Whom the hour strikes

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Whom the Bell Tolls ( English For Whom the Bell Tolls ) is a novel by Ernest Hemingway from 1940. The first edition was published in October 1940 in Scribner publishing house in New York. The novel became a great sales success shortly after its publication; By the end of December 1940, 189,000 copies of the work had been sold in just under nine weeks. By early April 1941, sales rose to 491,000 copies and another 565,000 copies were in print. Within a short time, For Whom the Bell Tolls became Hemingway's best-selling book in the English-speaking world.

The German translation comes from Paul Baudisch and was first published in 1941 by Verlag Bermann Fischer , Stockholm . Several reprints and new editions followed in the same year. In the period after the Second World War , the book also developed into a bestseller in German-speaking countries . From 1948 the German edition of the novel was published in numerous further editions, partly as a licensed edition, by Suhrkamp and Fischer Verlag.


The novel tells a three-day episode from the life of the American guerrilla fighter Robert Jordan in the Spanish Civil War . The act described covers a period of around 70 hours between Saturday sometime around noon and Tuesday noon in the last week of May 1937.

The main story is the assignment to the explosives expert Jordan to blow up a bridge at the same time as the imminent attack by the Republicans on the city of Segovia . Behind the lines of the enemy, Jordan seeks cooperation with the guerrilla group around Pablo. Pablo's opposition to the dangerous operation runs counter to Jordan's sense of duty. Tensions are further sparked by Robert Jordan's awakening romantic love for María, a member of Pablo's group.

A significant part of the novel is written from the perspective of Jordan. His narrative is interspersed with memories of some meetings with Russians in Madrid, as well as his father and grandfather. In addition, Pilar, an energetic, “down-to-earth” Spaniard and Pablo’s wife, reports on the brutality of the civil war with terrifying realism: once in the form of an angry republican crowd, another time by nationalist government troops.

Historical context

The novel takes sides in the ideological dispute between left-wing popular frontists ( anarcho-syndicalists , communists , left-liberal republicans ) and right-wing nationalists (monarchists, conservatives, fascists ), in that Robert Jordan maintains the hope that worldwide support could help the cause of the republicans to victory.

In addition, the support of both sides by foreign powers ( Soviet Union for the Popular Front, Germany and Italy for the Franquists ) is made clear.

In the novel itself, however, Hemingway hardly goes into the political background of the civil war and its consequences for Spain, but lets the fates of the characters speak for the situation in the country.

In the figure of the partisan Pilar , Hemingway set a literary monument to the communist leader Dolores Ibárruri ("La Pasionaria").



For the title of the novel, Hemingway used a quote from the English poet John Donne (1572–1631). He also prefixed the book with excerpts from the spiritual poem Meditation No. 17 as a motto :

No Man is an Island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main; [...] and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee. "(German:" No human is an island, complete in itself; every human is a piece of the continent, a part of the mainland; [...] and therefore never ask to know who the [death] bell strikes; it strikes to you.")

It refers to the responsibility that everyone has in the community. An ideal that the central figure Jordan fulfills in an exemplary manner. As a motto, this sentence is also addressed as a moral challenge to every single reader.

Autobiographical approach

Hemingway's own experiences as a war volunteer on the part of the Republicans gave impetus to this topic and justified the realism of the representation. In addition to his experiences in the Spanish civil war, Hemingway was also able to process experiences from the First World War . According to Anthony Burgess, a farewell scene resembles Hemingway's departure to the Italian front.

Robert Jordan's final thoughts also echo Hemingway's own when he was wounded at Fossalta .

The fictional character María has clear parallels to Catherine Barkley from the partly autobiographical novel A Farewell to Arms . However, María is less complex and appears rather colorless.

Narrative style

For whom the hour strikes is a mixed novel. He alternates between the so-called authorial narrative situation (report of an “omniscient narrator” in the third person), dialogues between the characters in the novel, and extensive reflections by Robert Jordan.

The work is written in a succinct style and makes use of the short story as an art form that Hemingway clearly influenced . The aim is to achieve an immediacy that is intended to inspire the reader and draw them into the action. The protagonist Robert Jordan is portrayed so passionately that the above-mentioned parallels to Hemingway's personal experiences seem possible.

