Wednesday, October 5, 2011

I'll show you profanity.

Current book: For Whom the Bell Tolls
Pages read: 99 - 311

I read yesterday, despite appearances, and just completely forgot to post. It's not like I didn't have time, either. I just didn't even think about it. At all. Because that is how boring this novel is. It's actually better that I didn't post yesterday anyway, because nothing happened. No, really.

Robert Jordan and Maria have sex. Everyone argues. We find out that Pilar watched Pablo organize and oversee the killing of fascists in his hometown after it was taken over by rebels at the beginning of the conflict. (That was 100 pages, right there. Seriously.) The guerrillas (Man, that is a hard word to spell. I'm a good speller, but guerrilla gets me every time. It's the double r that I can't seem to remember.) pick up camp in order to move closer to the site of the bridge that needs to be blown up. Robert and Maria have sex again. Pilar is jealous of both of them and is apparently bisexual. (I'm not interpreting; it's really in there.) Pablo threatens Robert's command, but it comes to nothing when some enemy cavalry rides through and everyone switches into combat mode. Now, Robert and a fellow guerrilla named Augustin are keeping watch over the area. Also, it snows quite a bit.

There's a lot of wistfulness about Robert and Maria's relationship (which actually seems to be pretty genuine) and how they're having the rare experience of real love, but it has to be curtailed by the necessities of warfare. There's a lot of bemoaning of killing people, as well, especially when it's brutal and vengeful, as it was with Pablo and the fascists. (They were beaten to death with flails. Lovely.) I don't understand how so little can have happened, but there you are. Robert has these long internal monologues about his life, too, and we find out that he joined the fight with the Russians as kind of a pseudo-Communist, and that he used to be a professor of Spanish in Montana. It's the same stuff Hemingway always does, which is stark prose and unrealistically straightforward, repetitive dialogue interspersed with angst-filled musings about the past.

Also, for some reason Hemingway felt the need not to actually write any profanity in this book, but since it's a feature of many of the guerrillas' dialogue, he put it in as the actual words "unprintable," or "obscenity," or "I obscenity in the milk of your..." It's just obnoxious, frankly. If you want to swear, swear; if you don't, don't. But don't pretty it up for the censors. Where's the integrity? I don't find it endearing or indicative of the characters' speech patterns. I find it cheap as hell. Also, it's often confusing and jars you out of the narrative because it makes you stop and mentally translate back into normal swearing. Anyway, aside from the annoyance factor, it's idiocy to stop short of writing profanity, but to graphically describe people being beaten to death by flails. I'm not going to be more shocked by the word "fuck" than I am by torture and war crimes. Christ.


  1. But what about the reference to John Donne in the title? The bell is tolling for all of these characters every time they witness or participate in an act that diminishes mankind.

  2. Oh, I'm clear on that. I just don't know why we're spending 500 pages belaboring the point. A short story would have been just fine.

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