Ernest Hemingway's 1940 novel, For Whom the Bell Tolls, is a classic war romance (that's a war drama and a romance, in one). Set in the mountains of Spain in 1937, it tells the story of Robert Jordan, an American fighting for the Republicans (that's one side of the Spanish Civil War, not the American political party) who is ordered to blow up a bridge as part of a larger offensive. To help him with his mission, he has to work with a colorful group of local guerillas, one of whom he falls in love with.
A lot of blood, sweat, and tears went into this book, and we mean literally. It's actually grounded in, and informed by, Hemingway's own visits to war-torn Spain as a journalist and film production assistant in 1937 and 1938. He himself called the book "the most important thing I've ever done," though, admittedly, that was in 1939, before he won the Nobel Prize for Literature and the Pulitzer Prize for Old Man and the Sea.
Charles Dickens was born on February 7, 1812, in Portsea, England. His parents were middle-class, but they suffered financially as a result of living beyond their means. When Dickens was twelve years old, his family’s dire straits forced him to quit school and work in a blacking factory, a place where shoe polish is made. Within weeks, his father was put in debtor’s prison, where Dickens’s mother and siblings eventually joined him. At this point, Dickens lived on his own and continued to work at the factory for several months. The horrific conditions in the factory haunted him for the rest of his life, as did the experience of temporary orphanhood. Apparently, Dickens never forgot the day when a more senior boy in the warehouse took it upon himself to instruct Dickens in how to do his work more efficiently. For Dickens, that instruction may have represented the first step toward his full integration into the misery and tedium of working-class life. The more senior boy’s name was Bob Fagin. Dickens’s residual resentment of him reached a fevered pitch in the characterization of the villain Fagin in Oliver Twist.