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History of Spanish literature

Spanish Postwar Literature

Postwar Literature

After the Spanish Civil War the Spanish literary scene was devastatingly barren. There had been a clear break with the dynamism of the 1930s.

Under the dictatorship of General Franco all the cultural innovations that had been achieved in the 30s were prohibited, and no change was to be seen until the 50s.

In 1942 Camilio José Cela's “La Familia de Pascual Duarte” appeared. It is an existential novel in which the author presents the life of Pascual Duarte in an autobiographical form. It is a tragic novel as the protagonist is doomed to a tragic end. This book is an example of a modern picaresque story in which the protagonist relays his life from the cradle until death. This work also employed some aspects of the false document technique.

Carmen Laforet´s “Nada” maintains the same tone as Cela along with the writing of Debiles in “Las Ratas”. These books paint a picture of Spain torn apart by war, and of people fighting to survive for an unclear future.

In the 50s Spain opened itself up to the world. In a deal brokered by the United States, Spain entered the United Nations in exchange for letting the construction of American military bases on Spanish territory. Tourism, especially from northern Europe, began to increase with astonishing quickness and numbers. As this influx of outsiders began to mix with once isolated Spain, habits and ideas began to change and the ideas of democracy were beginning to take hold. At this time there also began a migration from the country to the city of people looking for more opportunities that the country could not offer.

 Because of this huge social upheaval, many struggled to adapt to this new urban life. Social Realism appeared in books such as “La Colmena” (The Hive) by Cela, in which he describes life in a post-war Spanish city. In this period many new artists appeared as the intellectual scene was consolidated, including: Ana Mª Matute, Ignacio Aldecoa, Jesús Fernandez Santos, Juan Goytisolo, Rafael Sánchez Ferlosio, Carmen Martín Gaite and Juan García Hortelano.

These authors and their work employed simple narrative techniques. What drove them was a critical attitude towards the formal structures of storytelling. “La Colmena”, in particular, was an outline of a much larger story, but it remained unfinished, which was the way it was published.

The critical works of Antonio Buero Vallejo stand out in this era. He dedicated himself to theatrical representations of the social reality of the era, such as “Historias de una Escalera” (Story of a Stairway) and Las Meninas (The Maids of Honor).

There also existed a parallel literature written by those authors in exile, for example, Max Aub, Ramón J. Sénder and Francisco Ayala. They dedicated themselves to composing novels based on their memories of Spain, such as Sénder´s “Réquiem por un campesino español” (Requiem for a Spanish Peasant) and his biography “Crónica del Alba”. In this book he describes his own life from childhood, told through the protagonist José Garcés. He narrates his own history from the moment leading up to the Spanish war to his imprisonment in a concentration camp. He uses a testimonial technique in order to mix realism with fiction. Sénder speaks to the protagonist,José Garcés, in scene within a concentration camp, where the character tells him his story. The author thus distances himself from history by introducing fictional aspects.