Figures of Exile

by Daniela Omlor (Volume editor) Eduardo Tasis Moratinos (Volume editor)
©2022 Edited Collection X, 350 Pages


«Figures of Exile is an excellent volume of essays carefully curated by Daniela Omlor and Eduardo Tasis that pays a long overdue homage to the late Nigel Dennis, one of the most important Hispanists of his generation. It does so brilliantly by bringing together a group of talented international scholars – the majority of whom can be considered as Professor Dennis’s disciples – who each offer original and illuminating perspectives on a variety of topics and authors related to the Spanish Republican exile, a field for which Nigel Dennis was an inescapable point of reference.» (Javier Letrán, University of St Andrews)
Figures of Exile contributes to the ongoing dialogue in the field of exile studies and aims to refamiliarise a wider readership with the Spanish exile of 1939. It provides new perspectives on the work of canonical figures of this exile, such as Rafael Alberti, Luís Cernuda, José Bergamín, Pedro Salinas, Francisco Ayala, Emilio Prados, Federico García Lorca or María Zambrano, and brings to the fore the work of less-studied figures like José Díaz Fernández, Juan David García Baca, Ernesto Guerra da Cal, Nuria Parés, María Luisa Elío, María Teresa León and Tomás Segovia. Rather than being disparate, this broad scope, which ranges from first generation to second generation exiles, from Galicia to Andalusia, from philosophers to poets, is testament to the wide-ranging impact of the Spanish Republican exile.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the editors
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Contents
  • Acknowledgements
  • Introduction: Figures of Exile (DANIELA OMLOR AND EDUARDO TASIS MORATINOS)
  • Part I The Poetics of Exile
  • José Díaz Fernández: un poeta de 20 en la España de 1920 (Posthumous Article) (ÁLVARO GARCÍA Y NIGEL DENNIS)
  • ‘Azul en nuestro oscuro aire’. Lorca / Cernuda: A Dialogue in vita e in morte (EMILIO JAVIER PERAL VEGA)
  • Rafael Alberti en Francia (1939–1940): poetización de la experiencia como refugiado (LUIS PASCUAL CORDERO SÁNCHEZ)
  • ‘Ceibe na Saudade’: Ernesto Guerra da Cal’s Exile Poetry (DAVID MIRANDA-BARREIRO)
  • ‘They Were the Voice and We the Echo’: Voice, Identity and Landscape in the Poetry of Nuria Parés (MARIAMA IFODE-BLEASE)
  • La influencia de Emilio Prados en la obra poética de Tomás Segovia (EDUARDO TASIS MORATINOS)
  • Part II Thinking through Exile 169
  • The Notion of Truth in María Zambrano’s Filosofía y poesía and Its Heideggerian Echoes (DANIELA OMLOR)
  • 1937–1938. La salida al exilio de Juan David García Bacca, de París a Quito (SALOMÉ FOEHN)
  • ‘My World Is Not of This Kingdom’: José Bergamín’s Republican and Dissenting Voice during the Spanish Transition (IVÁN LÓPEZ CABELLO)
  • Piecing Together the Puzzle: María Luisa Elío’s Autobiographical Project (JENNIFER IRVINE-CADMAN)
  • Cervantes como conciencia disidente: la obra cervantina en algunos autores del exilio republicano (NATALIA VARA FERRERO)
  • Bibliography
  • Appendix – Biographies (EDUARDO TASIS MORATINOS)
  • Notes on Contributors
  • Index
  • Series Index

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The editors would like to thank the Michael Zilkha Trust at Lincoln College and the UCLan Research Centre for Migration, Diaspora and Exile (MIDEX) for their generous support of this project.

←x | 1→
Daniela Omlor and Eduardo Tasis Moratinos

Introduction: Figures of Exile

The volume’s title Figures of Exile alludes to the fact that, in spite of their diversity, the thinkers, writers and cultural agents assembled here shared the fate of exile. It is an acknowledgement not only of their difference but also of the common denominator that the Spanish Republican exile would become for them. Without wanting to elide these differences, exile was such a decisive experience for these artists and intellectuals that it left an undeniable mark on all of their lives and works. The reference to them as figures is not an attempt to reduce them to figurations. On the contrary, their plight has regained new topicality in the current age of the refugee, although given the very different geo-political situation today, the question may arise why the Spanish Republican exile should remain a reference point. In hindsight, it would be easy to put a positive spin on the story of these Spaniards. After all, Franco’s death led to a transition to democracy that has long been considered a success. Unlike other displaced people, the Republicans were able to return to a better Spain, even if they had to wait for more than thirty years. But at what price? They did not regain their positions in society or even in the literary sphere, nor were they ever compensated for their material and immaterial losses. And what about those who were never able to return?

