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“Nothing Can Touch You as Long as You Work”: Love and Work in Ernest Hemingway’s The Garden of Eden and For Whom the Bell Tolls

Lauren Rule Maxwell


Hemingway’s entire oeuvre—and many of the biographical examinations of his life—can be read in terms of the tension between love and work. Although much has been written on sexuality, androgyny, and gender identification in Hemingway’s fiction, the theme of work and the relationship between work and romance have been largely neglected. This essay focuses on two novels that center on their protagonists’ work, For Whom the Bell Tolls and The Garden of Eden, and suggests that the dynamics between male-female relationships and work are essential for understanding Hemingway’s imagination of the male artist. The essay investigates why the protagonists devote themselves to their work and explains how the relationship of the protagonists’ love interests to their work helps define them. The “work” of these novels differs, but in both cases it is an art that substantiates the protagonists’ masculinity in part by forming meaningful, lasting connections with other people; this is true even in the case of Robert Jordan, whose art is destruction by design. Exploring the ironies of work, Hemingway shows that the artist must separate himself from those closest to him in order to execute his work and, through that work, inspire others. The Garden of Eden has received a great deal of critical attention due to its undermining of traditional gender roles, but reading the novel alongside For Whom the Bell Tolls suggests that it further characterizes Hemingway’s depiction of the male artist by showing the importance of his relationships to his humanistic pursuit.

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1Toward the end of Ernest Hemingway’s posthumously published novel The Garden of Eden (1986), Catherine Bourne lashes out at her husband, David, by trying to diminish the thing that is most important to him—his work. Upset that he is no longer writing their honeymoon narrative, Catherine disparages his writings as “dreary dismal little stories about [his] adolescence with [his] bogus father,” calling them “pointless anecdotes” (210). After the heated exchange, David considers Catherine’s words, registering that “she was trying to hurt him” and telling himself that “you must try to grow up again and face what you have to face without being irritable or hurt that someone did not understand and appreciate what you wrote… you’ve worked well and nothing can touch you as long as you work” (211). Although David thinks that nothing can touch him or his work, over the course of the novel we see that David’s relationships with those around him do affect him and his work in powerful ways. Throughout The Garden of Eden, we see that David’s assertion that “nothing can touch you as long as you work” is simply not true; he imagines his writing, his “work,” to be a life’s work that necessarily responds to seeks connection with others.

2Analyzing the depictions of work in The Garden of Eden reveals why writing and the relationships David derives from it matter so much to him; David “cared about many things,” but he “cared about the writing more than anything else” (216). When David is conflicted over his feelings for Catherine and Marita, the woman whom Catherine has introduced into their relationship, he reminds himself to “remember to do the work. The work is what you have left” (127). David insists upon the importance of his writing and calls it “work” throughout the novel because it is a type of vocation for him, a calling to create a shared experience, to draw others into his art. David’s does not engage in the solitary task of writing, as some critics have suggested, merely because by doing so he can remove himself from interpersonal conflicts. Through his writing, he hopes to make sense of the world for himself and for those who read his work, “sharing what… he had believed could not and should not be shared” (203).    

3The coordinated bridge-blowing in For Whom the Bell Tolls (1940) is another shared experience that one might believe “could not and should not be shared,” but this unified act of resistance changes the characters involved and their view of the world, creating an amazing sense of connectedness. Anselmo, one of the members of the Republican resistance, has the following thoughts as he waits for the explosion:

And now, as he crouched behind the marker stone with the looped wire in his hand and another loop of it around his wrist and the gravel beside the road under his knees he was not lonely nor did he feel in any way alone. He was one with the wire in his hand and one with the bridge, and one with the charges the Inglés had placed. He was one with the Inglés still working under the bridge and he was one with all of the battle and with the Republic. (443)

4The Inglés is Robert Jordan, the novel’s protagonist, who designs the plan for the explosion and whose work is the focus of the novel. At the end of For Whom the Bell Tolls, after Jordan is fatally wounded, he reflects on his own connectedness—he is “completely integrated now” (471)—and he thinks, “I hate to leave, is all. I hate to leave it very much and I hope I have done some good in it. I have tried to with what talent I had” (467). Robert Jordan uses his “talent” to plan, draw, and execute the destruction of bridges for the greater “good,” the Republican cause. This is what he refers to throughout the novel as his “work.”

5It is this work that has brought Robert Jordan back to Spain; as he tells Pilar, “I am very preoccupied with my work.” In fact, Jordan insists that he will enjoy “the things of life” only when they do not “interfere with my work” (91). For Whom the Bell Tolls­—in addition to being a love story and a story about the Spanish Civil War, as many critics have claimedi—is also at its heart a story about work. For Whom the Bell Tolls asks the reader to consider what it means to commit oneself to a life’s work, the degree to which one’s work relies on others, and how one’s work makes a meaningful impact on others’ lives. A man true to his word, Jordan allows himself to experience what many readers would describe as the finest thing of his life—his love with Maria—because she takes pains not to “interfere with” his work. On the contrary, Maria supports his work and even enriches its meaning.

6Hemingway’s entire oeuvre—and many of the biographical examinations of his life—can be read in terms of the tension between love and work. Although many critics have focused on sexuality, androgyny, gender identification in Hemingway’s fiction,ii the theme of work and the relationship between work and romance have been largely neglected. This essay focuses on two novels that center on their protagonists’ work, For Whom the Bell Tolls and The Garden of Eden, and suggests that the dynamics between male-female relationships and work are essential for understanding Hemingway’s imagination of the male artist. The essay investigates why the protagonists devote themselves to their work and explains how the relationship of the protagonists’ love interests to their work helps define them. The “work” of these novels differs, but in both cases it is an art that substantiates the protagonists’ masculinity in part by forming meaningful, lasting connections with other people; this is true even in the case of Robert Jordan, whose art is destruction by design.iii In these novels, Hemingway also explores the ironies of work. In addition to the irony of Jordan’s bridge-blowing, another irony of the work seen both novels is that the artist must separate himself from those closest to him in order to execute the work and, through the work, inspire others.

