Madrid in the old days was always a good place for Ernest Hemingway to work in. He wrote The Killers there, and part of 'The Sun Also Rises,' but in the fall and early winter of 1937 he was writing 'The Fifth Column' in the Hotel Florida, and Madrid was emphatically not a good place to work in. The hotel was some fifteen hundred yards from the front at times, and Francisco Franco's bilingual Castilians shelled it rather often. Witty people will say that the play reads as if it has been written under bombardment, and perhaps it does; but it is important to remember that the moral atmosphere in Madrid these last two years has been a little healthier than that of the sickened English-speaking world. (1)
No, 'The Fifth Column' is hardly a great play; it is an interesting Hemingway period piece - I almost said Hemingway short story, so nimbly do his stage people talk the clipped Hemingway speech - for it tells us more about him than it does about Spain. The heroism and the hunger of Spain flow a little into it, and a little of the treachery and the slow panic of Realpolitik, (2) but above and against the spectacle of martyrdom there is the old Hemingway hero, witty and sick, and the old Hemingway heroine, with her heart behind a Maginot (3) line, though this girl comes from Vassar, and Vassar ought to be mad at Mr. Hemingway for keeps. Ah, you will say, the old Hemingway hero, but surely with a new conscience? Well, yes. Do you remember Jake Barnes of Paris, 1925, and Lieutenant Frederic Henry at Caporetto? There is a
261 Hemingway: The Critical Heritage
difference, a very little one. Philip talking: 'We're in for fifty years of undeclared wars and I've signed up for the duration. I don't exactly remember when it was, but I've signed up all right.'