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Coming of Age in Franco’s Spain

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


Michael D. Thomas

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.
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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...

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