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A reader's guide to Pilar's bullfighters: untold histories in 'For Whom the Bell Tolls.'

In For Whom the Bell Tolls, his most extended fictional foray into Spain and Spanish issues, Hemingway set himself the difficult task of refracting the action through the consciousness of a foreigner. To circumvent Robert Jordan's necessary limitations, Hemingway turned to secondary characters: political theory, for example, is presented to us by professionals like Karkov and Golz, and the complexity of Spanish society is suggested by the presence of such varied minor characters as a gypsy, a peasant, a mayor, a priest, and an aspiring bullfighter. By means of their embedded narratives - Karkov's military and political reports, Rafael's dramatic description of the blowing of the train, Joaquin's painful family history, Maria's and Pilar's stories of rape and murder - Hemingway is able to enlarge the novel beyond the tight restrictions he has imposed in terms of time (three days), place (Guadarrama Mountains), action (one military operation, one love affair), and protagonist (romantic outsider). Many of these second-level narratives mention contemporary personalities, including the military and political leaders of the Spanish conflict. Hemingway does not tell us who these people are, but not a few critics and biographers have resurrected them for us.

Just as access to the novel's political background enriches our reading of it, so can knowledge of the cultural figures who dominated pre-Civil War Spain help us understand the characters shaped by those figures. Spanish culture enters the novel through Pilar's stories, in which she mentions famous singers, dancers, musicians and, most importantly, bullfighters - the cultural icons of the peacetime Spain in which she grew up.(1) These figures are not explicated in the text because they would have been familiar to the Spaniards who comprise her intratextual audience. Distanced by place, however, those artists were unfamiliar to most of Hemingway's contemporary readers. And with the passage of more than half a century, during much of which Franco's Spain was inaccessible to Americans, their names have become doubly unfamiliar. The following short biographies should fill that gap, making some of that lost Spanish world accessible to Hemingway's English-speaking audiences.

Two of Pilar's narratives, her definition of the smell of death and her description of the party given in Finito's honor, are particularly rich in cultural references. When Pilar discusses the smell of death (Chapter Nineteen), she mentions not less than seven bullfighters. The most famous of them all is identified only by his first name (Jose, Joselito) and the place of his death (Talavera) - sufficient detail for Pilar's primary narratees to identify Jose Gomez Ortega, who for many years and by many critics was considered the best matador of the twentieth century.


(1895 1920)

Born into a bullfighting family, this virtuoso showed great talent as a boy and had a large following years before his promotion to full matador de toros in 1912, by which time he was already ranked first among the nation's matadors. In 1913, Joselito appeared 80 times; it was an extraordinary season, both because of the number and the quality of his performances. He had to cancel some contracts in 1914, due to illness and some gorings, but even so fought in 75 corridas. In 1915, 1916, and 1917 he continued to dominate the ring, appearing in over 100 corridas each year, many of them mano a mano (the six bulls being fought by two instead of three matadors) with Belmonte and not a few solo fighting all six bulls by himself). Illness and wounds cut the 1918 season to 81 appearances (he had contracted for 105) and the 1919 season to 91 (one serious wound early in the season caused him to miss eighteen fights). His performances in the bullring were almost consistently magnificent; he mastered all aspects of bullfighting and fought with grace, gallantry, and art. Joselito and Juan Belmonte (the aging bullfighter in The Sun Also Rises) dominated the bullring, defining the 1910s as a golden age of bullfighting. Joselito's death at the horns of the bull Bailaor in Talavera de la Reina, on 16 May 1920, shocked the public which had, for years, considered him invincible, able to master any bull.(2)


(1902 1922)