There have been times when people preferred to look forward and forget about the past. In the context of the Spanish ‘memory boom’,1 the Spanish Transition to democracy has been reconsidered and viewed more critically as renewed efforts have been made to recover the memory of the ←1 | 2→Civil War. Amongst the early critics of the Transition was José Bergamín, whose dissenting voice is explored in Iván López Cabello’s chapter. Many exiles felt that over time they themselves had become an uncomfortable reminder of the past that many were more than willing to put behind. Even before the Transition, María Zambrano hinted at the uncomfortable position of the exile within Spanish society when describing the experience of her generation:

Pero ahora ya apenas al exiliado se le pregunta nada. Desde los más diversos y aún contrarios lugares surge una voz que con diversos tonos, según el sentir que la inspire, le dice simplemente: ¿Qué haces todavía ahí, qué estás haciendo? Lo que tendrías que hacer es volver, es decir, sal de ahí, de ese imposible lugar donde estás y vuelve. Y claro está que lo más importante en el ánimo de quienes lo dicen tan unánimemente, debe de ser lo primero, que deje el exiliado el lugar donde está, que deje de ser exiliado. Y para ello el único camino es volver a su patria, desexiliarse. Sí, no es un juego de palabras: des -exiliarse, que no es lo mismo que si simplemente nos dijeran: ‘vuelvan’ o ‘vengan’. Y más todavía si nos llamaran por nuestro nombre. Me refiero naturalmente a los que están allí en España. (2014b: 8)

It is important to remember that Zambrano was writing at a particular moment in time, when the rift between those in Spain and the Spaniards in exile appeared to be increasing to her due to the formal recognition of Franco’s Spain by the international community and the economic progress that the new technocratic outlook of the regime increasingly embraced in the 1960s (her letter dates from 1961). This sense of bringing the Republican exile to a conclusion was particularly acute during the period of the Transition. In this context Mari Paz Balibrea argues that its (hi)story has to remain open ended by definition and criticises attempts to bring about the opposite:

Las narrativas nacionales españolas, en especial las que fueron hegemónicas durante la Transición, nos presentaban el regreso a España de unos pocos intelectuales del exilio y la desaparición del impedimento político y legal de volver como prueba de que todo el fenómeno acababa en el final feliz de la reinserción en la nación democrática, que coincidía convenientemente con el final de la vida de sus protagonistas. (2017: 21)

Moreover, although the ‘memory boom’ picked up the legacy of the Civil War by reimagining it in literature and film, one of its historical ←2 | 3→consequences that perhaps was not sufficiently reconsidered in its own right was precisely the experience of exile that followed the Republican defeat. What has been called ‘una amputación operada en el cuerpo vivo de la nación’ (Enrique de Rivas 1998: 87) inevitably left a scar on those who stayed behind, a scar which, as Angelina Muñiz-Huberman explains, has never healed: ‘To repair is impossible. The scar is forever. On both sides: the exiles and those who remained in Spain. They are different kinds of scars, but anyway scars […] The historical memory is hard to accept’ (2019: n.p.). As a consequence of that attempt to bring the Republican exile to a conclusion, in 2005, Balibrea reasoned:

The status held by Republican exile within Spanish history and historiography is richly paradoxical: it is both central and residual; it has been dismissed and ignored by many and yet, its absence is structurally indispensable to any understanding of dictatorial and democratic Spain. There is arguably no more resilient ghost haunting actually-existing Spanish (post)modernity than that of Republican exile. (2005: 3)

