Narrating the Past: Fiction and Historiography in Postwar Spain

Narrating the Past: Fiction and Historiography in Postwar Spain

by David K. Herzberger

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The relationship between fiction and historiography in Francoist Spain (1939–1975) is a contentious one. The intricacies of this relationship, in which fiction works to subvert the regime’s authority to write the past, are the focus of David K. Herzberger’s book.
The narrative and rhetorical strategies of historical discourse figure in both the


The relationship between fiction and historiography in Francoist Spain (1939–1975) is a contentious one. The intricacies of this relationship, in which fiction works to subvert the regime’s authority to write the past, are the focus of David K. Herzberger’s book.
The narrative and rhetorical strategies of historical discourse figure in both the fiction and historiography of postwar Spain. Herzberger analyzes these strategies, identifying the structures and vocabularies they use to frame the past and endow it with particular meanings. He shows how Francoist historians sought to affirm the historical necessity of Franco by linking the regime to a heroic and Christian past, while several types of postwar fiction—such as social realism, the novel of memory, and postmodern novels—created a voice of opposition to this practice. Focusing on the concept of writing history that these opposing strategies convey, Herzberger discloses the layering of truth and meaning that lies at the heart of postwar Spanish narrative from the early 1940s to the fall of Franco. His study clearly reveals how the novel in postwar Spain became a crucial form of dissent from the past as it was conceived and used by the State.
Making a decisive intervention in the debate about the ways in which narration determines both the meaning and truth of history and fiction, Narrating the Past will be of special interest to students and scholars of the politics, history, and literature of twentieth-century Spain.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"Herzberger offers us a view of Spanish postwar fiction that is insightful and original. His thesis is convincingly argued and documented, and important to our understanding not only of the fiction, but of Spain in general during this period. This study very definitely will have an impact on critical thinking about this period of Spanish fiction."—Robert C. Spires, University of Kansas

"This book offers a new perspective on the relationship between official Francoist historiographical ideology and the production of fiction in postwar Spain."—Janet Perez, Texas Tech University

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Narrating the Past

Fiction and Historiography in Postwar Spain

By David K. Herzberger

Duke University Press

Copyright © 1995 Duke University Press
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-8223-8241-6


Co-opting the Past: Historiography in Francoist Spain

* * *

It is not possible to exterminate the conquered. — Manuel Tuñón de Lara, "Pórtico: Primero de abril de 1939"

In 1958 Manuel Fraga Iribarne (then director of the Instituto de Estudios Políticos) published an article in Arbor on the recently promulgated "Ley Fundamental de 17 de mayo." The new law did little to alter the legal or political standing of Spanish government under Franco. It reaffirmed the founding principles of the Regime, which had been approved by national referendum in 1947, and it certified the moral and historical legitimacy of Franco's rule as "Jefe del Estado" ("Chief of State "). But in his article Fraga sought to expand the implications of the new law by attaching to it a sweeping reprobation of dissent. Not only were the laws of the State "permanent and unalterable," but they constituted the normative values of Spain "before God and before History" (516). Most importantly, however, Fraga concluded that, "All that stands outside of the Principles [of the National Movement] is revolution" (517).

Fraga's declaration of conformity and consonance offers in brief the broad doctrine of coerced acquiescence, which shaped the intellectual posture of the Regime during much of Franco's rule. The weight of coercion is especially pertinent to the writing of history, since it created and sustained what the historian Henry Steele Commager describes as necessary to the sustenance of any political state: a usable past. For the Franco regime, this means that the State used the past both to underpin its existence as the fulfillment of Spain's historical destiny and to give moral legitimacy to its claim of authority in the present. As Franco pursued historical justification for his regime, he adopted a strategy that turned upon a conservative and counterrevolutionary view of history during the 1940s and 1950s that was sustained by key institutions of the State: the Ministry of Information and Tourism (censorship); universities and academic disciplines (even under the moderately liberal Joaquín Ruiz Giménez, Minister of Education from 1951 to 1956); intellectual journals and magazines; and research bodies such as the Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Científicas. The publication of Julio Caro Baroja's Los judíos en la España moderna, submitted for approval to the Ministry of Information and Tourism in 1960, offers a pertinent example of how the government held a firm hand on the affairs of the past through censorship. Several segments of the work, from criticism of the Inquisition to the assertion that religious unity in Spain during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries was constantly undermined by "crypto-freethinkers," were suppressed or rewritten in order to appease government objections. As Manuel Abellán rightfully observes, the censorship of the Caro Baroja book "[illustrates] the untouchability of Spanish historiography as it was conceived by Francoism through censorship" (180).

