Rose Macaulay's And No Man's Wit and Ernest Hemingway's For Whom the Bell Tolls: Two Spanish Civil War Novels and Questions of Canonicity
by D. A. Boxwell
Fiction enthusiasts in October 1940 could read two new novels about the Spanish Civil War from first-rank publishing houses. Both well-known and established writers drew their titles from the writings of John Donne to make sympathetic statements about the crushing defeat of Republican Spain. American literary consumers could base their purchasing and borrowing decisions on equally favorable 1100-word reviews of the novels in The New York Times Book Review. And No Man's Wit "contains some of Rose Macaulay's most brilliant writing, most incisive and compassionate irony [and] contains too a sadness that is almost despair. Yet even in war's wider devastation, we can read her book now for its wit and wisdom," Katherine Woods asserted. The preceding week, the Times lent its authority to a praiseworthy assessment of For Whom The Bell Tolls as "the best hook Ernest Hemingway has written, the fullest, the deepest, the truest" (Adams).
Yet within three years, Hemingway's novel, published by Scribners, had sold 850,000 copies (Lynn 484) and had been made into a "three-hour Technicolor blockbuster" by Paramount (Higham and Greenberg 117), which paid Hemingway $136,000 for the movie rights (Lynn). For Whom the Bell Tolls has subsequently never been out of print, while countless college and university teachers have placed it on countless syllabi and perpetuated the novel as an "approved" major American novel for successive generations of students. By stark contrast, however, Macaulay's novel, published by Little-Brown after its initial appearance in Britain in June 1940, quickly faded from public attention. And No Man's Wit was never filmed, has never been reprinted on either side of the Atlantic, and has not been studied or promoted in the sacred groves of Academe. Unlike Hemingway's "timeless classic," Macaulay's novel, which I wish to propose as no less important a statement about the horrors of the Spanish Civil War, has virtually vanished from the literary consciousness of the 20th century. What at first retrospective glance is an apparently level literary "playing field" for these two competing texts in 1940 is soon revealed as a treacherous, and highly gendered, zone of contention.
By tracing the shifting fortunes of the reputations of both authors and their contemporaneous statements about the Spanish Civil War, I would like to explore -- at least partially -- the reasons for the effacement of Macaulay's achievement from the literary landscape and the process of canonization which has insistently chosen, instead, to value and remember Hemingway's achievement. The point of departure for my analysis is a concept articulated recently in The Feminist Companion to Literature in English, namely, that of "strategic amnesia," which has consistently legitimized and privileged patriarchal foundations of knowledge and experience (363). My purpose here is to demonstrate how and why the overwhelmingly patriarchal institutions of publishing and academia, which are largely responsible for maintaining the "consensus" about what is -- and is not -- canonical literature, have not simply "neglected" Macaulay, but have strategically chosen to forget or ignore the uncomfortably anti-militarist and anti-chauvinist aspects of her novel by instead privileging the more comforting and sustaining masculinist mythos embodied in Hemingway's text. I wish, then, to disinter an oppositional text to Hemingway's which, as Joanna Russ has said of women's writing in general, has suffered "premature burial" (124). This short essay intends, by concentrating on the shifting fortunes of two novels about the Spanish Civil War, to point up the "processes by which we canonize, valorize, and select the texts to be remembered" (Kolodny 291).