Pilar claims that she witnessed the killing of another famous young bullfighter, Granero. Born in Valencia, Manuel Granero was a talented violin student when, as an adolescent, he became infatuated with bullfighting. As a novillero (the rank or degree preceding the top rank of matador de toros), Granero acquired a large following. He became a full matador de toros in Seville on 28 September 1920, under the auspices of Rafael Gomez Ortega (el Gallo, the older brother of Joselito), this alternativa (investiture, the awarding of the top rank in the profession) being confirmed, as tradition requires, in Madrid (22 April 1921; Granero's promotion was confirmed by Chicuelo, whom Pilar also mentions). In 1921, his first full season as matador, Granero was lightly gored four times. Even so, he managed almost a hundred appearances that season, an extraordinarily large number of contracts to obtain and fulfill, more than twice the number needed to mark a successful season. He shared top billing with other great matadors like Juan Belmonte and Ignacio Sanchez Mejias and was hailed as a fine, elegant fighter, a fit successor to Joselito. His 1922 season began triumphantly but ended after thirteen corridas. Granero was fatally gored by Pocapena, the fifth bull fought in Madrid on the afternoon of 7 May 1922 and the second fought by Granero. Pilar's narrative is accurate: when Pocapena charged, veering to the right, he gored Granero in the thigh, flung him to the ground, pushed him up against the barrera, and crushed his head against the wood. (The fatal goring is recreated with life-size figures in Madrid's Wax Museum, at the Plaza de Colon.) Granero died minutes after reaching the plaza's infirmary.(3)

Pilar also mentions the two bullfighters who shared the bill with Granero that fatal afternoon: Juan Luis de la Rosa and Marcial Lalanda.


(1901 1938)

Born in Cadiz, Juan Luis de la Rosa may have been descended from gypsies. Pilar insists that, like Blanquet and herself, Juan Luis de la Rosa was able to smell death (251-53). This bullfighter was invested as a matador de toros in 1919 by Joselito and his alternativa confirmed in Madrid by Belmonte in 1920. His first full season as a fully-accredited matador (1920) was disappointing, his sword-work being severely criticized, but his next two seasons were impressive. On the day Granero suffered his fatal wounds, de la Rosa had also been gored; he was in the infirmary when Granero was brought in. That year, 1922, was his last good year: he fought 38 corridas. In 1924 he had only seven corridas, and from then on he performed more and more often in Venezuela, not appearing in Spanish bullrings after 1927 except for an embarrassing performance in Barcelona in 1936.(4) Juan Luis de la Rosa was consistently impressive with the cape and often spectacular with the muleta (especially in the pase natural), but his sword work was deficient from the beginning of his career to the end and, like his friend Chicuelo, he lacked the commitment and discipline that bullfighting requires (Cossio III 834-36; Tapia 390-91).


(1903 1990)

Unlike Joselito, Granero, and de la Rosa, Marcial Lalanda lived to an old age. Like many great matadors before him, Lalanda was a child prodigy. He was granted the degree of matador de toros in September 1921, just a few days after his eighteenth birthday; his investiture was confirmed in Madrid on 7 May 1922, on the afternoon when Granero was killed and de la Rosa injured. It was Lalanda who distracted the bull Pocapena from the fatally injured Granero. While Granero was being rushed to the infirmary, Lalanda killed Pocapena - a dramatic beginning to a long, impressive career. This urbane matador improved steadily from season to season. Two serious gorings in 1927 seemed only to increase his courage, and the next few years established him as one of the all-time masters of the art. His 1929 season was brilliant; in 1930 he fought an impressive 87 engagements; in 1931 the taurine critics, never given to understatement, were hard put to describe his performances. Lalanda's success and stature allowed him to charge enormous fees, and he consequently reduced the number of his appearances to 35 in 1933,41 in 1934, and 43 in 1935. He performed in 48 bullfights during the three years of the Civil War, in support of the Nationalist cause. After the war he returned to his more usual schedule of between 40 and 50 fights a year until his retirement in 1942.(5) Unlike Blanquet, de la Rosa, and Pilar, Marcial Lalanda was unable to "smell death" (251-52), perhaps because he was born and lived all his life in Madrid, far from gypsy influence.


