When For Whom the Bell Tolls was published in 1940, Hemingway’s reputation as one of America’s most important writers was already well established. The new novel received overwhelmingly positive reviews from critics and the public alike, with many insisting that it was Hemingway’s best novel to date. It quickly became a bestseller, as the first printing’s 210,000 copies immediately sold out. In less than six months, that figure jumped to over 491,000. Michael Reynolds, in his assessment of the novel for the Virginia Quarterly Review, notes that a reviewer in the New York Times insisted that it was “the best book Ernest Hemingway has written, the fullest, the deepest, the truest. It will be one of the major novels in American literature.” Reynolds adds that Dorothy Parker claimed that it was “beyond all comparison, Ernest Hemingway’s finest book,” and an article in the Nation proclaimed that it set “a new standard for Hemingway in characterization, dialogue, suspense and compassion.”
These and other critics praised Hemingway’s thematic focus on idealism and responsibility, especially as a reflection of the mood of the times, as the world braced for the devastation of the impending world war. Reynolds writes, though, that the novel “transcends the historical context that bore it, becoming a parable rather than a...
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