7Although the theme of work dominates these two novels, there is relatively little written about the topic. Scholars have addressed work in other of Hemingway’s writings, but these studies have not focused primarily on the effects of romantic attachments on work.iv In “‘Working on the Farm’: Hemingway’s Work Ethic in The Sun Also Rises,”Judy Hen has focused on the work ethic of Jake Barnes. Highlighting Hemingway’s own commitment to a Protestant work ethic, Hen associates that ethic with Jake, who serves as a counterpoint to the community of American expatriates. Donald Pizer likewise examines Jake’s work ethicin his book American Expatriate Writing and the Paris Moment. Pizer notes that Jake “works hard,” but says that his “circuit of productivity is broken… by his wound in all its symbolic force” (79). Pizer also discusses work as a theme of A Moveable Feast, stating that “the idea of work functions successfully as a literary construct.”

8In this essay, I focus on David Bourne and Robert Jordan, Hemingway’s characters most vocal about doing their work well, because they collectively depict the importance of the male artist’s negotiating relationships. These novels, like other of Hemingway’s writings, depict art as a masculine pursuit. Linda Wagner-Martin is right in noting that women “are never central to any Hemingway work on their own terms,” that even for “all of our interest in Catherine and Marita in The Garden of Eden, David Bourne is the narrative center of that novel, and the women are key only in their relationship to David” (“Romance of Desire” 57). That is true, too, in For Whom the Bell Tolls, where Robert Jordan, not Pilar or Maria, is the central character. But Hemingway’s depiction of work and his treatment of gender dynamics surrounding work are more complicated than they first appear. Even though Hemingway centers these novels on the male characters, he does not align all work with masculinity. In For Whom the Bell Tolls, for example, Hemingway takes great care to show the value of Pilar’s work; without her leadership, Robert Jordan could not complete his mission, and without her nurturing, the band and individuals within it would fall apart. “Without the woman,” Jordan clarifies, “there is no organization nor any discipline here and with the woman it can be very good” (63). What good exists in the novel can emerge because Pilar has worked to bring it about, and this good she fosters despite the efforts of her own partner, Pablo, to undermine her. But ultimately the design of the bridge blowing, the art of destruction, is left to Robert Jordan. Like Pilar must enforce boundaries between herself and Pablo to run the camp, Jordan must separate himself from Maria to execute his design. Focusing on the dynamics of Jordan’s relationship with Maria and how it contributes to his art, this essay suggests that their relationship is crucial for Jordan’s understanding the importance of his work and for our understanding of Hemingway’s conception of the male artist.

9In recent years, most critical discussions of male artistry in Hemingway’s works have centered on The Garden of Eden’s David Bourne. The Garden of Eden has received a great deal of critical attention due to its undermining of traditional gender roles, but reading the novel alongside For Whom the Bell Tolls suggests that it also complicates our reading of masculinity in Hemingway’s works by redefining Hemingway’s portrait of the male artist, showing the importance of his relationships to his humanistic pursuit. In The Garden of Eden, David Bourne’s work—his writing, his art—is alternately hampered by and supported by his relationships with two women, Catherine and Marita. Looking at David’s work/love dynamic with these two women provides a useful starting point for examining Hemingway’s depictions of the relationship between love and work because the effects the women have on David’s ability to work well are so strikingly different: While Catherine tries to redirect David’s writing and ultimately destroys what he considers to be some of his best work, Marita appreciates his work, gives him constructive feedback on it, and leaves him free to do it. Most critics have typified the women as being either good or bad partners, but I would suggest that their contributions to David’s work are more complicated than that. By analyzing how these women respond to David’s writing and what they value as art, we can see how they both influence him as an artist.

10Both women want to be involved with David’s writing to some degree because, ultimately, what he writes defines them, too. While they both admire David’s writing ability, they have very different opinions about the things he chooses to write: Marita is deeply moved by it and appreciates its aesthetic value, whereas Catherine sees it as a distraction from what she thinks David should be writing, the story of their love. Catherine belittles the pieces inspired by David’s past as “dreary dismal little stories,” but Marita “loved” the book David wrote; she says that when she read it, long before meeting David, “It made me cry” (220, 111). Catherine knows that David is a very good writer, but in her eyes the two main problems to his work are its focus and the broad audience it engages. Instead of writing the stories that compel him, Catherine tells David to write a narrative account of their experimentation with sexuality and gender during their honeymoon. She emphasizes her desire for control when she gloats over her plans for his writing: “I’m so proud of it already and we won’t have any copies for sale and none for reviewers and then there’ll never be clippings and you’ll never be self conscious and we’ll always have it just for us” (77-78). She uses terms of “we” and “us” to describe the narrative she wants David to write, but it is not the story he wants to compose. In saying that David will “never be self conscious,” Catherine betrays her fear that David will have an identity and public life apart from her. In part because of this fear, Catherine not only wants to shift the focus of David’s writing to their relationship, but also wants to become his sole and ideal reader.

11But Catherine’s plan for David’s writing is ill-conceived because he is already an established author who finds great satisfaction in connecting with his readers—having an audience is important to him. He was a successful writer before he met her; even people who don’t know him read his books and are moved by them (as Marita was). The clippings suggest that David is a writer like young Hemingway, an up-and-coming author. We know that David takes pride in the good reviews and the “sensational” reception to his work because he saves the clippings (23), and he is a professional writer in the sense that he earns his living from his books. Although we see David calculating his earnings in the second chapter, we get the sense that the money is not of utmost importance to him—the work itself, writing truly, is. David’s assessment of the value of his art derives from the extent to which he can overcome artifice—to make the world of his writing come alive for the reader so that it no longer seems constructed, “to make it so that whoever read it would feel it was truly happening as it was read” (201). As a writer devoted to his craft, David strives to make connections with people through his words, to make a shared experience. By demanding that David write only for her, Catherine puts her desire for a unique intimate experience before that effect of David’s work that most fulfills him: creating connections with others.

12David acknowledges early on Catherine’s jealously of his work and her disdain for his public notoriety. In the beginning of David and Catherine’s marriage, he thinks about his upcoming work and worries about its effect on their marriage: “It would be good to work again but that would come soon enough as he well knew and he must remember to be unselfish about it and make it as clear as he could that the enforced loneliness was regrettable and that he was not proud of it. He was sure she would be fine about it and she had her own resources but he hated to think of it, the work, starting when they were as they were now” (14).