Dale Spender, assessing the historical suppression of women writers from the canon, in Women of Ideas, answers her rhetorical question "Why didn't we know about these women?" (4) by arguing that "a patriarchal society depends in large measure on the experience and values of males being perceived as the only valid frame of reference for society" (4). Macaulay herself recognized the problem of the invisibility of women's achievements, meanings, and values. In 1921, she stated it was "a fact that literature and thought have, anyhow till lately, been in the main in the hands of men, and men have found themselves unable to accept women as an ordinary, and not at all out of the way, section of humanity" (Spender 160). She spoke too soon. As we are now consciously realizing, women writers of Macaulay's generation have been excluded from the Modernist canon because they were deemed insufficiently experimental, apolitical, impersonal, universal, or allusive (Scott 5). This reiterates a point Bonnie Kime Scott makes (7) about the seven pages devoted to 20th century women's contributions to Modernism in Ellmann's and Fiedelson's well-known 1965 anthology, The Modern Tradition, a work 94~ pages in length. In that compendium of Modernist thought and achievement -- itself a "classic" anthology -- only two women, Virginia Woolf and Harriet Monroe, make an appearance (and Monroe only by virtue of an epistolary colloquy with the real occasion for her presence, Hart Crane).
We need only examine further many of the contemporary reviews which greeted For Whom the Bell Tolls to gain a sense of how literary tastemakers in 1940 expressed the idea that an important work of fiction should emphasize the serious weight of "universal" experience in war, which transcends political agenda, as well as class and gender concerns. Times' reviewer intoned, "the bell in this book tolls for all mankind," while The Nation asserted that Hemingway set a new standard for himself in "compassion for the human being faced with death." Yet viewed through the defamiliarizing lens of Macaulay's novel, For Whom the Bell Tolls is a resolutely androcentric and classist work, its controlling narrative consciousness almost entirely that of the male hero's, Robert Jordan. Jordan is socially privileged by his virtually unquestioned assumption of de facto leadership of Pilar and Pablo's band of guerrillas. Male university professors can easily identify with Hemingway's action-oriented and politically committed -- yet romantically idealized -- professor of Spanish. It is largely Robert Jordan's responses to the events and conditions of the War which govern the liberal humanist political "message" of Hemingway's novel. Macaulay's novel, by contrast, is more unsettling in that there is no identificatory unity provided by a single character's sustained point of view. Instead, the controlling consciousness is that of the satiric, skeptical, faintly mocking omniscient third-person narrator, very purposefully Macaulay's own urbane and "donnish" (to use Woolf's description) voice. This voice comments critically and ironically on her characters and their responses to the trauma of civil war and its aftermath. In consequence, contemporary reviewers stressed the novel's "light tone" (Yale Review), its "sparkling pessimism" (Anthony West in The New Statesman), and its "delicate playfulness" (Times Literary Supplement), implying that Macaulay's problematic mixture of Menippean satire, travel writing, and fantasy was merely an "amusing but quite unimportant narrative" (Books) about the Spanish Civil War.
This privileging of certain fictional modes over others in war literature finds consecrated expression in a work published in 1942, entitled Twentieth Century Authors, a work which could, and still can, be found in many a campus library reference section. The editors assert, in their Preface, that they "have been guided less by their personal critical preferences" in choosing their selection, "than by an effort to satisfy the general taste" (v). This is disingenuous, surely. Such reference works are as equally crucial in shaping tastes in literature as they are in reflecting critical consensus. A comparison of the entries for Hemingway and Macaulay raises some crucial questions about the politics of canon formation, especially its sexual politics. The 160-line Hemingway entry insistently remarks on the author's masculinist heroics, comparing him overtly to Byron (635). However much Kunitz and Haycraft call the heroism into question by calling it "overstressed" (635), the fact remains that Hemingway's mythification as potent "Papa" had, as early as 1942, shaped the critical consensus and its overwhelmingly positive response to his works. Twentieth Century Authors simply asserts that For Whom the Bell Tolls approaches "true greatness" (636) and concludes by admitting Hemingway into the Pantheon in the passive voice of patriarchal ex cathedra authority: "It can be understood that Ernest Hemingway is among the few genuinely important fiction writers of his generation" (636). Macaulay's entry, on the other hand, is much more dismissive of her reputation and personal life, covering a career in only 80 lines which began in 1906, when Hemingway was barely out of short pants and little dresses. In fact, the entry is incorrect: it was her fourth novel -- not her first, as the editors state -- which was published in 1911, and she was aged 30 and long