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HEMINGWAY'S FOR WHOM THE BELL TOLLS: FACT INTO FICTION Robert A. Martin Michigan State University In writing For Whom the Bell Tolls, Ernest Hemingway drew upon his experiences as a war correspondent during the Spanish Civil War much more extensively than is generally recognized. Many of the characters , as well as the events and places of the novel, are based on historical fact and on the exploits of people Hemingway knew or heard of while he was covering the war. It is in this masterful blend of fact and fiction that For Whom the Bell Tolls achieves the status of a classic war novel. The most obvious example of Hemingway's transformational blending process is the model for Robert Jordan, who is based on the life and adventures of a young American from California named Robert Merriman. A graduate student in economics at the University of California at Berkeley, Merriman had left his teaching fellowship to spend a year in Moscow in 1935—36 after winning a Newton Booth Traveling Scholarship of nine hundred dollars.1 According to Merriman's wife, Marion, who accompanied him to Moscow and later to Spain, his interests were primarily in Soviet economics rather than the politics of revolutionary Russia.2 Wounded in March of 1936, Merriman early became one of the better-known American volunteers in the International Brigades . He eventually achieved the rank of Major in the Abraham Lincoln Battalion, during which time in 1937 he met and became a casual acquaintance of Hemingway. Mrs. Merriman recalls their first meeting with Hemingway in his room at the Hotel Florida in Madrid. I studied Bob and Hemingway. They got along. Each talked for a moment, then listened to the other. How different they were, I thought. Bob at twenty-eight, Hemingway at least a good ten years older. Hemingway seemed complex. He was big and bluff and macho. He didn't appear to be a braggart but he got across the message, through an air of self-assurance, that he could handle what he took on. . . .' In nearly all first-hand accounts of Hemingway in Spain during the Civil War, his careful questioning of combat veterans in the Brigades is remarkably consistent. Hemingway went to Spain four times as a correspondent for the North American Newspaper Alliance (NANA): from March to May, 1937; from August, 1937 to January, 1938; from March to May, 1938; and from August to November, 1938. On the morning of April 2, 1938, somewhere near Corbera, Merriman disappeared during a night-time retreat and was never seen again. 220Ñores Like Merriman, Robert Jordan has been a college instructor in the United States, is a volunteer fighting for the Loyalists, is a natural leader, and, at the end of his life behind enemy lines, may be said to also disappear from all official information and records. It was, in Wyden's view, Merriman's exploits during the war that lead him "to become in the most significant respects, the prototype for the best-known hero of the Spanish war, Ernest Hemingway's fictional Robert Jordan in For Whom the Bell Tolls, and portrayed in the movie by Gary Cooper, playing opposite Ingrid Bergman."4 Hemingway, however, could not resist writing himself and his troubled family into the novel. When Jordan thinks about his father's suicide near the end of the book (pp. 338—40), he is as far from Robert Merriman as he could possibly be and as close to Hemingway 's own preoccupation with his father's death as any of his characters would ever be again. Further confirmation of sources has appeared from José CastilloPuche 's book, in which he says "I had questioned Ernesto closely about the material he had used, in particular the models for the Spanish characters . According to Ernesto, these characters had been drawn from life."5 Another main character of the novel, Maria, originated in a conversation Hemingway had with Fred Keller, a Battalion commissioner in the Lincoln Battalion. When Hemingway visited Keller in the hospital after his wounding during the Ebro retreat, he persuaded Keller to recount his recent experiences. As told by Wyden, Over his usual map, Hemingway got...

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Additional Information

ISSN
2158-5806
Print ISSN
0091-8083
Pages
pp. 219-225
Launched on MUSE
2014-10-01
Open Access
No
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