Monday, March 2, 2015
For Whom The Bell Tolls Excerpt 1-1
One of the most brilliantly plotted antiwar novels, For Whom The Bell Tolls depicts unforgettable characters (Robert Jordan, Pillar, Pablo, Maria, et al.) during the Spanish Civil War (1936-39). From Chapter 1 we can see how the plot develops with difficulties and conflicts. Memorable scenes are too numerous to present here, but we will show in this blog a few impressive scenes: (1) Robert Jordan's mission and potential conflict (from Chapter 1), (2) Pillar's story (from Chapter 10), (3) the ending (from Chapter 43).
From Chapter 1
He sat by the packs and watched the old man climb the ledge. It was not hard to climb and from the way he found hand-holds without searching for them the young man could see that he had climbed it many times before. Yet whoever was above had been very careful not to leave any trail.
The young man, whose name was Robert Jordan, was extremely hungry and he was worried. He was often hungry but he was not usually worried because he did not give any importance to what happened to himself and he knew from experience how simple it was to move behind the enemy lines in all this country. It was as simple to move behind them as it was to cross through them, if you had a good guide. It was only giving importance to what happened to you if you were caught that made it difficult; that and deciding whom to trust. You had to trust the people you worked with completely or not at all, and you had to make decisions about the trusting. He was not worried about any of that. But there were other things.
This Anselmo had been a good guide and he could travel wonderfully in the mountains. Robert Jordan could walk well enough himself and he knew from following him since before daylight that the old man could walk him to death. Robert Jordan trusted the man, Anselmo, so far, in everything except judgment. He had not yet had an opportunity to test his judgment, and, anyway, the judgment was his own responsibility. No, he did not worry about Anselmo and the problem of the bridge was no more difficult than many other problems.He knew how to blow any sort of bridge that you could name and he had blown them of all sizes and constructions. There was enough explosive and all equipment in the two packs to blow this bridge properly even if it were twice as big as Anselmo reported it, as he remembered it when he had walked over it on his way to La Granja on a walking trip in 1933, and as Golz had read him the description of it night before last in that upstairs room in the house outside of the Escorial.
“To blow the bridge is nothing,” Golz had said, the lamplight on his scarred, shaved head, pointing with a pencil on the big map. “You understand?”
“Yes, I understand.”
“Absolutely nothing. Merely to blow the bridge is a failure.”
“Yes, Comrade General.”
“To blow the bridge at a stated hour based on the time set for the attack is how it should be done. You see that naturally. That is your right and how it should be done.”
Golz looked at the pencil, then tapped his teeth with it.
Robert Jordan had said nothing.
“You understand that is your right and how it should be done,” Golz went on, looking at him and nodding his head. He tapped on the map now with the pencil. “That is how I should do it. That is what we cannot have.”
“Why, Comrade General?”
“Why?” Golz said, angrily. “How many attacks have you seen and you ask me why? What is to guarantee that my orders are not changed? What is to guarantee that the attack is not annulled? What is to guarantee that the attack is not postponed? What is to guarantee that it starts within six hours of when it should start? Has any attack ever been as it should?”
“It will start on time if it is your attack,” Robert Jordan said.
“They are never my attacks,” Golz said. “I make them. But they are not mine. The artillery is not mine. I must put in for it. I have never been given what I ask for even when they have it to give. That is the least of it. There are other things. You know how those people are. It is not necessary to go into all of it. Always there is something. Always some one will interfere. So now be sure you understand.”
“So when is the bridge to be blown?” Robert Jordan had asked.
“After the attack starts. As soon as the attack has started and not before. So that no reinforcements will come up over that road.” He pointed with his pencil. “I must know that nothing will come up over that road.”
“And when is the attack?”
“I will tell you. But you are to use the date and hour only as an indication of a probability. You must be ready for that time. You will blow the bridge after the attack has started. You see?” he indicated with the pencil. “That is the only road on which they can bring up reinforcements. That is the only road on which they can get up tanks, or artillery, or even move a truck toward the pass which I attack. I must know that bridge is gone. Not before, so it can be repaired if the attack is postponed. No. It must go when the attack starts and I must know it is gone. There are only two sentries. The man who will go with you has just come from there. He is a very reliable man, they say. You will see. He has people in the mountains. Get as many men as you need. Use as few as possible, but use enough. I do not have to tell you these things.”