Despite Balibrea’s words, and although it is fair to state that the Republican exile was not sufficiently reconsidered in its own right for many years after the death of Franco, it is also important to bear in mind that it was not cast into oblivion either.2 In fact, since Balibrea’s comment and ←3 | 4→the Historical Memory Law, passed by the Spanish Congress of Deputies on 31 October 2007, the interest in the Spanish exile of 1939 has grown considerably. This growth has, to a great extent, confronted the ghost mentioned earlier by Balibrea.3 Both her work (2012, 2017) and Jato’s (2009, 2015, 2016, 2019, 2020) are examples of a substantial list of publications that since 2007 have examined the exile of 1939 from new angles.4←4 | 5→

Therefore, it is undeniable that the interest in the Spanish Exile caused by the Civil War has constantly grown since the late 1960s and early 1970s, experiencing a significant increase from 2007 until today.5 This would not ←5 | 6→have been possible without the works already mentioned, nor would it have been possible without the invaluable work of associations like Grupo de Estudios del Exilio Literario (GEXEL), Asociación para el Estudio de los Exilios y Las Migraciones Ibéricas Contemporáneas (AEMIC), the Centre for the Study of Hispanic Exile (University of Birmingham) or Hamaika Bide (Asociación para el Estudio de los Exilios Vascos), as well as the support of institutions such as the Residencia de Estudiantes and the Colegio de Mexico, to name but a few.6 Jato’s work together with John Klapper on exile writing from Nazi Germany and Francoist Spain also opens up avenues for new comparisons, notably paying attention to the complicated notion of inner exile in the particular historical contexts of Germany and Spain.7 In a similar vein, Tabea Linhard is preparing a monograph on the path of refugees after the Spanish Civil War and the Second World War. Although women in exile may have been less central in the past, this is also beginning to change. María Zambrano’s work has been receiving sustained ←6 | 7→attention in academia, and a scholarly edition of her complete works was published by Galaxia Gutenberg. In addition, the publication of new and rediscovered works, such as the three volumes of Victorina Durán’s memoirs and the re-edition of several of Rosa Chacel’s or Luisa Carnés’s works, have given a new impetus to the study of exile.

On the backdrop of this thriving field a legitimate question may be: what does this volume have to offer to the existing studies of the Republican exile? In recognition of the extensive work done on the subject of the Spanish Republican exile, the present volume does not attempt to offer an all-encompassing treatment of exile and literature that would go beyond the scope of this volume. Instead, its purpose is to contribute to the ongoing dialogue in the field of exile studies and to refamiliarise a wider readership with the Spanish context by providing new perspectives on the work of canonical figures of this exile, such as Rafael Alberti, Luis Cernuda, José Bergamín, Pedro Salinas, Francisco Ayala, Emilio Prados or María Zambrano. At the same time, the volume aims to bring to the fore the work of less-studied figures like José Díaz Fernández, Ernesto Guerra da Cal, Nuria Parés, María Luísa Elío and Tomás Segovia, while examining the connections within these group of writers and intelectuales, connections that have often been omitted.

Exile and Spanish History

The year 2019 marked the eightieth anniversary of the end of the Spanish Civil War, a conflict that introduced many of the ‘innovations’ that would become synonymous with modern warfare, be that carpet bombing of civilian populations or modern war reportage and photography by the likes of Robert Capa and Gerda Taro. Opinions diverge as to the war’s precise significance for global history with some viewing it as a prologue to the Second World War. However, it is indisputably widely remembered, not just within Spain but also outside of it, not least thanks to accounts such as George Orwell’s Homage to Catalonia and modern adaptations of it such as Ken Loach’s film Land and Freedom. Nonetheless, one ←7 | 8→phenomenon that has not left its mark on the collective imagination is that the defeat of the Second Spanish Republic led to a mass exodus from Spain, with some estimating that the number of refugees reached approximately 500,000.8 The involvement of the International Brigades on the Republican side, the military support that Franco received from Hitler and Mussolini and the non-intervention of the Western democracies warrant conceiving of the Spanish Civil War as an international conflict. Besides, the scattering of Spanish citizens across the world in the aftermath of this violent conflict illustrates its repercussions on a global scale. Republicans sought asylum mainly in Mexico, but also in Chile, the Dominican Republic, Argentina, the United States and in Europe. Similarly, during the war Spanish children had already been evacuated to Mexico, Russia and other parts of Europe, notably 4,000 Basque children found refuge in the United Kingdom in 1937.9 The rationale was to spare ←8 | 9→the children from the ravages of the war. Few at the time would have realised that some of these evacuees were not to return to Spain for decades or even never.