(1902 1967)

In spite of his gypsy connections, Manuel Jimenez Moreno, better known as Chicuelo, lacked the olfactory talent Pilar is discussing. The son and nephew of bullfighters, he was born in the Triana section of Seville and was a talented, carefully educated matador who excelled in all aspects of the fight. He had "una gran ticnica, una gran facilidad en todas las suertes, incluso en la de matar" (a great technique, a great facility in all maneuvers, including that of the kill. Cossio III 464). A contemporary of Granero and de la Rosa, he had a much longer career, retiring in 1951. The 1920s were his triumphant decade, even though in 1922 and 1927 he turned down many contracts (as he did throughout the 1930s), mostly due to frequent bouts of illness and a seeming lack of ambition or, some say, of character. Since his appearances were generally praised - in 1928 he went "de triunfo en triunfo" for 81 dazzling corridas in all the great plazas of Spain - he was able to maintain his following in spite of the occasional reduced season. A Nationalist supporter, he continued to perform during and after the Spanish Civil War, though infrequently.(6) Chicuelo may have been in Madrid on the day Granero was gored, but he did not share the bill with him as Pilar claims (251): the three matadors featured that afternoon were Granero, Lalanda, and de la Rosa.


(1881 1926)

Enrique Berenguet Soler, known as Blanquet for all of his long professional life, was also a familiar personality in the bullrings Pilar visited during the 1910S and 1920s. An excellent banderillero and cape handler, he worked with the outstanding matadors of his time. But in spite of his intelligence and skill, he was unable,to rescue the matadors Jose Gomez Ortega (Joselito), Manuel Granero, or Manuel Biez (Litri), all of whom were killed in fights at which Blanquet was serving at banderillero. Pilar claims that although he was not a gypsy, Blanquet had the gypsy's ability to smell death on a person about to die (252-53).


(1891 1934)

Pilar ends her dissertation on the smell of death with a reference to "the last season of Ignacio Sanchez Mejias" (253), who was badly gored on 11 August 1934 and died two days later. Sanchez Mejias, the only bullfighter about whom jordan appears knowledgeable, was an unconventional matador, attracted both by the active and the literary life. Because his well-to-do family opposed his taurine ambitions, he ran away from home at the age of 18, stowing away in a boat and ending up in the home of his older brother in Mexico. His training in the art of bullfighting was deliberately slow: having made a name for himself at the rank of novillero, he chose to work in the cuadrillas (the matador's crew or team) of Juan Belmonte and Rafael Gomez Ortega (el Gallo) instead of moving on quickly to the final rank. His investiture as matador de toros came only at the end of the 1919 season, when he was 28; it was confirmed in Madrid in 1920. In both those years he enjoyed triumphant seasons, giving polished performances in Spain and in Mexico. In 1921 he missed part of the season due to illness, but even so he fought more than forty corridas that year. In 1922, having established his reputation and amassed a fortune, he retired. He returned to the ring late in the 1924 season, immediately resuming his position at the top of the profession. In 1925 he fought 61 corridas.

Ignacio's preoccupation with literature distracted him from the bullring. In 1926 he worked on a novel (which he never finished), wrote for a bullfight magazine, and was active in the theatre. In 1927 he chose to perform in only three corridas, announcing his retirement at the third one. In 1928 his plays Sinrazon and Zayas (a taurine comedy) were successfully produced; other plays were less successful. He befriended and encouraged other writers, and dedicated himself to literary life until 1934, when, at the age of 42, he returned to the ring. His skills, his bravery, and his disregard for danger remained unchanged; he appeared on the same bills with the best fighters of the 1930s and performed with distinction. But, as Jordan points out, he was heavy and his reflexes were slow, and he was fatally wounded in his fifth fight of that season. Federico Garcia Lorca's "Llanto por Ignacio Sanchez Mejias" is only the most famous of several laments for his death.(7)

