Revolution in Ronda: The Facts in Hemingway's "For Whom the Bell Tolls."

By Buckley, Ramon | The Hemingway Review, Fall 1997 | Go to article overview

Revolution in Ronda: The Facts in Hemingway's "For Whom the Bell Tolls."


Buckley, Ramon, The Hemingway Review


Ronda Sits Perched in the hills of southern Spain, halfway between Seville and Malaga. Its dramatic setting, hanging on the cliffs above a river splitting the town in two, has inspired poets and artists for generations, most notably Rainier Maria Rilke. It is therefore not surprising that Hemingway should have chosen Ronda as a destination during his first visit to Spain in 1923. Carlos Baker tells the story:

The night life of Seville was boring to Hemingway They watched a few

flamenco dances, where broad-beamed women snapped their fingers to

the music of guitars.... "Oh for Christ's sake" he kept saying, "more

flamingos!" He could not rest until Bird and McAlmon agreed to go on to

Ronda. It was even better than Mike had predicted--a spectacular village

with an ancient bullring, high in the mountains above Malaga. (111)

His love affair with Ronda did not diminish. In Death in the Afternoon (1932) Hemingway wrote:

There is one town that would be better than Aranjuez to see your first

bullfight in if you are only going to see one and that is Ronda. That is

where you should go if you ever go to Spain on a honeymoon or if you

ever bolt with anyone. The entire town and as far as you can see in any

direction is romantic background.... if a honeymoon or an elopement

is not a success in Ronda, it would be as well to start for Paris and

commence making your own friends. (42-43)

Later on in his life, when Hemingway returned to Spain in the mid-19950s Ronda again became a favorite destination, especially when he befriended bullfighter Antonio Ordonez, who is from Ronda. Like fellow expatriate Orson Welles, Hemingway spent long sojourns at Ordonez's "cortijo" (country house) near Ronda.(1)

When Hemingway arrived in Spain in February 1937 to cover the Spanish Civil War, most of the south, including Ronda, had already fallen to Franco. He was therefore unable to go to Andalusia during the war, but there is little doubt that, even before reaching Spain, he had heard innumerable stories about the peasant uprisings that took place in the south following the July 1936 military coup. Chapter 10 of For Whom the Bell Tolls is Pilar's painfully graphic account of one such uprising. More than any other chapter in the novel, it has stirred readers' imaginations with its gruesome realism, sparing no detail in recounting the massacre of fascist landlords by Andalusian peasants.

Although Hemingway does not mention the location of the massacre in For Whom the Bell Tolls, scholars have traditionally assumed that Ronda was the site of the peasant uprising. This assumption, however, has not gone uncontested. Angel Capellan has argued that because both Pilar and Pablo (the peasant leaders) say they come from Castilla (central Spain) we should look for an appropriate town in this area. Capellan suggests Cuenca, like Ronda dramatically perched on the ledge of a cliff (255). Hemingway himself, however, put the matter to rest when he told Hotchner: "When Pilar remembers back to what happened in their village when the fascists came, that's Ronda, and the details of the town are exact" (131).

The details of the town may be "exact" in For Whom the Bell Tolls, but not necessarily the details of the events that took place in Ronda in 1936. Writing to Bernard Berenson in 1954, Hemingway stated that the fascist massacre in the novel was a thing that he had "invented completely" (SL 837). However, he hastened to add that a writer has "the obligation to invent truer than things can be true"(SL 837). This would seem to indicate that Hemingway was trying to reach beyond actual events in a small Spanish town to a "higher reality," a description of the July peasant revolution which would reveal its "inner truth," to paraphrase Hemingway himself.

Because Pilar's description of the massacre is generally considered a highlight of the novel, Chapter 10 has attracted a fair amount of critical attention. …

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