While it is important to consider the plight of Spaniards after 1939 in a more globalised, contemporary context, it is equally important to bear in mind that within Spanish history this exodus was not unique. Shirley Mangini points out that ‘Spain is a country that has experienced vast migrations over the centuries, always for religious and political reasons. None competes with the expulsions of 1492. Between 300,000 and 900,000 arabs [sic] were expelled from Spain, and some 185,000 Jews also fled’ (1995: 151). Taking this even further, Michael Ugarte locates the origin of the unity of the Spanish nation precisely within this history of expulsion and exile (1989: 10). Diachronic comparisons across history are always fraught with difficulties, but it is compelling to take the long view, given that the Francoist side itself invoked the memory of the Reconquista, declaring those Spaniards outside of its borders stateless. Certainly, as Claudio Guillén states, the Republican displacement can be considered ←9 | 10→‘el más importante en la historia de la cultura española desde la expulsión de los judíos’ (1998: 94). However, it is not the only one. For instance, in the nineteenth century the Peninsular Wars against Napoleon (1807–1814) led to the migration of the afrancesados, including, for example, the father of Mariano José de Larra. They were given the pejorative label afrancesados to underline that public opinion considered them as traitors to the fatherland. Many liberals that had played a vital role in drawing up the Cadiz Constitution in 1812 then also had to seek asylum in the wake of Ferdinand VII’s restoration of an absolutist monarchy. Already in the twentieth century and prior to the Civil War, another example, and one of the most famous Spanish exiles of the twentieth century, was probably Miguel de Unamuno who was a vocal opponent of Primo de Rivera’s dictatorship. Having said that, it is important to stress that Unamuno’s exile was very much the fruit of an individual stance that did not form part of a larger movement within society.

Moreover, the word ‘exile’ itself is not exclusive to Spanish history, of course.10 Scholars have pointed out that it reaches back all the way to the biblical Fall when Adam and Eve were expelled from the Garden of Eden. The Jewish diasporas in Babylon and Egypt feature prominently in the Old Testament. It is not surprising then that the religious and metaphysical overtones of exile are picked up by some of the Spanish Republicans, perhaps offering a source of comfort. Thus, the journal founded by José Bergamín in Mexico was not called España peregrina in vain. In exile Luis Cernuda wrote the poem ‘Peregrino’, which makes and unmakes the comparison between the exile and Ulysee’s wanderings. Moreover, María Zambrano came to analyse the exile as a ‘bienaventurado’. However, Ugarte has signalled the tensions underlying this way of perceiving exile: ‘Beneath the surface of Bergamín’s phrase, “España peregrina”, lies a deeply rooted tension between the notion of diaspora and that of pilgrimage. The former designates a journey or journeys with no direction, while the ultimate purpose of a pilgrimage is to return home wiser and spiritually richer as a result of the ←10 | 11→trip’ (1989: 14). Ugarte has a point. Yet it is also understandable that the exiles tried to give their existence a more positive meaning, emphasising the knowledge that came out of suffering. Be that as it may, it is worth remembering that it is easy to unduly romanticise the Spanish Republican exile blanking out the very real hardship and loss that it entailed.