The dialogues are in the original version in archaic, medieval English (e.g. thou , thee instead of the modern you ) to simulate the old Castilian dialect of the protagonists, and also peppered with Spanish phrases like qué va . So the reader is constantly reminded that the language of the characters in the novel is not English. The author deliberately uses simple syntax and a limited vocabulary in the dialogues .

In the last section of the novel, the narrative thread splits. In terms of content, he also follows Andrés, who is supposed to send a message to the Republicans.


A major theme of the book is camaraderie . George Orwell describes it (in Homage to Catalonia ) as a close cohesion in the midst of the everyday threat of death and as a selfless commitment of the individual to an ideal or common property. This close community of male “fellow destinies” finds physical expression in gestures such as hugs or pats on the back. The fighters also draw strength from a bond with the country (Spain), often symbolized by the forest floor with its pine needles.

Another motive is that of suicide . In the novel, Hemingway tries to justify suicide on the basis of “noble motives”. The fighters all prefer death to eventual imprisonment and are ready to take their own life in an emergency or to entrust it to someone else. In view of Hemingway's own suicide twenty-one years later, this motif is of interest for autobiographical interpretation.

In the novel, Hemingway paints a picture of violence and death in the form of the military extermination machine. This takes the classic representation of war as a struggle between people to another level. Heroic deeds are replaced by "slaughter scenes". An example of this is the shooting of María's parents on the slaughterhouse wall.

Another aspect of violence is found in the relationship between the main characters. Here physical violence is replaced by psychological violence. The argument between Robert and Pablo is exemplary, with Robert trying to provoke the latter in order to have an excuse to shoot him. Pilar is also a character who often uses psychological violence without ever physically hurting anyone.


Immediately after the first edition of the novel was published in 1940, the New York Times praised the book as an outstanding, particularly moving work on the Spanish Civil War and declared For Whom the Bell Tolls the first major novel of World War II.

The following year, the novel was unanimously selected by the jury and the relevant committees for the award of the Pulitzer Prize . However, at the urging of Nicholas Murray Butler , then Dean of Columbia University , where the awards ceremony takes place annually, the jury withdrew its nomination. From Butler's point of view, the work was too offensive; the Pulitzer Prize for the novel was subsequently not awarded that year.

In his 1946 review, the journalist and writer Erich Pfeiffer-Belli gave the book a reputation for being “a sincere force” and praised the author's artistic cognitive abilities and the special kind of realism manifested in this novel. On the one hand, the bestiality of man is portrayed in a ruthless way, on the other hand his ability to sacrifice, which he called the “indestructible in man”. His conclusion: "A devout book, a nervous, nuanced, concentrated, exciting book, full of blatant realisms, full of the most delicate hints [...]."

Paul Ingendaay , also a journalist and writer, on the other hand, found the book in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung in 1999 as "embarrassingly stilted", excessively long and clichéd. Reading it again gave him the “devastating result” of a “old and rancid” classic.

Le Monde magazine took Whom the Hour to its list of 100 books of the century .

Factory history background

Before Hemingway began writing the novel in March 1939, he had made an agreement with the French writer, resistance fighter, politician and later Minister of Culture André Malraux on the literary processing of the events of the Spanish Civil War. While Malreaux could treat the period to 1937 and this novel published in his 1937 L'Espoir (dt. Title Hope , 1954) did, Hemingway was left to the period of 1937.

Hemingway worked on the longest of his novels in the period between March 1939 and July 1940. From January 1940, he wrote the last part of the novel from Chapter 23, mostly in Havana , Cuba ; between June and July 1940 the manuscript was largely finished and the last chapter 43 closed. In August and September Hemingway edited the proofs ; on September 10th he airmailed the last part of the corrected and revised version to his publisher in the USA for printing.

Originally, the novel should be entitled The Undiscovered Country (German: "The uncovered country"); At the end of April 1940, however, Hemingway decided to use the quote For Whom the Bell Tolls, taken from John Donne's spiritual poem Meditation XVII , as the final title for his work.


