- The Spanish Civil War in Literature
According to Miami humorist Dave Barry in his pseudo-historical essay, "The Civil War: The Nation Pokes itself in the Eyeball," one hundred and twenty years after that fratricidal American conflict, "most of [the] bitterness gradually gave way to subdued loathing, which is where we stand today." The boutade is even more apt when applied to Spain a scant half century following the bloody clash that ended with four decades of military dictatorship and isolationism. Today it is still common to speak of "The Two Spains," each hostile to and suspicious of the other, each claiming absolute right to the moral high ground. In 1991 the polarities between liberal and conservative are sharp, and the divisive rhetoric is shrill. When you add to this the fragmentation within the left after ten years of the PSOE's "socialist" government, you have a climate that has traditionally pushed artists and critics into extreme stances, especially when the Civil War was treated. Virtually all of the significant Civil War novels have a political agenda that is vehemently pro- or anti-Franco. Criticism under the dictatorship exalted mediocrities like José María Gironella inside Spain, while outside the pro-Republican writers were aoptheosized as much for their political correctness as their art. Well, let's face it, it was easier to get excited about André Malraux, Ernest Hemingway, Max Aub, and Ramón Sender than Gironella. But the result has often been that precisely that exasperating, exhilarating, essential duality inherent to Spain has been missing from historical and literary studies of the Spanish Civil War. That is why it is so exciting to see Janet Pérez and Wendell Aycock's thoughtful volume of essays, The Spanish Civil War in Literature, a work that examines dualities and paradoxes head-on. In her introduction, Pérez speaks of "binary principles" that governed the selection and grouping of the chapters—works by combatants and noncombatants, by Loyalists and pro-Franco writers, by Spaniards and non-Spaniards. The results of this judicious juxtaposition is a tome that is at once balanced and provocative.
Abe Osherhoff, veteran of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade, authors the first essay in the book, "Reflections of a Civil War Veteran," a highly moving synthesis of history, literature, and personal memories. Two essays look at Malraux, first an examination of Goya's presence in L'espoir, by Edouard Morot-Sir, and next a study of his effect on lesser writers, particularly two fascist novelists, Robert Brasillach and Pierre Drieu La Rochelle, authored by Richard J. Golsan. The French intellectual role continues to be scrutinized in Christopher G. Flood's, "Crusade or Genocide? French Catholic Discourse on the Spanish Civil War" and Alfred Cismaru's "Simone de Beauvoir and the Spanish Civil War." Peter I. Barta and Jeffrey Meyers treat Soviet writers and Hemingway, respectively, and Charles L. King serves up a thorough study of Sender's Civil War novels. Luis Costa and Salvador J. Fajardo turn their analytical skills to poetry, Fajardo with a brilliant essay on icons of war in Rafael Alberti, and Rafael Costa with, "The Failed Ideal in León Felipe's Poetry." In a welcome addition to more traditional material, Thomas Deveny looks critically at several civil war novels brought to the screen, and both Joseph Schraibman and Janet Pérez look at women writers who have treated the Civil War in their literature. [End Page 800]
Like the subject examined, these essays are complex, diverse, and even contradictory at times. The book is, therefore, a fine addition to the burgeoning canon that strives to make sense from an absurd tragedy of history.