The historical reality was more like a voyage to the underworld than a placid pilgrimage: ‘The most visible sign of exclusion existed on the beaches of the French Mediterranean where close to two hundred thousand refugees were penned into sprawling concentration camps’ (Soo, 2013: 16).11 The majority of Spanish refugees crossed the Pyrenees to reach France in early 1939. Many remembered the symbolism of stepping over the border. On the other side, they were not met with open arms. Instead, ‘a unique episode in French refugee history [ensued]: never before had the country experienced a rapid influx of refugees of this magnitude; and never before had the French state responded to the call for asylum with mass internment’ (Soo 2013: 2). After crossing the border, they were hunted down by the French gendarmerie and sent to control camps to avoid dispersion: ‘en los caminos de la frontera a Perpiñan, tomados por los gendarmes y por los senegaleses, se daba caza al español fugitivo. Empezaba una de esas tragedias que parecen reservadas a la desventura de nuestro pueblo ¡Cómo los han tratado y los tratan! Peor que a bestias’ (Azaña 1978: 448). Shortly after, they were sent to concentration camps improvised by the French Authorities along the Mediterranean (Argelès-sur-Mer, Barcarès, Gurs, Saint-Cyprien, Le Vernet, Mazerès, Agde, Septfonds, Rivesaltes and Villers-les-Pots), where, as portrayed by Celso Amiera, they had to suffer terrible conditions: ‘Virulentamente a la intemperie, piojosos, hambrientos, azotados por una infinita tramontana resucitada en tolvanera, enfermos de colitis y sin atención médica, a los internados les preocupaba, sobre todo, la separación en que vivían respecto a sus deudos, cuyo paradero ignoraban en la mayoría de los casos’ (Amiera 1964: 24).12 As a way out of these camps, ←11 | 12→many ended up being used as cheap labour and exploited by the local agriculture and industry. From 12 April 1939 those between the ages of 20 and 48 who were still in those camps were sent to the Companies for Foreign Workers organised by the French authorities. These companies would later change their name to Foreign Workers Groups and extend the age limit to 55. Among other duties, they were in charge of building trenches on the front line. As a result, many Spaniards were killed or captured by the German army. Moreover, after the occupation of France, a significant number were sent to the construction of the Atlantic Wall, and around 8,000 were sent to Nazi concentration camps.13

To the physical and emotional pain suffered during their journey, we should add another ingredient that contributed as much to the grief and fate of those who survived the conflicts, and that is the fact that their destiny was soon to be forgotten, both outside and inside Spain. Within Spain the exiles were excluded from public life and censorship prevented their works from being published, particularly in the 1940s and 1950s. The edition of the Espasa-Calpe dictionary from 1950 did not even include the term ‘exilio’ (Cate-Arries 2004: 14), since the Franco regime wished to eradicate any mention of it. Even more so, it ‘depicted the exiles as traitors, representatives of the anti-Spain, responsible for the outbreak of the Civil War, and agents of dangerous, un-Spanish ideologies’ (Faber 2017: 427). Outside of Spain, many had hoped that the end of the Second World War would remove Franco from power. Therefore, many Republicans joined the French Resistance and De Gaulle’s Free French Army and some of ←12 | 13→the tanks that liberated Paris were named after significant battles in the Civil War. However, the emergence of the Cold War enabled Franco to keep a tight grip on Spain as the geo-political priorities of the Allies had shifted, and the contribution and suffering of the Spanish exiles was soon forgotten. It is not difficult then to understand why Antonio Vilanova, writing from France, would title his 1969 work about the fate of Spanish exiles Los olvidados. The Spanish exile of 1939 showed that, more often than not, marginality is the common fate of the exile (Ugarte 1989: 12).


X, 350
ISBN (Softcover)
Publication date
2022 (May)
Spanish exile of 1939 Literature and thought of the Spanish exile of 1939 First and second generation Exile Rafael Alberti Luís Cernuda José Bergamín Pedro Salinas Francisco Ayala Emilio Prados Federico García Lorca María Zambrano José Díaz Fernández Juan David García Baca Ernesto Guerra da Cal Nuria Parés María Luisa Elío María Teresa León Tomás Segovia Figures of Exile Daniela Omlor Eduardo Tasis Moratinos
Oxford, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, New York, Wien, 2022. X, 350 pp., 1 fig. col.

Biographical notes

Daniela Omlor (Volume editor) Eduardo Tasis Moratinos (Volume editor)

Daniela Omlor is Associate Professor at the University of Oxford and Tutorial Fellow at Lincoln College. She is the author of Jorge Semprún: Memory's Long Voyage (Oxford: Peter Lang, 2014) and co-editor of The Cultural Legacy of María Zambrano (2017). Eduardo Tasis Moratinos is Senior Lecturer in Hispanic Studies at the University of Central Lancashire and Deputy Director of the UCLan Research Centre for Migration, Diaspora and Exile (MIDEX). He is the author of El exilio en la poesía de Tomás Segovia y Angelina Muñiz Huberman (Oxford: Peter Lang, 2014).


Title: Figures of Exile