The novel was filmed in 1943 with Gary Cooper , Ingrid Bergman , Akim Tamiroff and Katina Paxinou in the leading roles. The adaptation of the novel to the script was done by Dudley Nichols , directed by Sam Wood .

The film For Whom the Hour Strikes has been nominated for a number of Oscars : Katina Paxinou received the Oscar for best supporting actress. Gary Cooper (main role), Ingrid Bergman (main role) and Akim Tamiroff (supporting actor) were also nominated; there were also nominations for equipment, camera, editing, music and for best film.


For Whom the Bell Tolls is a song by Metallica from the album Ride the Lightning (1984). It deals with an episode in which the guerrilla leader El Sordo is trapped on a hill and dies together with five companions in an air raid. There are also other musical arrangements of the material, including Simon Dupree and the Big Sound from the 1960s.


Robert Jordan was the main pseudonym of the American writer James Oliver Rigney, Jr., without this having confirmed the reference to Hemingway's text.

Work editions

First edition

  • Ernest Hemingway: For Whom the Bell Tolls . Charles Scribner's Sons, New York 1940.
    • numerous reprints and new editions, most recently by McMillan Verlag , London 2016 ( Macmillan Collector's Library )

German translations

  • Ernest Hemingway: Whom the hour strikes . 1st edition. Bermann-Fischer, Stockholm 1941, DNB  992444861 (English: For Whom the Bell Tolls . Translated by Paul Baudisch).
    • numerous reprints and new editions, most recently Ernest Hemingway: Whom the hour strikes . S. Fischer , Frankfurt am Main 2014, ISBN 978-3-596-20408-3 (English: For Whom the Bell Tolls . Translated by Paul Baudisch). , last reprint 2014 (40th edition)


  • Carlos Baker: The Spanish Tragedy . In: Hemingway - The Writer as Artist. 4th edition. Princeton University Press, New Jersey 1972, ISBN 0-691-01305-5 , pp. 223-263.

Web links

Individual evidence

  1. See Carlos Baker: Hemingway - The Writer as Artist. 4th edition. Princeton University Press, New Jersey 1972, ISBN 0-691-01305-5 , p. 412.
  2. DNB 1032639776
  3. Dietmar Grieser : You really lived: From Effi Briest to Mr Karl, from Tewje to James Bond. Amalthea Verlag, 2001.
  4. In the review by Ralph Thompson in the October 21, 1940 issue of the New York Times, it says: "For Whom the Bell Tolls" is a tremendous piece of work. It is the most moving document to date on the Spanish Civil War, and the first major novel of the Second World War. See Books of The Times - FOR WHOM THE BELL TOLLS . Retrieved May 15, 2017.
  5. See Edwin Mcdowell: Publishing: Pulitzer Controversies . In: The New York Times, May 11, 1984. Retrieved May 15, 2017.
  6. Erich Pfeiffer-Belli: Whom the hour strikes . In: The reputation. Independent papers of the young generation . No. 7 . Munich November 15, 1946, Critical Review. Books we are not allowed to read, p. 13 and 15 . See also Kerstin Möller Osmani on literary and literary critical reception in German-speaking countries: In another country: Ernest Hemingway and the young generation. Possibilities and Limits of the Reception of an American Author in Early West German Post-War Literature . Königshausen and Neumann Verlag, Würzburg 1996 (Kiel articles on English and American studies; NF vol. 13), in particular pp. 17 and 38.
  7. Paul Ingendaay: The winner comes away empty-handed. Artist and pop figure, grandiose and exhausted: Ernest Hemingway was born a hundred years ago . In: Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung . No. 163/1999 . Frankfurt July 17, 1999, Pictures and Times, p. I-II .
  8. See the obituary for Hemingway For Whom the Hour Takes . In: Der Spiegel , edition 29/1961. Retrieved May 15, 2017.
  9. See Carlos Baker: Hemingway - The Writer as Artist. 4th edition. Princeton University Press, New Jersey 1972, ISBN 0-691-01305-5 , pp. 238f.