Pilar's first name-cluster, then, introduces seven very different bullfighters into the novel. They suggest the rich variety of personalities attracted to the bullring: the. temperamental Southern gypsies, the polished urbanite, the sober older craftsman, the dashing young heroes, the writer, the musician, the poor, the middle-class, and the rich. Their careers cover the quarter century of bullfighting preceding the action of For Whom the Bell Tolls, from Joselito's entry into the arena in the early 1910s until the death of Sanchez Mejias in 1934; a few were still performing at the time of the action. Superstars all, they were familiar names to the characters in the novel, part of the shared cultural heritage of the generation of Spaniards who fought in the Civil War.

Hemingway expands this gallery of taurine portraits by having Pilar mention two more names: Rafael el Gallo and Retana. They are two of the five historical personages mentioned at the party celebrating Finito's triumphs in the bullring (186-87). The other three are flamenco musicians and dancers, best known by their professional names: la Nina de los Peines (Pastora Pavon Cruz, 1890-1969), Pastora Imperio (Pastora Rojas Monje, 1889-1979), and el Nino Ricardo (Manuel Serrapi Sanchez, 1905-1972).


(1882 1960)

Rafael Gomez Ortega (el Gallo) was a dramatic personality, remarkable even among bullfighters. The son of the bullfighter Fernando Gomez (also known as el Gallo in his day) and the older brother of Jose Gomez Ortega Joselito, also known as Gallito), he was an exaggeratedly superstitious gypsy, haunted by fears and fantasies. During his best years, 1910-1914, he was a picturesque improviser, capable of graceful artistry but also of embarrassing cowardice. He retired in 1918, possibly under pressure from Joselito, but, true to his erratic nature, came out of retirement the next year. He spent the next several seasons fighting mostly in Latin America, but was still active in the profession in 1935. He is remembered not only for his enormous talent but also for his flamboyance, both in and out of the ring.(8) Pilar's narrative illustrates his eccentric behavior: having decided to abandon his manager, Rafael showers him with praise, kisses, and jewelry. Because he knows his client, the manager is able to interpret Rafael's effusive professions of loyalty correctly: the wily bullfighter intends to defect to another manager (187). In The Sun Also Rises, Rafael el Gallo is described as "crazy" (172).


Rafael's former manager mentions another icon of the Spanish bullring: Retana. Known to Hemingway readers from his appearance as the curt, mean manager in the story "The Undefeated," Retana was an important historical figure, the administrative head of Madrid's bullfighting industry from about 1907 until late 1926. With its long history of tough audiences and influential taurine critics, the Madrid bullring was and is the place where reputations are made. A matador who alienates or disappoints the Madrid audience will have to rebuild his reputation in the provinces before being contracted to reappear in the country's premier bullring. In addition, a matador's seniority is determined by his Madrid alternativa. For nineteen years, Retana controlled the gran plaza of Madrid.

Early in his career, in 1908, Retana and the bullfighting management were challenged by a group of matadors who demanded higher wages and the right-of-refusal for corridas featuring Miura bulls. The bullfighters contended that the fierceness of the Miuras justified their demands. Rafael Gonzalez Madrid (Machaquito, 1880-1955), who had been forced to cancel many performances due to serious gorings from Miuras, was the chief instigator of the movement; he was joined by the eminent Ricardo Torres Reina (Bombita, 1879-1936). The controversy raged in Madrid, where Miuras were often fought, and in other bullrings, as matadors, usually fiercely independent, banded together in this common cause and refused engagements with Miuras. Attacking the protestors as cowardly and money-hungry, Rafael Gomez Ortega (el Gallo) and Vicente Pastor Gomez ostentatiously took on Miura bulls and thus advanced their careers rapidly.(9) Together with other rising young stars, they enabled the Madrid management, led by Indalecio Mosquera and the newly appointed Manuel Retana, to vanquish the anti-Miura faction. Thereafter, Retana maintained strict control of the Madrid ring, making life difficult for those bullfighters who had opposed him. By the 1920s not a few taurine critics complained that he abused his power, willfully excluding fine bullfighters from Madrid and favoring the matador Nicanor Villalta, whose apoderado (agent) was Manuel Retana's own brother Matias. In March 1924, a long, angry editorial against Manuel Retana accused him of favoritism, profiteering, and manipulation of the press-in short, of destroying the art of bullfighting.(10) The Retana who is mentioned in Pilar's story could be this powerful Manuel (nicknamed Manolo) or his brother Matias. It makes no difference: Retana was such a big name that any bullfight agent wishing to impress his auditors could do so by indicating his acquaintance with any member of the Retana family. And of course, Rafael el Gallo was such a riveting personality that his name would naturally crop up wherever aficionados gathered.

