also been extended to include almost all of Hemingway's other fiction. That fact notwithstanding, some earlier novels and stories have been less instrumental in this revaluation, not because they are not exemplary of the author's mixed feelings about social constructions of human identity, but because they have been seemingly more difficult to fit into a new conception of his work. This is particularly--and unfortunately--true of For Whom the Bell Tolls, a novel that demands revisiting as evidence of the maturation of theme Hemingway's writing underwent as the author approached mid-life.

For example, two of the three most recent book-length studies of gender in Hemingway's fiction rather discount Bell by devoting less space to it than to many of his other works, both earlier and later. In Hemingway's Genders: Rereading the Hemingway Text (1994), Nancy Comley and Robert Scholes offer few more than a handful of references to Bell in their examination of a Hemingway they call the "anti-Papa" visible "beneath the patriarchal mask" (145). Without question, their focus on the crucial relationship between Pilar and Maria is useful in furthering our knowledge of the book. Their suggestion, for instance, that the lesbian overtones in the novel provide a richer sense of sexual and love relationships than Hemingway had earlier examined contributes to the trend of revaluating his views on sexuality. By underplaying the novel as a whole, however, Comley and Scholes possibly underemphasize its important place in the author's difficult gender development. Similarly, Debra Moddelmog's analysis in Reading Desire." In Pursuit of Ernest Hemingway (1999) is rather spare in its discussion of Bell, allowing it little space in her description of Hemingway as a writer at once dissatisfied with and trapped by cultural prescriptions (of sexual and other sorts). (1) Moddelmog succeeds in making us realize that the long-held ideas about Hemingway's life and fiction need to be rethought, but her confining of Bell to a brief discussion of Robert Jordan's and Maria's respective physical and psychical wounds fails to offer the nuanced picture of that book that could help to demonstrate Hemingway's changing and complex psychosexuality.

The exception to this trend of dismissing Bell overly quickly is Carl Eby's recent psychoanalytical investigation, Hemingway "s Fetishism (1999), which makes extensive use of the novel to establish its case that Hemingway was a deeply conflicted but ultimately patriarchally grounded man and writer. (2) Eby's study of Bell, along with his arguments about most of Hemingway's other texts, offers us a writer who, from start to finish, was concerned with the establishment and maintenance of a solid, masculine sense of self. Yet, Eby's work is accomplished at the expense of some fairly important differences that are visible between Hemingway's earlier work and the ideas evident in For Whom the Bell Tolls. One of the main discrepancies Eby fails to credit is the fact that in tone and theme Bell is not the same novel as The Sun Also Rises and A Farewell to Arms. By this point in his career, at least in terms of his approach to sexuality and human-identity creation, Hemingway appears to have moved beyond the more simplistic definitions that governed those books.

In an essay assessing Hemingway's tendency to view love as an ultimate impossibility between men and women, Pamela Boker explains that "[w]hat is fundamentally lacking in Hemingway's inner experience of love, as it is portrayed in his novels, is a sense of basic trust and object constancy which could allow his hero to retain the feeling of intense love even after the beloved object is lost" (97), imputing to the author an understanding of love as transitory and finite because always incomplete. …

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