SPAIN BOOK REVIEW AUGUST: ‘Lorca, Buñuel, Dalí – Forbidden Pleasures and Connected Lives’ by Gwynne Edwards

Lorca, Buñuel and Dalí were, in their respective fields of poetry and theatre, cinema, and painting, three of the most imaginative creative artists of the twentieth century; their impact was felt far beyond the boundaries of their native Spain. But if individually they have been examined by many, their connected lives have rarely been considered. It is these, the ties that bind them, that constitute the subject of this illuminating book.

They were born within six years of each other and, as Gwynne Edwards reveals, their childhood circumstances were very similar, each being affected by a narrow-minded society and an intolerant religious background, which equated sex with sin. All three experienced sexual problems of different kinds: Lorca, homosexual anguish, Buñuel sexual inhibition, and Dalí virtual impotence. They met during the 1920s at the Residencia de Estudiantes in Madrid, which channelled their respective obsessions into the cultural forms then prevalent in Europe, in particular Surrealism. Rooted in such turmoil, their work — from Lorca’s dramatic characters seeking sexual fulfilment, to Buñuel’s frustrated men and women, and Dalí’s potent images of shame and guilt — is highly autobiographical. Their left-wing outrage directed at bourgeois values and the Catholic Church was sharpened by the political upheavals of the 1930s, which in Spain led to the catastrophic Civil War of 1936-39. Lorca was murdered by Franco’s fascists in 1936. This tragic event hastened Buñuel’s departure to Mexico and Dalí’s to New York and Edwards relates how for the rest of his life Buñuel clung to his left-wing ideals and made outstanding films, while the increasingly eccentric and money-grubbing Dalí embraced Fascism and the Catholic Church and his art went into steep decline.

cover art and blurb via amazon

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I can’t remember where I got this book – probably on one of my book buying binges (say that three times fast) – but it has sat unread on my shelves for to-reads. Since I wrote my Lorca 80th anniversary article just over a week ago, I thought I could dedicate this month’s book review to the man as well.

Federico García Lorca, Manuel Buñuel and Salvador Dalí are three very well-known men. All born wealthy around the turn of the century, by the early 1920’s they were already established in their fields: Lorca with his writing, Buñuel with plays and film creation and Dalí with his painting. Each was rare and unique in a world filled with many artists exploding onto the European scene at the time. All housed at the Residencia de Estudiantes in Madrid to study, these three artists came together to bond, collaborate and touch each others lives forever.

This book doesn’t necessarily reveal any new information about the trio, rather tells details, big and small, in a clean, easy-to-read way. Four pages in I was already enjoying the book, with its interesting yet gentle flow of the lives of these men. The book does lean on info about Lorca a lot, but he was always a strikingly interesting soul. The book discusses Lorca’s love for Dalí in the 20’s, and doesn’t suggest impotent Dalí ever accepted any of the advances, but it doesn’t clearly say he didn’t either. These men have intensely interesting sex lives, each forever influenced (scalded?) with the Catholic faith. Lorca and his homosexuality interwoven with his depression, and pain of never having children, Buñuel and his religious thoughts that sex was sinful, even when married, and Dalí with his impotency, voyeurism and his wife’s need to find sex elsewhere. Every aspect of their lives is deeply shaped by what Spain was, and wanted to become.

Things became strained with the threesome in the late 20’s and early 30’s with Lorca leaving the country for some recuperation. Buñuel continued to live his strict, regimented lifestyle while pursuing films and abusing his wife, and Dalí continued to be a real dick (literally incapable of being a functional adult after a weird childhood), and showing off, plus his desire for fame and fortune totally went to his head. Lorca meanwhile continued to produce incredible works and establish his career. Then the war came along.

The outbreak of the civil war, and the state of Spain is well covered to the point the book needs, to show what the men faced. Lorca’s last weeks are well covered, from the moment he decided to leave Madrid for Granada to save his parents. Buñuel begged him not to go, as it would not be safe. Lorca’s time there and his attempts to help his beloved family are covered, along with his mysterious and tragic execution in the forest. There are many places in which to read about Lorca’s last days, but this book does a great job on the subject.

Buñuel went into exile in Paris, much different from Lorca’s need to jump headfirst into Spain’s crisis. Dalí was the opposite; he turned his back on his country and went off making money from rich Americans. When he was ready, Dalí and his wife returned to Spain as fascism lovers, supporting Franco, since that was the in-vogue thing to do. His life fell apart, and being so, well, douchey, Dalí had it coming. Buñuel too had moments of bad behaviour, though his art never suffered for it, continuing to create films on his own terms. In many, many writings and interviews, Buñuel continued to talk of Lorca, his work, and their time together, forever touched by their connection. After Lorca’s execution, Buñuel and Dalí unsurprisingly grew apart, and Dalí’s feelings for his murdered friend never really made sense, or could be trusted.