Hemingway deliberately draws our attention to Pilar's two bullfighting-related narratives. Not only are the stories themselves carefully introduced, long, and memorably dramatized, but Hemingway has carefully established their teller as an authority on bullfighting (Pilar has lived with several bullfighters, including five years with Finito de Palencia) and in story-telling ("God, how she could tell a story. She's better than Quevedo" [134]). Hemingway enjoins the reader to pay attention to Pilar's narratives because it is mostly through them that he is able to perform the necessary task of introducing the cultural landscape of peacetime Spain into the novel. The bullfighters' names, and the personal histories and cultural contexts they allow us to retrieve, indicate not only Hemingaway's own familiarity with toreo, but his understanding that this shared experience shapes the Spanish cultural scene.(11)

It may be true, as Arturo Barea, Allen Josephs, and other critics have documented, that For Whom the Bell Tolls sometimes falters when its author attempts to render the local idiom into English. But in rendering the local culture Hemingway displayed his skill: he wisely chose to abandon his point-of-view character and turn Pilar into a narrator. The decision has two happy effects: it draws us into the novel by turning us into narratees like Fernando, Jordan, and Maria; and it permits the graceful introduction of historical material for which Jordan would have been an awkward vehicle. When we recontextualize the bullfighters Pilar mentions we can recover some of the Spain described so poetically in Hemingway's other "Spanish" book, his neglected masterpiece Death in the Afternoon (1932).