out of Somerville College, Oxford, when that happened. She had published eleven novels by 1921, the point at which Hemingway had written "nothing except for his newspaper stories" (635). Her twenty-first novel, And No Man's Wit, embodies, so it is implied by the author of this notably untrustworthy biographical sketch, her "cold," "passionless," "clever," "sexless," "superficial" wit. The profile effectively tolls the death knell on her career sixteen years before its end, by declaring, "In the end she has become the victim of her own reputation," while Hemingway's reputation is only enhanced, of course, by his "heroic" public persona. Moreover, Twentieth Century Authors neglects to mention Macaulay's extensive travel in Spain, while reminding us of Hemingway's pseudo-combat experience in the Spanish Civil War with his involvement in the making of the documentary The Spanish Earth: thus, it is inferred, he has a greater claim to authority as a recorder of that subject. As for Macaulay's own tastes as a reader, Twentieth Century Authors specifies that Macaulay dislikes "serious" authors and that her favorite writers are Anatole France and Virginia Woolf. Again, the dread phrase, "light touch" is raised with regard to Macaulay's (and, by extension, to Wool~'s) writing (866). Even more egregiously, the entry on Macaulay speaks of her as a "maiden aunt" and "feminine dandy" (865), whose wit is "superficial" and "heartless" (866).
These (mis)judgments about Macaulay's life and work, it is possible to argue, profoundly distort her accomplishments. In short, this readily available reference work exemplifies, as well as perpetuates, to a great degree, patriarchal resistance to women's literary production. A reading of Macaulay's novel reveals modes of thought and expressions about the Spanish Civil War which would have virtually guaranteed its subsequent obscurity in the dismissive critical environment I have just described. In contrast to Hemingway's novel, which has sustained a large part of its readership over the first half century with its insistent endorsement of a rigorous "code of conduct" which has the power to bestow nobility on the rugged male individual in combat, And No Man's Wit expresses deep pessimism about the possibility of heroism in war. Macaulay's rejection of masculinist myths of courage in this novel attests to her lifelong dedication to pacifism and the barbed (and, yes, often witty) articulation of antimilitarism in much of her writing. The title alone of Macaulay's novel signifies a degree of skepticism about "uplifting" messages about human fulfillment in war. Robert Jordan, in Hemingway's novel, attains apotheosis as a "bridge blower," his mission accomplished and his quest for sexual and heroic fulfillment achieved by the text's closure. Dr. Kate Marlowe, the chief protagonist of And No Man's Wit, is a committed and often undiplomatically outspoken socialist, feminist, and anti-imperialist who ultimately fails in her maternal quest, namely, the search for her missing son, Guy, a member of the International Brigades who has been swallowed up in the maw of Franco's torture-and imprisonment machinery. At one point in the novel, Dr. Marlowe ponders the complete futility of the Spanish Civil War for all its participants:
Oh, what was the use? Each day, as Spain's strange, illiberal impenetrability daunted her a little more, she sank into a drearier skepticism, not only as to finding Guy, but as to the very foundations of her faith and his, the roots from which she was and would be lost in a waste of strangeness, of doubt, of disillusion and defeat. Spain was a cenotaph of lost causes and slain hopes .... There was no finality of achievement, no settled success; once established, all regimes rocked and toppled to destruction. Guy and his kind, in fact, had fought to no purpose. (189)
Far from being frivolous entertainment, as the critical consensus suggested, And No Man's Wit goes well beyond Hemingway's work in its sustained and overt critique of Fascism; the systematic destruction of art and literature (it is Macaulay who ponders Lorca's fate, for example); and the Vatican's complicity in the rise of Mussolini, Franco, and Hitler. Furthermore, it is Macaulay in 1940 who shows a greater awareness of the reality of "the new Germany -- Gestapo, gleichgeschallet Press, concentration camps, and all," including the "disposal" of the Jews (71). Determinedly anti-romantic to the last, Macaulay does not entertain the possibility of transcendent love in the midst of war: hence there is no fulfilled "love interest" in her novel, the sort of plot element which pleased and shocked Hemingway's contemporary critics. (Adams in the New York Times wrote, "I know of no love scenes in American fiction and few in any other to compare with those of For Whom the Bell Tolls in depth and sincerity of feeling.") Macaulay, perhaps most subversively of all, problematizes the masculinist emphasis on homosocial relationships in the turbulence of war. Of two of her male characters, friends as Oxford undergraduates in the early 1930's who later find themselves on opposing sides and renew their acquaintance in Spain on more troubled terms, she writes: "The illusion of undergraduate friendship passed; the bitterness and disagreeableness of three years of bloody war surged between them" (247). The friendship between Guy and Ramon is only tenuously restored at the very close of the novel.