But censorship represents only a small part of the Regime's authority over history. Indeed, while it is compelling for what it disallows about the meaning of Spanish history, censorship is secondary to the Francoist posture defined by what the State actually affirms and controls through its own historical discourse. To a large degree, Francoist historiography does not aim to dispute the knowledge collectively possessed about the past of Spain (the so-called facts of history), but rather seeks to establish a normative set of strategies that define a particular concept of history. The consequences of this intentionality are twofold: (1) Francoist historians assert and subsequently sustain their dominion over time and narration, so that history systematically emerges as myth; (2) historians of the Regime draw forth meaning in history that stands resolutely as the equal of truth, hence historiography assumes the secondary but no less important function of disallowing dissent. The conceptual presuppositions of Francoist historiography are highly prescriptive and serve to narrow the cognitive range within which the past can be properly understood. Historians of the Regime generally set out to cast historical "realities" into a narrative structure that negates alternative or counterdiscourses and therefore to make the past largely immune from other potential representations. The insistence by Francoist historiographers on sustaining "loyalty to the meaning of our history" (Pérez Embid, "Nueva actualidad" 153) asserts the centrality of a monological discourse through which the essential meaning of history remains always the same.

Claude Lévi-Strauss has wisely noted that "History is ... never history, but history for" (257). Yet nearly the entire historiographic infrastructure of the State under Franco, whose actions in fact confirm Lévi-Strauss's maxim, assumed a theoretical posture advancing precisely the contrary. The intent became to convert what in reality was a cultural and political proposition about the past into what appeared to be a wholly natural fact. The most persistent strategy used to achieve this goal was to dress the principle of "truth by assertion," which shaped the tautological fabric of Francoist historiography (i.e., the past is how we say it is because we say so) with the objectifying clothing of science. Thus, for example, the strong affiliation that existed between history and historiography in the 1940s and 1950s and the journal Arbor. Founded in 1943 by Rafael Calvo Serer, Raimundo Paniker, and Ramón Roquer, Arbor became an official publication of the Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Científicas in 1944. As Gonzalo Pasamar Alzuria notes, "the Consejo was a lever of power for some professors ["catedráticos"] of History and catapult toward a professorship for others" (130). Although Arbor addressed (as did the Consejo) a wide range of intellectual topics throughout the 1940s and 1950s, it promptly set out to advance the views of the conservative Catholic faction of the Regime in matters related to history, and served to counter the mildly centrist posture of journals such as Escorial and Revista de Estudios Políticos.

Even a cursory examination of Arbor, however, reveals that the surface cover of scientism suggested by its affiliation with the Consejo (and the concomitant principles of accuracy, truth, and objectivity) is undercut by the narrow ideological perspective embraced by its editors. In volume 1, for example, following a blessing and statement of endorsement by Pope Pius XII, the editors define the purpose of the journal: "Arbor ... has proposed as a goal: to restore to Spanish thinking its profound and glorious meaning that is both traditional and Catholic: to urge Spanish science, since it is an aspiring toward God, to pursue truth and goodness with the unity of Christian philosophy" ("Prefacio" n.p.). Such thinking is of course fully consonant with the Consejo itself, which excluded liberal-minded historians from economic and academic programs while embracing historians "prepared to give cultural prestige to the Regime and to do everything possible to accommodate its requests" (Pasamar Alzuria 146).

Even after several years of publication, when political circumstances made it appear far less risky to loosen the intellectual hold on history, Arbor continued to affirm ideological rigidity in the formulation of Spain's past. For example, in an attack on Pedro Laín Entralgo's conception of "España como problema" in 1949, the managing editor of Arbor, Florentino Pérez Embid, reaffirmed the journal's original statement of intention. His essay not only strips bare the scientific camouflage of Arbor's representation of Spanish history, but also exposes the core of its project to impose a unified and clear definition of Spain's mission: "The common mission of all of us is sufficiently clear, and is drawn with sufficient historical force, so that it informs a general attitude that is fruitful in itself. With this in mind, the possibility of a clearly defined and exemplary Spain, capable of pronouncing words that are valuable for all men, has shaped the work of those of us at Arbor, In service of this mission we insist upon intellectual precision and a firm resoluteness" ("Nueva actualidad" 157). The adumbration of "a clearly defined and exemplary Spain" overrides the impartial exploration that in theory shapes historical study. As a result, Spanish historiography overtly assumes a doctrinaire view that advances truth through the unifying tradition of Catholicism.