13In this passage we see the demands of time and space—the “enforced loneliness”—required for David’s work. David tries to tell himself that Catherine has “her own resources,” but Catherine makes clear that she does not have the same type of resources as David. She tells him to “write for me too” (77), lamenting that she cannot write the way he can: “I know wonderful things to write and I can’t even write a letter that isn’t stupid. I never wanted to be a painter or writer until I came to this country. Now it’s just like being hungry all the time and there’s nothing you can ever do about it” (53). Although David tells himself that Catherine “would be fine about” his work, he betrays the anxiety that she will resent his isolated work environment and private acts of creation, which she resents even more because she herself is a frustrated artist. When David receives a package of clippings about his book, reminders of his work that threaten Catherine, she says, “I’m frightened by them and all the things they say. How can we be us and have the things we have and do what we do and you be this that’s in the clippings?” (24). Even before David puts pencil to paper and begins his writing at le Grau du Roi, it is clear that his work and his identity as a writer are incompatible with Catherine’s vision for their relationship.

14When David begins to write again, he insists that he needs a space of his own in which to work.v Before they secure another room for David’s workspace, Catherine asks David if he “could work here in the room if [she] were out” until they “found some place” that could be his own (37). Both Catherine and Marita realize the importance of this space for David to find what he repeatedly calls the “clarity,” to attain, in Miller’s words, the “state of poise” required to craft his sentences well (14, 204). “Know how complicated it is,” David tells himself, “then state it simply” (37). Doing the work, presenting the complicated realities of life in simple language, takes discipline, and David is better able to exercise this discipline in a space without the distractions of his lovers, or even food or drink, around him. After he “work[s] for a time,” he carefully puts “his work away” until the next session, locking it in a suitcase (42-43). The door of “his work room” serves as the portal between his inner and outer worlds (138).

15But even before he sits down to write, David starts preparing himself mentally for his work by distancing himself from those around him and the concerns that weigh on him. We are told that David’s “coldness had come back as the time for working moved closer” (a coldness that is also associated with Robert Jordan’s approach to his work). When Marita frets over David’s coldness, he tells her not to worry: “I’m only getting ready to work” (194). While Marita accepts the coldness as necessary for his work, Catherine resents it, saying “[a]ny girl would be discouraged and frankly I’m not going to put up with it” (216). Catherine concedes that Marita is more supportive of what David needs to work, simply stating, “[s]he took care of you [David] today and I didn’t” (210). The distance David creates from his life and loved ones allows him to work, to enter the narrative space of his stories. In this way, he becomes detached from present time and space. But afterwards, and “[a]s soon as he started to think beyond his work, everything that he had locked out by the work came back to him” (108). He mentally locks out and physically blocks out distractions by entering his workspace and then returns to his domestic life. He allows Marita greater access to his work than he does Catherine, letting her read the work because she “really knows” it (204). David relays this access in terms of proximity and entrance when he tells her, “I’m going down to my room where I work…. There’s a door to yours that bolts on each side,” and he “unlock[s] the door of his room and then unbolt[s] the door between the rooms” (126). When he is working, though, he must be alone; he “must go back into his own country, the one that Catherine was jealous of and that Marita loved and respected” (193).

16Catherine is jealous of this narrative space, described here as David’s “country,” because it is associated with the writing he wants to do, the African stories he has to “write now or lose” (93). Catherine, however, wants David to write the story of their lives, the honeymoon narrative that would bear witness to the “dark magic” of the gender transformations she has introduced in their relationship (30). Though he does write several pages of the honeymoon narrative to appease Catherine, it is not the “better” book he has in mind to write (34); it is not his real work, though Catherine would like it to Ultimately, David tells Catherine he “is through with the narrative,” and this is seen as a betrayal by Catherine, who calls his abandoning their project “dirty” (188). Catherine is indignant when David tells her that he “didn’t want to get the work mixed up”; she insists that “the stories are just [his] way of escaping [his] duty” (190). Because Catherine is not a writer, she relies on David to represent her vision by composing the narrative; she tells David that there is “nothing except through yourself” (53).vii

17Although Catherine respects David’s talent and wants to support his writing, she undermines his work by insisting that it be about her.viii She admits more than once that she “was thinking so much about myself that I was getting impossible again” (54, 143). The simile she uses to describe her condition is telling in that it reveals both her frustrations as an artist in her own right and her investment in David’s writing the narrative: “like a painter and I was my own picture” (54). In this view, art does not just depict life; art becomes it. As this performance plays out, Catherine is not sure what she’s created; she worries that as time passed, “the colors started to be false” (162). Catherine has created a new identity for herself, but that identity is false because it is dependent on another. To complete her vision, she must change David, both his private work and his public identity as an author.

18Once David gives up the honeymoon narrative, he is compelled to write the “story that he had always put off writing,” one that offers its own set of challenges, but one that he nonetheless knows and can master. He has moved from unknown territory to his own country—from Catherine’s personal narrative to his true work.ix With this new focus, he is able to work well, working for so long that he missed breakfast (109). After he emerges from this writing session and Catherine and Marita see him for the first time that day, it is Marita who asks, “Did you work well, David?” To this Catherine replies, “That’s being a good wife…I forgot to ask” (109). Marita repeats, “Did you work well, David?” (110). And Catherine answers, “Of course he did…That’s the only way he ever works, stupid” before David can answer, adding, “We didn’t work at all. We just bought things and ordered things and made scandal” (110).

19Perhaps more than any other conversation in the novel among the members of the threesome, this scene reveals the women’s varying attitudes toward David’s work. Marita demonstrates her commitment to supporting David’s writing and to herself being “happy the way [he] said to be” (111). Catherine is more interested in her own performance and diminishes David’s identity as an author; she asserts that she doesn’t “think he’s a writer when I kiss him” and asks Marita if she thought “of him as a writer when [she] kissed him and liked it so much?” (112). Catherine implies that Marita’s loving David because—not in spite of—his being an artist is somehow disingenuous. Marita’s desire to put David’s art first becomes evident at the end of this conversation with Marita’s saying, “Nothing that I do is important.” In Marita’s assessment, David is the one doing the serious work here. Although Catherine soon after tells David, “you’re my true partner,” it is clear that David doesn’t want a “true partner,” but an understanding and supportive lover.

