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  • Narrating the Past: Fiction and Historiography in Postwar Spain
  • Patricia Hart
David Herzberger. Narrating the Past: Fiction and Historiography in Postwar Spain. Durham: Duke UP, 1995. 182 pp.

This fascinating study of the post-Spanish Civil War novel, in which David Herzberger expands on his three landmark articles published in 1991, first defines and explains exactly what the Francoist historiography consisted of, and then shows how dissident novelists succeeded in taking that historiography apart in their fictions. The historiographers of the Regime, Herzberger tells us, “seek to squeeze history into a tightly constructed and monologically defined set of narrative strategies.” By contrast, “writers of fictions are able to controvert these strategies and assert dissonance through a normative set of principles of their own.”

In the introduction, “Narrative Intimacies: Fiction and History,” Herzberger lays the theoretical groundwork for his study, drawing especially on Hayden White and Paul Ricoeur, while Hans-Georg Gadamer’s philosophical hermeneutics and Roland Barthes’s writings on myth also inform the monograph to an important degree.

Next Herzberger sets out the main question to be addressed in the book, namely, “what implications arise for meaning and for truth from the juxtaposition of texts from Francoist historiography and postwar Spanish fiction . . . .” This juxtaposition is something that has not been done by anyone else in quite this way. Previous studies tended to focus either on history or on literature, but never on both with such depth and knowledge.

Chapter 1, “Co-opting the Past: Historiography in Francoist Spain,” is a fascinating reconstruction of the myths and narrational strategies of Francoist historians, through the use of citations and examples that would frequently seem laughable, had they not been imposed so cruelly and for so long. Herzberger deftly explains the Regime’s historical fascinations and obsessions: the slavish devotion to [End Page 899] Marcelino Menéndez y Pelayo and his belief in Spain’s “unique and permanent historical personality”; the desire to return to the glory of the Middle Ages when the “full fruition” of the Spanish national character was last achieved; the association of Franco with the Cid or other epic heroes in his adopting the title, “el Reconquistador”; the insistence on one language, one culture, and one religion. “In Spain all men are gentlemen and Christians” said Federico García Sanchiz in 1945, and the monolithic assertion invites the kind of fragmented dissidence that Herzberger chronicles so well in the rest of the book. Dissident historiography written by Américo Castro, Angel del Río, or Madrid’s future socialist mayor, Enrique Tierno Galván “strained against the discourse of the Regime during the 1940s and 1950s, but was unable to gain independent standing.” Thus, the Francoist state was able to construct a “posthistorical” concept of Spain, based on the mythic belief that when the Right won the Civil War, it won the battle for truth, and that the primary role of the state thereafter was as “the consort of stasis,” with the principal task for the future of “the preservation of the actual.” Through his careful buildup of evidence, Herzberger amply demonstrates the way post-Civil War novelists continued to fight these myths when repression and unjust attacks stymied dissident historians.

Herzberger looks initially at novels of social realism by novelists who published their first important works during the early 50s, particularly Juan and Luis Goytisolo, Jesús Fernández Sánchez, Rafael Sánchez Ferlosio, and Carmen Martín Gaite. On the surface, these books would seem to be avoiding the question of “setting history straight,” in that they aspired to improve society by sketching an objective reality placed squarely in the present. But through close readings of several key novels, particularly Cela’s La colmena, José Manuel Caballero Bonald’s Dos días de setiembre, and Jesús Fernández Santos’s Los bravos, Herzberger shows that a denial and deconstruction of myths of a heroic past is always implied in these socially realistic works set in a postwar present. “The characters and events laid out in the present are utterly ordinary, and they embody a sense of historical time as repetition and sameness.” Thus, they speak of collective experience in a language that...

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