The broader issue of publishing in Spain also became immured in the intellectual suppositions of the Regime. For example, Bibliografía General Española e Hispanoamericana, official bibliographic tool of the State, assumed the responsibility of promoting the diverse aspects of publishing during the 1940s, but did so with narrow ideological pronouncements. In its first issue in 1941, following a five-year hiatus because of the war, the journal declares that it is now resuming the urgent task of invigorating the book industry. It does so, of course, with full awareness of its place and privilege within Francoist Spain: "The Official Book Councils of Spain would be greatly pleased if all of those who read [the Bibliography] would notice the differences of form and content in it, as in all things Spanish, that the National Crusade has prompted" (7). The larger working frame for its program, however, is shaped by an overt special pleading that elevates Franco to cultural (not merely military) icon:

If supporting the providential man, who in the darkest hours of our History was able to become the inspired captain of twenty million men and twenty centuries of civilization and lead us to triumph, is a necessary act of patriotic gratitude, even more so is the case when Bibliografía gives gratitude in the name of the savior of a marvelous culture that, had his inspired hand trembled, would have been in danger of fatally perishing.

Bibliografía ... repeats with emotion in its first issue, which appears on the second anniversary of the Victory, the name of the Caudillo: Franco! Franco! Franco! Viva España! Arriba España. (9)

During the 1940s, Francoist historiographers continued to extol professional rigor in the writing of history, despite the ideological rigidity that regularly shaped their ideas. In the fall of 1942, for example, at the convocation ceremonies in Madrid at the Universidad Central, the historian Manuel García Morente gave a lecture titled "Idea para una filosofía de la Historia de España." A decade before, García Morente had been denounced by the political Right for his impassioned defense of the Republic. Following the war, however, his newly minted conservatism asserted a firm renunciation of historiography that did not account for "intuition" (i.e., conservative ideology) as a necessary creative component of historical writing and that excluded nationalist and Catholic hegemony over the past. Such thinking was generally reflective of the whole of Francoist historiography and underscored in particular the strong antiliberal posture adopted by historians throughout the 1940s and 1950s. José Antonio Primo de Rivera's famous declaration that Spain's essence lay in the "unity of destiny in the universal" was often cited by these new historians of the Regime in order to distinguish Spain's authentic past from the liberal interpretations of nationalism during the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. The historiographic enterprise thus became an overt political act bound up with the Catholic/Falangist conception of truth. As Alonso del Real wrote (paraphrased by Pasamar Alzuria), the purpose was to "demand from the historian a militant commitment that assumed 'preconceived ideas' ... which embodied values defined by their opposition to those of the nineteenth century ('positivism,' 'liberalism,' etc.)" (Pasamar Alzuria 191).

The antiliberal perspective remains crucial to historians of the Regime throughout the postwar years and eventually becomes a way not only to understand (and lament) the independence movements of Spain's colonies in America during the nineteenth century, but also to adumbrate the larger issue of the collapse of Spanish imperialism. As Vicente Palacio Atard (Professor of Modern History at the University of Valladolid) noted in 1949, the traditional explanations of Spanish decay by liberal historiography (e.g., religious intolerance, expulsion of the moriscos, an Austrian monarchy that never understood the Spanish soul, lack of "civismo" among the Spanish) failed to get to the root cause of the matter. The genuine explanation for Palacio Atard was simple and direct, and turned upon the persistent diminution (until the Franco regime) of Catholic ideals. As he succinctly puts it, "in Spain, men did not fail, ideas did" (Derrota 165).