20As the novel goes on, Marita assumes Catherine’s place (115). It is Marita who will ask, after David’s work sessions, “Did you work well?,” and when David confirms he did, she will say, “I’m very happy then” (139). Marita will be the one “deeply moved” by a story both “[b]ecause David wrote it” and “because it is really first rate” (156). And it is Marita about whom he would think, “Christ, it was good to finish today and have her there. Marita there with no damned jealousy of the work and have her know what you were reaching for and how far you went. She really knows and it’s not faked” (204). What David needs is a companion who respects his work and honors his making time and space for it; Marita not only meets this need but also goes beyond that by understanding the importance of his writing as an aesthetic and humanistic undertaking. She is a companion who, instead of hampering his work, actually makes his writing better.

21That Marita both inspires and appreciates David’s work as art becomes evident toward the end of the novel when he finishes the African story. After telling David once again that she loves him, Marita asks, “Can’t I read it so I can feel like you do and not just happy because I was happy like I was your dog?” David gives her the key, something “he had never done…before with anyone and it was against everything he believed about writing” (203). This giving of the key represents a new level of intimacy with David and highlights the new role of a female companion in his artistic life. He now has a compulsion to share the work and a vulnerability in allowing it to be evaluated as art: “He could not help wanting to read it with her and he could not help sharing what he had never shared and what he had believed could not and should not be shared.” The hard-to-write story was also hard-to-share, but he is compelled to do so because of the profound connection with Marita, who tells him she is “so very happy and prouder than you are.” Although David “felt the story was good,” he “felt even better about Marita. Neither had been diminished by the sharpening of perception he had now, and the clarity had come with no sadness” (204). What David experiences with Marita is what Robert Jordan experiences with Maria—a “clarity,” understanding, and “sharpening of perception” about the quality of his art that confirms that the work to produce it matters.

22While David is feeling great about Marita, he muses that “Catherine was doing whatever she was doing and would do whatever she would do” (204). It makes sense that David distances himself from Catherine; she does much to frustrate and undermine his work. She mocks his identity as an author; claims to “never interfere” but then tears the notebook with the Africa story in two; calls him “a monster” and tells him “I hate you” because of what he wrote about his own past before he met her; taunts him with her financial support of his work;x enters his workspace and reads his work without his permission; and ultimately burns the stories he has worked so hard to create along with the clippings about his writing (156, 158). When looking at Catherine on the one hand and Marita on the other, it might seem that one partner is clearly the destroyer of David’s work and that the other is the supporter of it. But the influences of the two women are not that clear-cut. For all that Catherine did to spite David’s work, she did foster his creative energy.xi

23David’s most compelling writing in the novel, the elephant story, can be read as both a reaction against and a depiction of Catherine’s influence on his life and work. Suzanne del Gizzo has argued that the “hunt story… represents the risk and danger associated with the writer’s need to cultivate empathy, since the bull elephant that is the object of that empathy is killed by David’s father and the story so carefully remembered about the elephant is destroyed by Catherine” (193). Catherine is clearly associated with the elephant in the story—as she sympathizes with the elephant’s fate, we sympathize with hers—but the elephant also represents, as del Gizzo asserts, “the challenge, mystery, and danger of authorship” (194). While I agree that the story represents all of these aspects of writing, what I believe is most important to understand about the depiction of authorship in the story is the irony of the emotional impact of David’s (and, by extension, Hemingway’s own) writing: that while the product, the work, causes Catherine to feel empathy and a sense of connection, his very act of composing it, the act of working, is brought about by distance and disconnection from her and her demands upon his writing. This tension is one that causes David’s relationship with Catherine to suffer and ultimately fall apart, but it allows him a deep level of understanding about distance and intimacy that allows him to produce his best work.

24Critics have noted the troubled relationship of David’s writing to his marriage, but they tend to see the work of writing and relationships as oppositional; I argue that they don’t have to be. Robert E. Fleming, for example, writes that Hemingway’s depiction of “the act of creating literature” casts David as a “successful artist but unsuccessful husband” (142-43). “From his depiction of David as a triumphant young writer to a nearly defeated one struggling against writer’s block,” Fleming explains, “Hemingway deals with the working problems of the artist” (145). Although I do not see David’s writing as a “narcotic” or “escape mechanism” as Fleming does (144), I do agree that the struggle to work well while maintaining relationships is the problem to which the novel devotes the most attention.

25According to Rose Marie Burwell, this struggle is also central to the manuscript ending of the novel—the 39 unpublished pages that appear after the point where Tom Jenks, who edited the published version of the book for Scribner’s, chose to close the novel: “those pages consist primarily of statements by Marita about how she will handle David like a trainer handles a big race horse, and of David’s reiteration of how difficult it is for him to get out of the world of his writing and into the world of living human relationships” (105). This unpublished ending, further complicating the dynamic between Marita and David, emphasizes the negotiation of love and work that I see as central to the published novel. If Jenks chose not to omit these indications of Marita’s increasing influence from the posthumously published novel, the importance of negotiating relationships for the male artist would be even more apparent.  

26In deciding to remain with Marita and distancing himself from Catherine, David acknowledges that he and Catherine have different needs. In the manuscript, he concludes, “She needs the sun as I need to work” (qtd. in Burwell 104). But Catherine needs love even more, as Burwell suggests; she wants a connection to give her “wholeness”:

Catherine pursues some wholeness in striving for connection with what the male principle signifies for her… she wants a love relationship with David. For him this pattern is significantly reversed. He wants simply to write; and when he can do that, David needs human companionship only as part of a menu of sensations that restore the writer—eating, drinking, making love, sun tanning, and swimming—all of which were once part of his and Catherine’s transformative endeavors, but are now merely sensations and necessary rest from the writing. (116)

27In this passage Burwell describes Catherine’s needing “connection” and David’s desire to write, implying that David does not need love. I am not convinced of that, and furthermore I would argue that his desire to write is also in fact motivated by connection. The dedication to work, in my mind, does not mean that David doesn’t need to connect with others, that he “needs human companionship only as part of a menu of sensations that restore the writer,” but instead that writing is precisely the way in which he forms the connections that give him the greatest satisfaction. David’s changing relationships with others and his work in the novel challenge critical interpretations that link Hemingway’s depictions of the artist to machismo bravado and attention solely to the objects of art, instead gesturing toward an artistic humanism based on relational ethics.