(1.) In spite of his many objections to Hemingway's novel, Arturo Barea praised Pilar's "admirable descriptions of the people of the bull ring a quarter of a century ago" (200-201). (2.) While researching the bullfighters mentioned by Pilar, I have relied heavily on Cossio's eleven-volume taurine encyclopedia, Los toros-tratado historico.... particularly Vols. III and IV. Tapia's Historia del toreo is less detailed. For Joselito, see also Silva Aramburu 266-70; and Jose Gomez Ortega," Martinez 193-94. Hemingway discusses most of these bullfighters in Death in the Afternoon; many of them appear in other Hemingway works as well. (3.) Hemingway's own account of Granero is accurate (DIA 44-45). Granero's fame has not faded in the 76, years since his death; see, for example, "Manuel Granero, gran figura valenciana," ABC 22 July 1992: 90-91. Juan Belmonte was supposed to officiate at Granero's alternativa, but was unable to attend. (4.) He was killed in that same city in the Civil War. (5.) See "Lalanda del Pino, Marcial," Cossio III 475-80 and IV 523-24; "Marcial Lalanda," Silva Aramburu 277; "Lalanda,Marcial," Rubio Cabeza 456-57; "El matador de toros Marcial Lalanda muere en Madrid a la edad de 87 anos" and "El mas grande," both articles published in the daily newspaper El pais (26 October 1990): 41. Hemingway's assessment of Lalanda is accurate (DIA 215). (6.) His alternativa took place in 1919 and was confirmed in June 1920 by Rafael Gomez Ortega (el Gallo). See Jimenez Moreno (Manuel) Chicuelo," Cossio III 462-65 and IV 515. (7.) "Ignacio Sanchez Mejias," Silva Aramburu 273-74 and Cossio III 875-80. Sanchez Mejias was accorded the honor of being buried in Joselito's crypt; they were brothers-in-law. (8.) "Gomez Ortega, Rafael," Cossio III 384-90; "Rafael Gomez, `el Gallo'," Silva Aramburu 262-63. See also "Gomez Ortega, Jose," Cossio III 364-79; "Joselito," Cossio IV 959-63; Gomez Ortega, Joselito," Silva Aramburu 267-68; "Jose Gomez Ortega," Martinez 193-94. (9.) For the great Miura controversy, see Cossio III 403 and 952-53; and "El pleito de los Miuras," Silva Aramburu 260-62. Silva Aramburu's date, 1808 (top 262) is a typographical error, the correct date being 1908. (10.) See Sol y sombra's double issue, 20 and 27 March 1924, P. 14. Matias Retana represented only one or two other bullfighters in addition to his main client, Nicanor Villalta. A powerful contemporary apoderado was Manuel Rodriguez Vazquez, whose clients in the 1920s included, among others, such famous men as Diego Mazquiaran (Fortuna), Ricardo Anllo (Nacional), Juan Anllo (Nacional II), and Rodolfo Gaona; this apoderado was, according to Toreros y toros, one of several people angling for Manuel Retana's job (issue of 10 June 1923,10:3). Toreros y toros campaigned against Retana all through 1923 and 1924, as evidenced by articles and editorials in the issues Hemingway read and saved (Hemingway Collection, JFK). In "The Undefeated," the waiters discuss Retana's interference in the careers of several matadors. (11.) Several of the novel's characters reveal their interest in the bullfight. Before the Civil War, Pablo had been tangentially involved with the bullring by his profession (menial and much despised in Death in the Afternoon) as assistant horse contractor; Joaquin wanted to be a matador but never made it; and Andres dreaded but participated in his hometown's amateur capeas. Hemingway carefully establishes that several other characters follow the bullfights, among them Primitivo, Andres' brother Eladio Lopez (133-34, 182-85), and Jordan himself. The massacre which Pablo organizes is compared to and organized like a bullfight. And one of the murdered men, don Faustino Rivero, was an amateur bullfighter (not a good one, 112).


ABC. 22 July 1992. Barea, Arturo. "Not Spain But Hemingway." In The Literary Reputation of Hemingway in Europe. Ed. Roger Asselineau. New York: New York UP, 1965-197-210. Cossio y Martinez de Fortun, Jose Marfa de. Los toros: Tratado tecnico e historico. II vols. Madrid: Espasa-Calpe, 1943 -. Hemingway, Ernest. Death in the Afternoon. 1932. New York: Scribner's, 1960. _____. For Whom the Bell Tolls. 1940. New York: Scribner's, 1968. _____. The Sun Also Rises. 1926. New York: Scribner's, 1970. Josephs, F. Allen. "Hemingway's Poor Spanish: Chauvinism and Loss of Credulity in For Whom the Bell Tolls." Hemingway: A Revaluation. Ed. Donald R. Noble. Troy, NY: Whitston, 1983-205-223. Martinez Salvatierra, Jose. Los toros, la fiesta nacional espanola. Barcelona: Ediciones Sayma, 1961. El pais. 26 October 1990. Rubio Cabeza, Manuel. Diccionario de la guerra civil espanola. 2 vols. Barcelona: Plante, 1987. Silva Aramburu, Jose (Pepe Alegrias). Enciclopedia taurina. Barcelona: Editorial de Gasso Hnos., 1961. Sol y sombra. 20 and 27 March 1924 (double issue). Tapia, Daniel. Historia del toreo. Volume I: De Pedro Romero a Manolete. Madrid: Alianza Editorial, 1992. Toreros y toros. 10 June 1923 and 30 March 1924.
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Author:Mandel, Miriam
Publication:The Hemingway Review
Date:Sep 22, 1995
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