As We Approach The 75th Anniversary Of The Barcelona May Days In The Spanish Civil War- Another Look By Ernest Hemingway At The Spanish Civil War.
Click on the headline to link to a Wikipedia entry on the Barcelona May Days of 1937 in the Spanish Civil War (as usual with political events, past and present, be careful using this source).
THE FIFTH COLUMN AND 49 OTHER STORIES, ERNEST HEMNGWAY, P.F. COLLIER&SON, NEW YORK, 1950
I have written reviews of many of Ernest Hemingway’s major novels elsewhere in this space. I have reviewed his major novel on the Spanish Civil War For Whom the Bells Toll, as well. Here I review a short play of his concerning that same event. This play is the main item of interest for me in an anthology that also includes his first 49 short stories. I will make a few minor comments on them at the end. However, here I wish to address the main issue that drives the play, The Fifth Column. I believe that this is fitting in the year of the 75th anniversary of the Barcelona May Days-the last chance to save the Spanish Revolution.
The main action here concerns the actions, manners, and love life of a seemingly irresolute character, Phillip, in reality is a committed communist who has found himself wrapped up intensely in the struggle to fight against Franco’s counter-revolution. His role is to ferret out the fifth columnists that have infiltrated into Madrid for intelligence/sabotage purposes on behalf of the Franco forces in the bloody civil war that was shaking Republican Spain. The term “fifth column” comes from the notion that not only the traditional four columns of the military are at work but a fifth column of sympathizers who are trying to destabilize the Republic. What to do about them is the central question of this, or any, civil war.
At the time there was some controversy that swirled around Hemingway for presenting the solution of summary executions of these agents as the correct way of dealing with this menace. I have questioned some of Hemingway’s political judgments on Spain elsewhere, particularly concerning the role of the International Brigades, but he is right on here. Needless to say, as almost always with Hemingway, a little love interest is thrown into the mix to spice things up. However, in the end, despite the criminal Stalinist takeover of the Spanish security apparatus and its counter-revolutionary role in gutting the revolutionary promise there this play presents a question all militants today need to be aware of.
49 short stories
I recently reviewed this same compilation of short stories in an edition that included the short play The Fifth Column that I was interested in discussing concerning the problem of spies and infiltrators from the Franco-led Nationalist side-and what to do about them- in the Spanish Civil War of 1936-39. This edition does not contain that play and therefore I can discuss the short stories on their own terms. Although Hemingway wrote many novels, most of which I have read at one time or another, I believe that his style and sparseness of language was more suitable to the short story. This compilation of his first forty-nine although somewhat uneven in quality, as is always the case with any writer, I think makes my point. In any case they contain not only some of his most famous short stories but also some of the best.
The range of subjects that interested Hemingway is reflected here, especially those that defined masculinity in his era. Included here are classics such as The Snows of Kilimanjaro about the big game hunt, The Killers- a short and pungent gangster tale that was made into a much longer movie much in the matter of his novel To Have Or Have Not, many of the youthful Nick Adams stories tracing his adventures from puberty to his time of service in World War I, stories on bullfighting- probably more than you will ever want to know about that subject but reflecting an aficionado’s appreciation of the art form, a few on the never-ending problems of love and its heartbreaks including a metaphorical one, reflecting the censorious nature of the times, on the impact of abortion on a couple’s relationship, and some sketches that were included in A Farewell to Arms. Well worth your time. As always Hemingway masterly wields his sparse and functional language to make his points. Again, as always read this man. This work is part of our world literary heritage.