28In addition to depicting writing as work, The Garden of Eden shows that relationships take work, too—even more work if one partner is dedicated to his or her art. In fact, Catherine demonstrates the work relationships take with her own use of the word “work.” Although David uses “work” almost exclusively to discuss his writing, Catherine uses the word “work” to describe actions she takes to improve her relationships with David and Marita—she tries to work out problems. In one instance, Catherine pushes David to go to Madrid even after he has said that he wants “to finish this story first” and that he “can’t work any harder” on it than he already is. The discussion that follows is full of “work”: Marita argues that David is “working” and cannot go now, and Catherine responds, “He could work in Spain. I bet I could write well in Spain if I was a writer.” After Marita chastises Catherine for her lack of conscience, Catherine asks her “to be polite and not interfere when someone is trying to work out what’s best for everyone” (152).  Earlier in the novel Catherine assures David and Marita that “[w]e’ll work out everything” about the particularities of their relationships, including matters of inheritance should anything happen to her (145). That Catherine uses the word “work” in these instances is important because underlying the necessity to work out problems is David’s commitment to his work; the choice of the phrasal verb “work out” suggests that, in Catherine’s eyes, the problems wouldn’t be so bad if the work were out of the picture, or at least if it were not so central to it. By describing the negotiation of needs and wants in terms of work in this scene, Hemingway demonstrates that relationships themselves take work and draws our attention to the many ways that the work affects relationships.

29“Writing, at its best, is a lonely life,” Hemingway stated in his Nobel Prize acceptance speech.xii The “enforced loneliness” we see from David Bourne is something that Hemingway experienced, too. Many studies have noted similarities between Hemingway’s own life and The Garden of Eden, citing Hemingway’s biography and the events in the novel and manuscript.xiii In the essay “The Garden of Eden Revisited,” Valerie Hemingway, who served as Hemingway’s secretary in 1959 when he was working on the novel, writes, “it became apparent to me over the subsequent months that David Bourne was Ernest Hemingway”:

Like David every morning Ernest got out of bed, sharpened those pencils, took out his copybooks, and wrote and wrote, happy, tired, hungover, ebullient, depressed, whatever his mood it was cast off, discarded, and as the creative juices began to flow, he entered another world and if we were lucky and it was good enough he left it to us to enjoy forever. (108)

30There are, no doubt, meaningful correspondences between Hemingway and his character David Bourne, particularly in their approaches to work and struggles involving writing. Linda Patterson Miller explores the possibilities for tracing these correspondences using Hemingway’s own letters in her essay on teaching The Garden of Eden contextually. Noting the novel’s “theme regarding productive and destructive marital roles,” Miller discusses how the letters can lend “understanding of the precarious alignments between husbands and wives and artists” (111-13). Miller explains that “Garden’s exposé of the Bournes’ marital relationship, …in light of the correspondence of Hemingway and his friends, works to advance the novel’s larger concern with writing and the writer’s dilemma: How to get at and record artistically the heart of truth” (113). Using the letters helps illuminate Hemingway’s commitment to writing truly, which is certainly important to the novel.xiv But perhaps the more consuming writer’s dilemma in The Garden of Eden is negotiating how to work well while maintaining relationships, a dilemma that the letters to and from Gerald Murphy reflect. As Miller observes, “Garden’s narrative structure recreates the dueling forces of the artist’s inner sanctum at odds with an outer world that threatens to intrude and destroy. This conflict comprises the novel’s structural tension and its thematic brilliance” (114).

31This tension between the artist’s inner sanctum, which protects the work, and the outer world, which encroaches on it, is present in For Whom the Bell Tolls, too. In fact, the thematic importance of work in For Whom the Bell Tolls becomes much more evident when viewed in the context of The Garden of Eden and David Bourne’s commitment to his work. These two novels, more than any of Hemingway’s others, focus on characters that are preoccupied by their work and want their work to matter. As Hewson notes the “tone and theme” of For Whom the Bell Tolls mark a departure from Hemingway’s earlier novels (“Matter of Love” 171); a major thematic difference is the focus on work.

32Both David Bourne and Robert Jordan are more concerned with their work and its effect on others than their own well-being. David “had lost the capacity of personal suffering, or he thought he had, and only could be hurt truly by what happened to others” (148), and Robert resolves to risk his safety only in the interests of furthering his work: “my obligation is the bridge and to fulfill that, I must take no useless risk of myself until I complete that duty” (63). Both Bourne and Jordan are craftsmen whose work is inspired by and based on past experience. David’s present work revisits his childhood in Africa, and Robert, a Spanish instructor from the States, returns to Spain to aid the Republican cause in the Spanish Civil War: “He fought now in this war because it had started in a country that he loved and he believed in the Republic and that if it were destroyed life would be unbearable for all those people who believed in it” (163). “Spain,” Jordan thinks to himself, “was your work and your job was natural and sound. You had worked summers on engineering projects and in the forest service building roads and in the park and learned to handle powder, so the demolition was a sound and normal job too. Always a little hasty, but sound” (165). In these passages, Jordan distinguishes between different levels of destruction, between the demolition of bridges—and the killing and destruction that results from it—and the larger and more ominous destruction of the Spanish Republic, the way of life of the people he has adopted as his own. Jordan, like Bourne, demonstrates a type of relational ethics that applies to his art. The irony is that he designs and carries out the blowing of bridges “for all of those people who believed” in the Republican cause: He destroys physical bridges to preserve others, the social, cultural, and political ties that he deems good and just.

