Coming of Age in Franco’s Spain

Anti-Fascist Rites of Passage in Sender, Delibes, Laforet, Matute, and Martín Gaite

by Michael D. Thomas (Author)
©2014 Monographs X, 133 Pages


How could authors not write about the effects of a civil war that tore their nation in two, that divided and destroyed families and friends? They had to tell the story, though they were carefully scrutinized and censored. How could they resist artistically and present alternate voices and visions for the future? Writing is resistance, remembering is resistance. Writing is remembering and selecting those memories that, in these authors’ view, have intense significance in the formation of the self. Sender, Delibes, Laforet, Matute, and Martín Gaite have left a legacy of confrontation and hope. Coming of Age in Franco’s Spain studies the social and psychological damage of the aftermath of the Spanish Civil War and identifies an aesthetic of resistance, a portrayal of emerging adults who rebel with courage and caring that even more mature adults do not show. Whereas the Fascists engaged in the process of «othering», considering certain groups to be enemies, sub-human, deserving death, meriting bondage in slavery, these novels describe protagonists who learn to reach out to «the other». They advocate treatment of the marginalized and persecuted in a manner diametrically opposed to the policies and practices of the Franco Regime. The positive message conveyed is that the human spirit was not completely crushed by the Fascists’ mandate to make all Spanish citizens conform to the Regime’s own «values», but these authors advocate authenticity, creative freedom, universal values, all alive and well, even in the darkest of times; they crafted a blueprint for hope through complexities of the narrative art.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author(s)/editor(s)
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Table of Contents
  • Preface
  • Chapter One: Overview
  • When worldviews clash
  • Writing as resistance
  • An undervalued narrative current
  • A contrary ethos, telos
  • Notes
  • Chapter Two: “¿Qué eres?” Self-Identity vs. State-Identity: Sender’s Crónica del alba as Anti-Fascist Bildungsroman
  • Notes
  • Chapter Three: Scars, Freckles, and Tears: Dysfunctional Community at War with Authentic Identity in Delibes’s El camino
  • Notes
  • Chapter Four: From “Nothing” to Hope: Emerging Adulthood in Laforet’s Nada
  • Notes
  • Chapter Five: Selfhood Subsumed: Perverted Passage in Matute’s Primera memoria
  • Notes
  • Chapter Six: Passage Lost, Passage Regained: Martín Gaite’s Entre visillos and El cuarto de atrás
  • Notes
  • Chapter Seven: Final Thoughts
  • Notes
  • Works Cited
  • Index
  • Series Index

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This project represents the culmination of more than four decades of study and reflection on Spanish post-Civil War fiction. As a college junior in 1968, I read Carmen Laforet’s Nada (Nothing, 1945), my first novel in Spanish, and I was completely enchanted by it. That same semester, I read my second, Camilo José Cela’s La familia de Pascual Duarte (The Family of Pascual Duarte, 1942); this book, though quite different from Nada, also intrigued me. Both works were influential in my later decision to specialize in the Spanish novel of the Franco period. I eventually published articles on novels by Cela, Laforet, Ana María Matute, Carmen Martín Gaite, Jesús Fernández Santos, Álvaro Cunqueiro, and Ana María Moix. Chapter four of this book is based on my article “Symbolic Portals in Laforet's Nada” which appeared in Anales de la Novela de Posguerra (Society of Spanish and Spanish-American Studies) 3 (1978): 57-74.An earlier version of Chapter five was published as “The Rite of Initiation in Matute's Primera memoria” in Romance Quarterly (Routledge, Taylor & Francis) XXV (1978): 153-164. Both are used by permission and acknowledged in accordance with publisher guidelines.

As I have taught Crónica del alba, El camino, Nada, Primera memoria, Entre visillos, and El cuarto de atrás in various contexts, I have been struck by numerous similarities among them, parallels that I believed merited further investigation. I saw that these novels of childhood innocence and youthful rebellion were at once subversive expositions of the destructive nature of Spanish Fascism and positive propositions for social change. During the worst of Francoist oppression in the 1940s and 1950s, these works offered voices contrary to the monologic voice of Spanish Fascism. They speak of the struggle to “come of age” and to form an authentic identity in a repressive society. Even in a time of widespread despair, they affirm values such as courage on behalf of the marginalized “other,” personal freedom, compassion for the weak, and hope, each in a unique way. The narratives themselves seem to espouse a common ethos and telos that were contrary to Francoist prescriptions for individual identity formation and a fascist value system. Though published three years after Franco’s death, Carmen Martín Gaite’s El cuarto de atrás protests the same issue of the regime’s deformation of the authentic self but concludes with a message of personal recovery from the trauma of nearly four decades of fascist rule.

This study was made possible in part by a sabbatical leave grant from Baylor University in the fall of 2008. Publication of the work was supported by funds from the Baylor University Office of the Vice Provost for Research. I wish to express my gratitude to colleagues who have critiqued intermediate drafts, especially ← ix | x → Frieda Blackwell, Roberta Johnson, Paul Larson, Jan Evans, and Heidi Bostic. I am indebted as well to specific students, both graduate and undergraduate, who engaged me in challenging and fruitful conversations about these texts. Their names are: Scott Anderson (now my son-in-law), Lila McDowell-Carlsen, Hana Manal, Tara Amaya, Stephen Woods, Louis Mazé, Ana Luna Hoyas, Christian Álvarez, and many others. I was also inspired by my participation in the M.A. thesis defense of Casey Stanislaw, “Death of Celestina: Othering in Changing Times.”

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When worldviews clash

The Spanish Civil War was a struggle for the power to define cultural values and historical truth. Elaborating on the latter, David Herzberger posits the idea of the fascist bid for “authority over the past” in order to reconfigure historiography as a part of legitimizing the Francoist movement (Narrating the Past 2). In the fight to delineate values, partisans on both sides characterized the conflict as a clash between good and evil, right and wrong, while offering distinct versions of these moral binaries. In November of 1936, volunteers from abroad had begun arriving in Madrid to aid in the defense of the government of the Second Republic. Hugh Thomas comments: “The example of the International Brigades fired the populace of the capital with the feeling that they were not alone” (466). The arrival of reinforcements stirred Deputy Prime Minister Fernando Valera, nephew of nineteenth-century novelist Juan Valera, to broadcast the following manifesto on Madrid Radio:


X, 133
ISBN (Hardcover)
Publication date
2014 (April)
civil war resistance courage
New York, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, Frankfurt am Main, Oxford, Wien, 2014. 133 pp.

Biographical notes

Michael D. Thomas (Author)

Michael D. Thomas received his PhD at the University of Kansas. He has taught at the University of Houston and is currently professor of Spanish and director, Division of Spanish and Portuguese, Baylor University, Waco, Texas. Thomas has done post-doctoral study at Dartmouth, Yale, and the Sorbonne. In 1990, he was named a «Piper Professor» by the Piper Foundation, San Antonio, Texas. In 2001, he published a textbook, ¡De Viva Voz! with McGraw-Hill. He has published extensively on Spanish post-civil war authors, and in addition on Lorca’s theater, the Cantar de mio Cid, Don Quijote de la Mancha, Pepita Jiménez, and San Manuel Bueno, Mártir. His scholarship has appeared in Symposium, Hispania, Romance Quarterly, La corónica, Cauce, Revista de Estudios Hispánicos, Anales de la literatura española contemporánea, and others.


Title: Coming of Age in Franco’s Spain
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146 pages