“And how do I determine that the attack has started?”
“It is to be made with a full division. There will be an aerial bombardment as preparation. You are not deaf, are you?”
“Then I may take it that when the planes unload, the attack has started?”
“You could not always take it like that,” Golz said and shook his head. “But in this case, you may. It is my attack.”
“I understand it,” Robert Jordan had said. “I do not say I like it very much.”
“Neither do I like it very much. If you do not want to undertake it, say so now. If you think you cannot do it, say so now.”
“I will do it,” Robert Jordan had said. “I will do it all right.”
“That is all I have to know,” Golz said. “That nothing comes up over that bridge. That is absolute.”
“I do not like to ask people to do such things and in such a way,” Golz went on. “I could not order you to do it. I understand what you may be forced to do through my putting such conditions. I explain very carefully so that you understand and that you understand all of the possible difficulties and the importance.”
“And how will you advance on La Granja if that bridge is blown?”
“We go forward prepared to repair it after we have stormed the pass. It is a very complicated and beautiful operation. As complicated and as beautiful as always. The plan has been manufactured in Madrid. It is another of Vicente Rojo, the unsuccessful professor’s, masterpieces. I make the attack and I make it, as always, not in sufficient force. It is a very possible operation, in spite of that. I am much happier about it than usual. It can be successful with that bridge eliminated. We can take Segovia. Look, I show you how it goes. You see? It is not the top of the pass where we attack. We hold that. It is much beyond. Look— Here— Like this—”
“I would rather not know,” Robert Jordan said.
“Good,” said Golz. “It is less of baggage to carry with you on the other side, yes?”
“I would always rather not know. Then, no matter what can happen, it was not me that talked.”
“It is better not to know,” Golz stroked his forehead with the pencil. “Many times I wish I did not know myself. But you do know the one thing you must know about the bridge?”
“Yes. I know that.”
“I believe you do,” Golz said. “I will not make you any little speech. Let us now have a drink. So much talking makes me very thirsty, Comrade Hordan. You have a funny name in Spanish, Comrade Hordown.”
“How do you say Golz in Spanish, Comrade General?”
“Hotze,” said Golz grinning, making the sound deep in his throat as though hawking with a bad cold. “Hotze,” he croaked. “Comrade Heneral Khotze. If I had known how they pronounced Golz in Spanish I would pick me out a better name before I come to war here. When I think I come to command a division and I can pick out any name I want and I pick out Hotze. Heneral Hotze. Now it is too late to change. How do you like partizan work?” It was the Russian term for guerilla work behind the lines.
“Very much,” Robert Jordan said. He grinned. “It is very healthy in the open air.”
“I like it very much when I was your age, too,” Golz said. “They tell me you blow bridges very well. Very scientific. It is only hearsay. I have never seen you do anything myself. Maybe nothing ever happens really. You really blow them?” he was teasing now. “Drink this,” he handed the glass of Spanish brandy to Robert Jordan. “You really blow them?”
“You better not have any sometimes on this bridge. No, let us not talk any more about this bridge. You understand enough now about that bridge. We are very serious so we can make very strong jokes. Look, do you have many girls on the other side of the lines?”
“No, there is no time for girls.”
“I do not agree. The more irregular the service, the more irregular the life. You have very irregular service. Also you need a haircut.”
“I have my hair cut as it needs it,” Robert Jordan said. He would be damned if he would have his head shaved like Golz. “I have enough to think about without girls,” he said sullenly.
“What sort of uniform am I supposed to wear?” Robert Jordan asked.
“None,” Golz said. “Your haircut is all right. I tease you. You are very different from me,” Golz had said and filled up the glasses again.
“You never think about only girls. I never think at all. Why should I? I am Général Sovietique. I never think. Do not try to trap me into thinking.”
Some one on his staff, sitting on a chair working over a map on a drawing board, growled at him in the language Robert Jordan did not understand.
“Shut up,” Golz had said, in English. “I joke if I want. I am so serious is why I can joke. Now drink this and then go. You understand, huh?”
“Yes,” Robert Jordan had said. “I understand.”
They had shaken hands and he had saluted and gone out to the staff car where the old man was waiting asleep and in that car they had ridden over the road past Guadarrama, the old man still asleep, and up the Navacerrada road to the Alpine Club hut where he, Robert Jordan, slept for three hours before they started.
(To be continued in Excerpt 1-2)