33Because Robert Jordan is so committed to these people, he leaves his university position in Montana and risks everything in his demolition role. He has no fear of dying and subsumes himself and those around him to the larger good he associates with the Republic: “You are instruments to do your duty. There are necessary orders that are no fault of yours and there is a bridge and that bridge can be the point on which the future of the human race can turn. As it can turn on everything that happens in this war. You have only one thing to do and you must do it” (43). Like David is compelled to write, Jordan is compelled to serve by orchestrating the destruction of bridges, but he does so aware that he is sacrificing a great deal. He tells Pilar that he is not “a very cold boy”—he is just “very preoccupied with [his] work” (91). So although he “[v]ery much” enjoys “the things of life,” he will not allow them “to interfere with [his] work.” He applies this discipline to the realm of romance, too, telling Golz at the beginning of the novel that “there is no time for girls” and explaining to Pilar later that “I like them very much, but I have not given them much importance” (7, 91). Pilar pushes him on this subject and says, “I think you lie,” when he states, “I have not found one that moved me as they say should move you” (91). Pilar knows, she has read it in his hand, that Maria does and will move him, and this prediction plays out when the earth moves when they make love.

34Although Maria and Robert Jordan have only a short time together, she transforms his life, changing the way he views everything, and causes him to reconsider his work: “Two days ago I never knew that Pilar, Pablo, nor the rest existed, he thought. There was no such thing as Maria in the world. It was certainly a much simpler world. I had instructions from Golz that were perfectly clear and seemed perfectly possible to carry out although they presented certain difficulties and involved certain consequences” (228). The difficulties and consequences are compounded after he becomes attached to these people, particularly Maria, whom he loves as he has loved nothing before: “I did not know that I could ever feel what I felt, he thought. Nor that this could happen to me. I would like to have it for my whole life. You will. You have it now and that is all your whole life is; now. There is nothing else than now…So now do not worry, take what you have, and do your work and you will have a long life and a merry one” (169). He tells Maria that “[n]o other thing [than their being together] has importance,” and in the wake of their lovemaking, their “alliance against death,” he “held her tight as though she were all of life… and it was true” (262).xv But when daylight comes, so does the cavalryman he has to kill, and Maria “had no place in his life now” (267). This does not mean that Jordan does not love Maria or that the truth from the night before ceased to be true. Instead, we see that at that moment Robert has to work alone, and Maria, like similarly named Marita in The Garden of Eden, respects the need for space and knows it must be so. He tells Maria, “One does not do that [work] and love all at the same moment” (270).

35Invested in the same cause and committed to the same degree as Jordan, Maria wants to help him do his work, and ultimately she realizes that helping him means leaving him alone when he is working and helping him detach from the work when he’s done. After the encounter with the cavalryman, she asks, “Can I go with thee?,” and then insists, “I’m coming,” saying, “I could hold the legs of the gun in the way thou told Anselmo” (267). “Get thee back now,” Jordan tells her, “There is much work to do” (267). Maria would like to learn more about his work, which he has explained to and diagramed for her before; the night before the bridge blowing, she asks: “Should we speak of tomorrow and of thy work? I would like to be intelligent about thy work” (342). But Robert needs to escape from the pressures of what he knows will be a doomed mission and instead wants to fantasize about the future. In this scene and many others, Maria keeps Jordan from worrying about his work. At the beginning of the novel, he tells himself not to worry, that “[t]o worry was as bad as to be afraid. It simply made things more difficult,” reminding himself that he “had only one thing to do and that was what we should think about and must think it out clearly” (8-9). But as it becomes clearer and clearer to Jordan that these are “bad orders” and that there will be great casualties from his mission, he tells himself to “[t]hink about something else” (43). He thinks about “the girl Maria” then and on many occasions like this one when he tells himself, “you keep your mind too much on your work” (43, 171). Maria both gives him space when he needs to do his work and provides a haven for him when he worries about the work.

36Maria tells Robert, “you must not worry about your work because I will not bother you nor interfere. If there is anything I can do you will tell me” (170). This distance—Maria’s “not bother[ing]” Robert’s work—allows him the clarity that is necessary also for the work of David Bourne. Jordan approaches his work with a detached precision—Pilar draws attention to his being “very cold” in the head, and he registers this coldness himself (91). In a scene that parallels one in The Garden of Eden between Marita and David, Maria asks Robert, “can I help thee with thy work?” (172). “No,” Robert replies, “What I do now I do alone and very coldly in my head.” Although his work is solitary, he does not hide it from Maria, and, when it does not endanger her or the operation, he enjoys her company as he works. While he sits “figuring all the technical part of the bridge-blowing,” Maria sits “beside him and look[s] over his shoulder” (225). In this way, Maria, like Marita in The Garden of Eden, can understand and appreciate what he does.

37Although when he first meets Maria he says, “I have no time for any woman,” we see that her presence in his life makes everything, especially his work, more meaningful (24). But the contrary is also true, that the work makes him better equipped for love, better able to see the connection to the individual person and well as the collective people:

‘Do you know that until I met thee I have never asked for anything? Nor wanted anything? Nor thought of anything except the movement and the winning of this war? Truly I have been very pure in my ambitions. I have worked much and now I love thee and,’ he said it now in a complete embracing of all that would not be, ‘I love thee as I love all that I have fought for. I love thee as liberty and dignity and the rights of men to work and not be hungry. I love thee as I love Madrid that we have defended and as I love all my comrades that have died. And many have died. Many. Many. Thou canst not think how many. But I love thee as I love what I love most in the world and I love thee more. I love thee very much, rabbit. More than I can tell thee.’ (348)

38This passage echoes the importance of connectedness seen in the epigraph of For Whom the Bell Tolls­, lines from John Donne that begin “No man is an Iland, intire of it selfe; every man is a part of the maine” and end “any mans death diminishes me, because I am involved in Mankinde; And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; It tolls for thee.” Robert Jordan’s work, his serving the Republican cause, involves his seeing himself as part of a larger whole. But experiences in the war, both in killing and in loving, show him that everything is much more connected than he first believed. As he lays wounded at the novel’s end, he “was completely integrated now and he took a good long look at everything,” realizing the bigger picture (471): “He knew he himself was nothing, and he knew death was nothing. He knew that truly, as truly as he knew anything. In the last few days he had learned that he himself, with another person, could be everything” (393). His love with Maria made clear to him just how much he was sacrificing for his work. But in loving Maria he also realized just how important his work was, how much Maria and countless others were suffering, how meaningful was his working for the greater good.

