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December 28, 2004

Mark A. R. Kleiman Finds His Pro-War Novel

It tolls for thee:

Mark A. R. Kleiman: In search of the pro-war novel:
    We have a winner!
: My reader's innocent question about whether there was a pro-war novel of obviously high literary quality written since 1700 produced lots of interesting (to me, at least) definitional discussion and a wealth of interpretative material, but no unambiguous counterexample (i.e., a well known document that a literature professor wouldn't be ashamed to be seen reading, not fantasy or SF, not "historical" as in the Aubrey/Maturin series, not pure genre fiction of the Tom Clancy variety). Until now, that is. Two readers finally had the blinding flash of the obvious we had all been missing: For Whom the Bell Tolls.

Posted by DeLong at December 28, 2004 07:19 PM

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Quoth the Kleiman: "You don't have to like Hemingway's prose, but it's hard to deny For Whom the Bell Tolls canonical status."

Actually, I like Hemingway's prose pretty well
-- in "A Farewell to Arms," in "The Sun Also Rises," very much in "The Old Man and the Sea" and even in "A Moveable Feast." Bell is stilted to the point of being unreadable. Canonical? Even the English prof. who taught it in the Hemingway and Faulkner class said it wasn't very good (though he still taught it -- the definition of canonical?).

Posted by: trostky at December 28, 2004 10:17 PM

But a damn good movie.

Posted by: eric bloodaxe at December 29, 2004 06:43 AM

Despite its stiff and disjointed prose, "Bell" is still one of my favorite Hemingway works, along with the underrated "To Have and Have Not." But I'm not sure that "Bell" is so unambiguously pro-war as to fill Kleiman's needs. It presents war against the Fascists as necessary, yes, but it's certainly not a celebration of the blood feast. Are our literary beaches so barren of life that an acknowledgment of the necessity of war counts as being *for* war?

Posted by: WatchfulBabbler at December 29, 2004 09:13 AM

I just want to mention that several commenters here (including me) pointed to Bell Tolls as a solution, even while voicing Watchful's caveat. I think it's proof that we are really, really smart.

Posted by: LowLife at December 29, 2004 09:42 AM

Whether for or against war I can not imagine, for how can any sane person be for war? Try Stendahl, The Red and the Black, for a masterpiece. Also, there are several works on war by Balzac and Hardy and Conrad that are conflicted and important.

Posted by: anne at December 29, 2004 10:04 AM

Taras Bulba, by Gogol

Cossack warfare as a glorious thing. To be a man is to fight. Hewing a bloody swath of terror through pope-worshipping Polish villages for the glory and honor of the Holy Mother Church -- and for the raw thrill of it -- is the joyous and righteous act of a free soul. Fighters are pure and strong. Whatever they kill ought to be killed. Only a worthless fool would give a thought to the victims.

Anyone who asks, "how can any sane person be for war?" needs to read this. Also anyone who doesn't understand how a sane person could love Hitler, lynch Matthew Shepard, or listen to Toby Keith.

Posted by: NHDem at December 29, 2004 12:31 PM


Well, if you have classified the Hornblower novels and The Lord of the Rings as Not Literature(tm) then that certainly circumscribes your choices. Professors of High English Literature are amusing foils at parties, but to think that they in any way determine or shape what is Literature is absurd.


Posted by: Cranky Observer at December 29, 2004 01:17 PM

Note that Mark has now updated his post with another candidate that he claims is "literature". From the sample he provides it is again less than clear why C.S. Forester's work is not "literature" and the example is.


Posted by: Cranky Observer at December 30, 2004 06:52 AM

[yet another comment spam...]

Posted by: at December 31, 2004 11:17 PM