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MLQ: Modern Language Quarterly 63.2 (2002) 273-275

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Book Review

A New History of Spanish Writing, 1939 to the 1990s

A New History of Spanish Writing, 1939 to the 1990s. By Chris Perriam, Michael Thompson, Susan Frenk, and Vanessa Knights. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000. ix + 240 pp.

This contribution to Spanish cultural studies carefully avoids the words literature and literary analysis in its title and, in addition to sociopolitical history, discusses briefly what it labels the journalistic essay. Yet make no mistake about it: the book's primary focus is fiction, poetry, and drama published from the beginning of the Franco regime to the new millennium.

The initial chapter, a chronological history of the period, is the exception to the predominant emphasis on literature. The summary of political events and legislation is almost monotonously familiar. The next chapter, "Rewriting History," briefly examines some political essays, school textbooks, children's magazines, and comic books to define the regime's official discourse of Spain's glorious past. Then the focus shifts to literary works echoing the Francoist ideology (including some of the prominent poetry magazines). Although Chris Perriam, Michael Thompson, Susan Frenk, and Vanessa Knights note that they will return later to discuss these writings in more detail (the thematic approach leads to repeated discussions of many works), they include in this category Cela's La familia de Pascual Duarte and [End Page 273] La colmena and Laforet's Nada, three highly questionable selections for examples of fascism. The chapter ends with comments on exile and recent works, some in opposition and some in support of the dictatorship.

The third chapter, "Reclaiming History," is, as the title suggests, a discussion of works that project an antifascist ideology. There is an extensive section on drama; in addition to Buero Vallejo's canonical works, Perriam et al. scrutinize several all-but-ignored historical plays from the 1970s and later. In fiction they begin with Sender and Aldecoa and progress to the Goytisolos, Benet, and Martín Gaite, among others.

The family and "power and disempowerment" are the themes of the next two chapters. In chapter 4 Perriam et al. summarize the Francoist "family values" campaign and then discuss how it was undermined by novelists and dramatists such as Alberti, Alonso de Santos, Arrabal, Buero Vallejo, Cela, Laforet, Martín Gaite, Martín-Santos, Matute, Millás, Montero, Olmo, Ragué Arias, Roig, Ruibal, and Tusquets. They coin the word disempowerment in chapter 5 to refer to women's role in society. Prominent among the writers examined here are several women discussed in chapter 4; initial reference is also made to Barceló, Díaz-Mas, Falcón, García Morales, and Gómez Ojea. The second part of chapter 5 deals with power as exercised and defended first by the dictatorship, then by the socialist government.

In the sixth chapter, "Languages of Silence," Perriam et al. examine not only official suppression but the self-censorship that began with the dictatorship and continued through the transition up to and including the 1990s. Foucault's panopticism seems to be the underlying concept here. Perriam et al. draw on drama and poetry to illustrate their thesis. The seventh chapter, "Getting a Sense of Reality," aspires to rewrite Spanish novelistic history from the 1950s to the 1970s. Unfortunately, Perriam et al. engage in oversimplifications about neorealism (they claim that it was "non-political and look[ed] back to Galdós" [136]) and tremendismo ("likened to the nineteenth-century Naturalism of Zola and his imitators" [139]). As David K. Herzberger convincingly argues, neorealism was anything but "nonpolitical," and neither it nor tremendismo conforms to the teleological essence of Galdós's realism or Zola's naturalism. 1 There is a section on experimental fiction labeled antirealism (earlier critics employed the term new novel to refer to the same techniques), whose supposed precursors are Gómez de la Serna and the Spanish American "boom" novelists. Perriam et al. also discuss escapism and realism in the theater and realism in poetry.

The final chapters, "New Writing: New...


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pp. 273-275
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Archived 2004
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