39Although he ultimately wants what is best for the Spanish people, Robert Jordan realizes that his work causes suffering too. At first he had “accept[ed] the idea of demolition as a problem,” so “it [was] only a problem,” but after he realized the human costs he knew “there was plenty that was not so good that went with it,” and he laments that he “took it easily enough” (165). He muses that he “will get rid of all that by writing about it,” telling himself, “Once you write it down it is all gone. It will be a good book if you can write it” (165). Here we see a metafictional aspect of For Whom the Bell Tolls that becomes magnified when compared to The Garden of Eden. Hemingway has written the “good book” that has shown the complexities of this war, including the sacrifices of those who made their life’s work fighting in it, while revealing the connections that bind us all, all of us trying to make meaning of our lives, all of us making a mark of some sort. David Bourne tries to make sense of his own life and the world around him in his writing, and Robert Jordan daydreams that he could do the same if and when he returns to the States: “I am going back and earn my living teaching Spanish as before, and I am going to write a true book. I’ll bet, he said. I’ll bet that will be easy” (163).

40Because Robert has written a book before, an unsuccessful book on Spain, he knows how hard writing is. He wishes he could tell stories like Pilar: “He would try to write it and if he had luck and could remember it perhaps he could get it down as she told it… I wish I could write well enough to tell that story, he thought” (134). But Karkov, “the most intelligent man he ever met,” tells him, “I think you write absolutely truly and that is very rare” (231, 248). With this talent, Robert Jordan resembles a young David Bourne or a young Hemingway. He tells himself that he “would write a book when he got through with this. But only about the things he knew, truly, and about what he knew” (248). “I will have to be a much better writer than I am now to handle them,” he thinks, since the “things he had come to know in this war were not so simple” (248). He notes earlier in the novel that “there would be plenty of material to draw them from. There was plenty already. There was too much sometimes” (136).

41 Claiming that the “blowing of a bridge is the supremely apt metaphor for the meaning and cost of the creative process, which makes connections only at the cost of a disengaged breaking of connections,” Robert E. Gajdusek has explored how the blowing of the bridge can be read as metafiction in For Whom the Bell Tolls (50). Seen this way, the blowing of the bridge functions like the shooting of the elephant in The Garden of Eden—both serve as figurative representations of the work of writing. “What is fascinating to observe,” Gajdusek explains, “is that the preparations for his destruction of the bridge are the very strategies and devices that Hemingway the writer must forge…to write the book that can only be completed as he brings his protagonist and cast of characters to the successful completion of their task” (45). Referencing Jordan’s lament “I wish there was some way to pass on what I’ve learned… I was learning fast there at the end” (467), Gajdusek notes that Hemingway was learning, too, learning about how to write on the creation of art (51). I would argue that he was also learning about how to write about the ways love affects that creation. In For Whom the Bell Tolls, Hemingway provides a screened depiction of the work of writing; he does not tackle writing a novel that presents that work unvarnished until The Garden of Eden, which he never finished. Representing how the work connects with everything was a project that frustrated Hemingway until his death. Like his character Robert Jordan, who acknowledges that “things he had come to know in the war were not so simple,” the manuscript of The Garden of Eden reveals that what Hemingway had come to know about art and working and loving was not so simple, either.

42In a March 1939 letter to Ivan Kashkin, Hemingway explains that, though he would like to go see him, “what I have to do is write” (Selected Letters 481). He at the time is 15,000 words into For Whom the Bell Tolls and insists, “I have to work.” Instead of selling out and writing “shit” for Hollywood, he wants to do meaningful work: “I am going to keep on writing as well as I can and as truly as I can until I die.” After thanking Kashkin for help with translations, he discusses the solitary work of writing: “But you know something funny? The only thing you have to do entirely by yourself and that no one alive can help you with no matter how much they want to (except by leaving you alone) is to write.” Hemingway felt the tension between his creative needs and personal relationships his entire life. In an ironic inversion of the Donne epigraph to For Whom the Bell Tolls, Hemingway felt the need to isolate himself in order to create the work that connected him so powerfully to his readers.When things were “foul,” he just kept writing (Selected Letters 473). “You have to climb up in that old tower to do your work every so often,” he tells Arnold Gingrich, “even if the flood keeps rising until the seat of your pants is wet. A writer has to write and beyond all other things it can make you feel good when it comes out right” (Selected Letters 473). As Hemingway’s fiction and letters show, he was a writer truly devoted to his work, a writer who struggled to find a mate who inspired and did not detract from his writing. With Marita and Maria, Hemingway depicts partners who allow the artist to work, support his art, and make the work of art more meaningful. These novels are not merely love stories, but more complicated depictions of how love affects work. And as is true of Hemingway himself, it is the work at the heart of For Whom the Bell Tolls and The Garden of Eden that makes their characters, their loves, and the novels themselves so compelling.

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Burwell, Rose Marie. Hemingway: The Postwar Years and the Posthumous Novels. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1996. Print.

Churchwell, Sarah. “ ‘$4000 a screw’: The Prostituted Art of F. Scott Fitzgerald and Ernest Hemingway. European Journal of American Culture 24.2 (2005): 105-129. Print.

del Gizzo, Suzanne. “Tracking the Elephant: David’s African Childhood in Hemingway’s The Garden of Eden.” Hemingway and Africa. Ed. Miriam B. Mandel. Rochester: Camden House, 2011. 176-198. Print.

Eby, Carl. Hemingway's Fetishism: Psychoanalysis and the Mirror of Manhood. Albany: SUNY Press, 1999. Print.

Gajdusek, Robert E. “Is He Building a Bridge or Blowing One?: The Repossession of Text by the Author in For Whom the Bell Tolls.” The Hemingway Review 11.2 (Spring 1992): 45-51. Print.

Fleming, Robert E. “Hemingway’s Later Fiction: Breaking New Ground.” The Cambridge Companion to Hemingway. Ed. Scott Donaldson, 128-148. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996. Print.

Hemingway, Ernest. “Banquet Speech.” 1954. Web.

---. Death in the Afternoon. 1932. New York: Scribner, 1996. Print.

