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When Ernest Hemingway’s now-classic novel For Whom the Bell Tolls was released, exactly 75 years ago on Wednesday, the author’s fans had some cause to tamp down their expectations. Hemingway’s stock-in-trade–finely-detailed stories of drinking and sporting in foreign lands–struck some as ill-suited to a period of great suffering.

“There was a feeling abroad that Hemingway was a little too obsessed with sex, a little too obsessed with blood for the sake of blood, killing for the sake of killing. Even his admirers wondered where he was going to find another experience big enough to make him write another A Farewell to Arms,” TIME noted in its review of For Whom the Bell Tolls. “If ever he did, they thought, he would produce another great book. They misunderstood Hemingway’s apparent obsession with killing, forgot that the dominant experience of this age is violent death.”

But, TIME’s critic declared, any doubts about his abilities had been misplaced:

Read the full review, here in the TIME Vault: Death in Spain

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