For these reasons, I suggest, it is not difficult to see why And No Man's Wit would have been relegated quickly to the mar gins of the literary landscape by the critics, publishers, anthologists, and curriculum committees who could have allowed Macaulay's novel to attain "power in the world," as Jane Tompkins expresses it (qtd. in Kolodny 304). However, it was more in their interests to canonize For Whom the Bell Tolls. Its triumphalism on this score rested securely on certain hallmarks which have been valorized by the patriarchy. It should come as no surprise, therefore, that by May 1949, Hemingway's novel had received affirmation as an "instant classic" by at least one institution of higher learning.
A decade before the U. S. Air Force Academy was actually constructed, the all-male Planning Board's Curriculum Development Committee recommended that the proposed sophomore "World Literature" course begin with a "modern work of proven value and current interest ... consistent with the principle of keeping the course relevant to the lives, interests, and needs of the Air Cadets" (13). The novel chosen to fit these criteria was, of course, For Whom the Bell Tolls, a work which was considered ideal "To introduce the Air Cadets, through the study of an enjoyable modern novel which deals with aspects of the most tragic problems of their own time, to the vitality, significance, and interpretive power of a good novel" (13). At face value, these standards by which we have judged certain works of literature worthy of perpetuation have seemed unproblematic and not open to question. Yet recent feminist and cultural materialist thought has pointed up the gendered and politicized dynamics of canon formation and given us a deeper awareness of the degree to which any literary landscape is violently contested terrain. Influenced by Poststructuralist epistemologies, we are now more willing to admit that the processes by which we universalize and canonize literary production and, conversely, the processes by which we condemn other works to undeserved oblivion must be consciously understood and critiqued.
As Dale Spender has asserted, "If we do not understand the process by which hundreds of women -- often influential in their own time -- have been made to disappear, how can we believe that what has happened" to them will not also happen to creative women artists who are very visibly alive today? (14). In her lifetime, Dame Rose Macaulay was hardly a negligible presence on the Anglo-American literary scene. Indeed, Virginia Woolf's frequent diary comments on her chief rival attest to Macaulay's visibility as a prize-winning novelist, social and literary critic, and columnist in such well-known journals as The Spectator, Horizon, and Time and Tide. Nonetheless, she stands as one of countless object lessons in how literary canonization is a process by which women authors have been subject to misrepresentation, non-recognition, and other disadvantageous forms of cultural control.
D.A. BOXWELL is Assistant Professor of English at the U.S. Air Force Academy and is pursuing doctoral studies at Rutgers University. A previous article about British women's literary responses to the Second World War appeared in War, Literature, and the Arts, Vol. 3, No. 1, Spring 1991.
Copyright 1995, The Women in Literature and Life Assembly (WILLA) of the National Council of Teachers of English (ISSN #1065-9080). Permission is granted to copy any article provided credit is given and the copies are not intended for resale.
Reference Citation: Boxwell, D. A. (1992). Rose Macaulay's And No Man's Wit and Ernest Hemingway's For Whom the Bell Tolls: Two Spanish Civil War novels and questions of canonicity. WILLA, Volume I, 17-19.