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---. The Sun Also Rises. 1926. New York: Scribner, 1986. Print.

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Hewson, Marc. “A Matter of Love or Death: Hemingway’s Developing Psychosexuality in For Whom the Bell Tolls.” Studies in the Novel 36.2 (Summer 2004): 170-184. Print.

---. “Memory and Manhood: Troublesome Recollections in The Garden of Eden.” Ernest Hemingway and the Geography of Memory. Ed. Mark Cirino and Mark P. Ott. Kent: Kent State University Press, 2010. 3-17. Print.

Jones, Robert B. “Mimesis and Metafiction in Hemingway’s The Garden of Eden.” The Hemingway Review 7.1 (Fall 1987): 2-13. Print.

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i  Linda Wagner-Martin argues in “The Romance of Desire in Hemingway’s Fiction” that “the general reader wanted…a good love story, and Hemingway learned increasingly to write that. Whether in the guise of a war novel or bullfight adventure, Hemingway’s real subject was eroticism. And the form he needed to tell that story, to entice the general reader, was the romance” (55). She asserts that For Whom the Bell Tolls “concentrates on that narrative line,” that “narrative attention focuses almost entirely on the Maria-Jordan relationship” (66). In “Hemingway’s Spanish Sensibility,” Allen Josephs views For Whom the Bell Tolls as both a war story and a love story: “Hemingway seems to have had two goals in mind as he sat down to write For Whom the Bell Tolls. On one hand he wanted to write about the specifics of the war” and on the other he wanted “to write a great romantic war novel…a love story between the American volunteer Robert Jordan and the Spanish girl Maria with the real war as background” (236-37).

ii  See, for example, Carl Eby’s Hemingway's Fetishism: Psychoanalysis and the Mirror of Manhood.

iii  The OED has many definitions of art, beginning with “Skill; its display, application, or expression,” and including “Skill in the practical application of the principles of a particular field of knowledge or learning; technical skill,” “A practical pursuit or trade of a skilled nature, a craft; an activity that can be achieved or mastered by the application of specialist skills,” “Skill in an activity regarded as governed by aesthetic as well as organizational principles,” and “The expression or application of creative skill and imagination, typically in a visual form such as painting, drawing, or sculpture, producing works to be appreciated primarily for their beauty or emotional power.” All of these definitions fit the work of both David Bourne and Robert Jordan.

iv  In “‘Working on the Farm’: Hemingway’s Work Ethic in The Sun Also Rises,”Judy Hen has focused on the work ethic of Jake Barnes. Highlighting Hemingway’s own commitment to a Protestant work ethic, Hen associates that ethic with Jake, whom, she argues, serves as a counterpoint to the community of American expatriates. Donald Pizer likewise examines Jake’s work ethicin his book American Expatriate Writing and the Paris Moment. Pizer notes that Jake “works hard,” but says that his “circuit of productivity is broken…by his wound in all its symbolic force” (79). Pizer also discusses work as a theme of A Moveable Feast, stating that “the idea of work functions successfully as a literary construct.”

v  Cf. Virginia Woolf’s A Room of One’s Own.

vi  Amy Lovell Strong proposes that the “narrative” is, in fact, a more important text than the stories are; characterizing Catherine’s “deconstructive” behavior, she calls Catherine’s burning of the stories “acts of self-preservation” (192).

vii  In “Hemingway’s The Garden of Eden: Writing with the Body,” Kathy Willingham argues that Catherine is an artist whose art is in fact frustrated by her reliance on David as a scribe.

viii  As many critics have noted, Hemingway associated this behavior with Zelda, whom he claimed hampered F. Scott Fitzgerald’s writing. In a September 1929 letter to Fitzgerald, Hemingway tells him “how glad I am you are getting the book done,” warning him of “giving up [the] writing” for those who “depreciate all work and think the only thing is to go to pot gracefully and expensively” (Selected Letters 304-05).

ix  Many scholars have argued that David’s beginning the African stories marks a commitment to his writing; Robert Jones is typical: “David Bourne’s resolve to put aside the honeymoon narrative and write the elephant story symbolizes the reclamation of his identity as a man and as a writer” (6).

x  Finances were on the mind of Hemingway, too. As Robert W. Trogdon demonstrates in “Money and Marriage: Hemingway’s Self-Censorship in For Whom the Bell Tolls,” Hemingway wrote For Whom the Bell Tolls without expletives with the hope of Book-of-the-Month Club publication, which would give him financial independence from his second wife, Pauline Pfeiffer, and the ability to marry the woman who would become his third wife, Martha Gellhorn.

xi  Marc Hewson argues that Catherine does “reenergize[] him creatively” through her “inversions” (“Memory” 10). Robin Silbergleid points out that the “timing of David’s return to the African stories” begins “as Catherine’s experimentation the gender peaks and she invites Marita into their marriage,” spurring “David’s psychological need to write the stories” (104).

Kathy Willingham might overstate Catherine’s contributions when she claims that “contrary to critical assumptions,” Catherine “does not victimize the male protagonist,” that “Catherine enriches David’s life; she does not destroy it” (60). But Willingham rightly points out that David gains something valuable from Catherine’s enabling him “to see beyond restrictive binaries” (60).

xii  “Ernest Hemingway’s Banquet Speech,”

xiii  For a biographical account of “the fluidity of the author’s self as it developed through his relationships with the women he married,” see Linda Wagner-Martin’s Ernest Hemingway: A Literary Life (ix).

xiv  In Death in the Afternoon, Hemingway explains, “If a writer of prose knows enough about what he is writing about he may omit things that he knows and the reader, if the writer is writing truly enough, will have a feeling of those things” (153-54).

xv  See page 103 of Sinclair’s essay for a discussion of the importance of this “alliance.”

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Electronic reference

Lauren Rule Maxwell, ““Nothing Can Touch You as Long as You Work”: Love and Work in Ernest Hemingway’s The Garden of Eden and For Whom the Bell TollsEuropean journal of American studies [Online], 11-2 | 2016, document 4, Online since 11 August 2016, connection on 22 March 2023. URL:; DOI:

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About the author

Lauren Rule Maxwell

The Citadel, The Military College of South Carolina

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