Did he or didn’t he?
- The Interior Castle: A Life of Gerald Brenan by Jonathan Gathorne-Hardy
Sinclair-Stevenson, 660 pp, £25.00, July 1992, ISBN 1 85619 137 0
Having described a significant segment of his past in South from Granada, published in 1957, Gerald Brenan went on to write two volumes of autobiography, A Life of One’s Own (1902) and Personal Record (1974). These covered his life from early childhood to his return to southern Spain in 1953 when he was nearly sixty, with a few final pages devoted to the following twenty years. Shortly before his death in 1987, a selection of the letters between him and his lifelong friend, Ralph Partridge, was also published. It seemed that there was not much more we would want or need to know about the foremost British writer on Spain this century.
Vol. 14 No. 18 · 24 September 1992
In his review of my biography of Gerald Brenan (LRB, 20 August) Ronald Fraser writes: ‘In the light of Brenan’s path-breaking history of modern Spain it is sad to note that his biographer slips up on some elementary facts of the same historical period.’ So eager was your reviewer to make me slip up that it seems he was forced to ignore what I had written. ‘Franco a major in 1936!’ is his first excited discovery. The relevant sentences in my book (on pages 300 and 301) are as follows: ‘A Major Franco, prominent in its [the Tercio’s] formation in the Twenties, had designed its uniform …’
The second, dealing with events in 1936, reads: ‘The moment the Popular Front won in February, the generals (including the now-promoted Major Franco) …’ One would have thought this clear enough, but Fraser now leaps into exclamation marks a second time. ‘The Falange no longer identified as a Fascist movement!’ This is slightly more complicated, as Fraser would have found had he paid more attention to my text (footnote, page 307). It is so obvious that the Falange was a Fascist movement that it did not and does not need stressing. But at its inception in 1933 it was more interesting than that. Its founder, José Antonio Primo de Rivera – ‘a young Andalusian of charm and imagination’, as Brenan wrote – certainly had right-wing, extreme nationalistic goals: but he was also strongly influenced by the Anarchists, wished to socialise the banks and the railways, and advocated radical land reforms. What happened was that Franco, his movement intellectually empty, took over the Falange – and soon perverted and degraded any of José Antonio’s aims that were genuinely visionary.
I included this brief analysis in my book partly because it is interesting, and partly because it was an aspect that Brenan, with typical fairness, drew attention to in The Spanish Labyrinth.