It was also during this period that Marcelino Menéndez y Pelayo emerged as one of the principal sources of historiographic guidance among Francoist historians. Arbor devoted a special issue to the Spanish thinker in 1956 to honor the centenary of his birth, and its editors offered a concerted plan to enthrone him as the paragon of scientific historians. Palacio Atard, for example, noted that Menéndez y Pelayo "bequeathed us, above all, an invaluable model as a man of science and historian of Spain" ("Menéndez y Pelayo" 429), and later added, "Because Menéndez y Pelayo was an authentic man of science, there coexists in him a suspicious fear of historical synthesis and a powerful gift for synthesis, which all of us recognize as the most distinctive quality of this great historian of Spain" (432).

But Menéndez y Pelayo had assumed a critical position in Francoist historiography long before the special issue of Arbor in 1956. In 1946, for example, Rafael Calvo Serer celebrated the wisdom of Menéndez y Pelayo's historical vision: "Since the young generation completely rejects revolutionary abstractions, loyalty to national destiny leads the Spain of today to its great historian, Menéndez y Pelayo" ("Nueva generación" 235). Two years later, Pérez Embid reaffirmed Menéndez y Pelayo's centrality to Francoist historiography with a tribute to him in Arbor:

Arbor has proclaimed this very year its fundamental loyalty to Menéndez y Pelayo's conception of Spain.... Don Marcelino ... represents for us a permanent conception of Spanish existence.... And we—Spaniards who are aware of the tenuousness of nationalisms in conflict—, in order to seek a superior unity in the field of culture, begin with the conception of Spain that don Marcelino constructed with the definitive materials of his time.... Faced with the ruin offered by the principles of modernity and by its Spanish imitations, we seek—facing the entire Hispanic world—the historic vitality of that marvelous plan of Spain that don Marcelino formulated. ("Nueva Actualidad" 153)

Pérez Embid not only integrates here Menéndez y Pelayo's ideas fully within the historiographic canon of the Regime, but sanctifies his position by using the semantic topoi of fascist rhetoric. Expressions such as "permanent conception of Spanish existence," "superior unity," or "historical vitality" are clearly intended to co-opt for the Regime the writings of an intellectual icon. As Pasamar Alzuria astutely has written: "The achievement of the Arbor group was to transform [Menéndez y Pelayo] into a lay-Catholic Francoist avant la lettre" (116).

For Menéndez y Pelayo the past and future of Spain both begin and end with Catholic religiosity and orthodoxy. He repeatedly challenges the perception of history formulated by the free-thinking Krausists of the Institución Libre de Enseñanza (he accuses them of disaffirming the religious essence of the Spanish past), but more importantly, he places at the intellectual center of his work the idea of an authentic and eternal Spain. As Palacio Atard notes, Menéndez y Pelayo embraced "the unquestionable conviction that the nation is not a historic, temporal, and contingent entity in the whole of its purity, but rather it [the nation] is rooted in an atemporal principle of permanence" ("Menéndez y Pelayo" 434–44). On the one hand, Menéndez y Pelayo's insistence upon the permanence of Spanish history is highly ironic, since atemporality, which is used to shape a supremely temporal endeavor, would seem to compel the erasure of history as a vital force for change and progress. In fact, as I will suggest throughout this study, the historiographic posture of the Regime does indeed serve to diminish history and nullify its vast potential to bear a diversity of meanings. On the other hand, however, the concept of atemporality is an especially powerful enticement for historians of the State, and its value as a historiographic concept can be discerned in two important branches of their thinking.

The first stems from the importance attached to the study of history as an integral component of the Regime's program to shape the present and future time of Spain. Menéndez y Pelayo was not a political figure by profession (he was an unsuccessful candidate for Parliament in 1884), but his ideas were co-opted by Francoist historiographers for specifically political ends. For example, in 1949, in his response in Arbor to Laín Entralgo's mildly dissident España como problema, Calvo Serer insists upon the crucial impingement of the Spanish past upon the constitutive elements of Francoist Spain. He quotes Menéndez y Pelayo's Ensayos de crítica filosófica to buttress his position: "A people that does not know its history is a people condemned irrevocably to death: it may produce brilliant, isolated individualities, flashes of passion, of creativity and even of genius, and these will be like lightning bolts that accentuate the darkness of the night" ("Sin problema" 165).


Excerpted from Narrating the Past by David K. Herzberger. Copyright © 1995 Duke University Press. Excerpted by permission of Duke University Press.
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Meet the Author

David K. Herzberger is Professor of Spanish and Comparative Literature at the University of Connecticut

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