As I said, this book covers the lives of well-known men, so information isn’t necessarily new, but it does bring all very important parts together in one book, and shows the intertwining links of these three men, and the things which separated them. Never has Spain had such a generation of artists, and maybe never will again. A wonderful read.

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This Week In Spanish Civil War History Extra: Federico García Lorca – 19 August 1936

Federico del Sagrado Corazón de Jesús García Lorca 05/06/1898 – 19/08/1936

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Federico García Lorca, born in June 1898 in the small town of Fuente Vaqueros (near Granada) is a universally known poet and writer. But just as he is recognised for his literary achievements, his name is also well known for what happened on 19 August 1936.

García Lorca grew up with his father, Federico García Rodríguez, a successful farmer, and his mother, teacher Vicenta Lorca Romero, on their farm until moving to Granada in 1909. Six years later he started at the University of Granada, and despite being a gifted musician, he started writing. Just one year later, García Lorca travelled through Spain, and self-published his first book, Impresiones y Paisajes (read my review here) based on the trip in 1918. Through his success, he moved to Madrid a year later to the Residencia de Estudiantes to study at the University of Madrid.

García Lorca studied philosophy and law, but his heart lay in writing. He struck up friendships with Salvador Dalí, Luis Buñuel, Gregorio Martina Sierra and Juan Ramón Jiménez, and published his first work of poetry two years into his studies. More poetry, essays and plays followed, with his most popular poetry Romancero Gitano published in 1928. García Lorca found inspiration in the land and the people of Spain, seeing it through less-than traditional eyes, instead finding beauty in new lights. In 1927 a play opened by Salvador Dalí had García Lorca at his side, to great acclaim, after play failures five years earlier.

Lorca (1914)
Lorca (1914)

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The mid-twenties were filled with strong collaboration between García Lorca and Dalí, though Dalí rejected García Lorca’s romantic advances. By 1928, the friendship became strained, and García’s Lorca also broke off his affair with sculpter Emilio Soriano Alarén, which enhanced García Lorca’s depression. The constant stress of being a public figure, and having to hide his true self weighed on him (same-sex relationships were technically legal between 1881- 1928, and then 1932 -1936, but in a deeply Catholic nation it wasn’t considered acceptable). He was being typecast as a gypsy poet, as gypsies were one of his predominant themes in his work. García Lorca wanted to adapt and live his art. Dalí and Luis Buñuel released a film in 1929, without García Lorca’s help, and Dalí married, leaving García Lorca feeling he was being edged out of the group and the depression only grew worse. His family shipped him to the US in 1929 to recuperate from his worries. García Lorca flirted with new styles, though his work would not be published until after his death.

García Lorca returned to Spain after a year and then in 1931 the Second Spanish Republic was born. The young writer was in charge of the Teatro Universitario La Barraca. Thanks to the new government education programme, García Lorca toured rural Spain to bring free art to the public. With little equipment and a tiny stage, the masses got to see García Lorca acting and hear his work performed. Seeing the poor populations of Spain and their reaction to their first (sometimes only ever) art performances drove García Lorca to believe art could change lives with plays about social action. The La Barraca tour created three of Garcia Lorca’s best plays – Blood Wedding, Yerma and The House of Bernarda Alba, all about standing up to the bourgeois.

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After taking Blood Wedding to Argentina in 1933, García Lorca was on a roll. He returned home and created Play and Theory of the Duende, and wrote about how art needed to understand death, and reasoning limitations, and then returned to his roots of romance in his poetry (after a love affair with Juan Ramírez de Lucas) with the amazing Sonnets of Dark Love. But La Barraca had their funding cut in 1934 and closed in April 1936. García Lorca kept writing over summers at home in Huerta de San Vicente outside Granada, adding to his works with When Five Years Pass and Diván del Tamarit.

But as everyone knows, García Lorca was living in a deeply troubled world. The Spanish Civil War broke out in July 1936, and García Lorca knew his work on rebelling against the wealthy and his outspoken views on right-wing politics could see him as a target. A spokesman for the people was not going to be welcome anymore. Granada was in turmoil; not one of the cities to be initially overthrown by the rebel Nationalists, but it had martial law imposed. Bombings became frequent and the huge divide between left or right (poor or rich) was so stark that fighting emerged everywhere. García Lorca was not political, but when push came to shove, he supported those with nothing, after years of seeing deprivation in his country and abroad.

García Lorca left his home and stayed with his friend Luis Rosales in central Granada, but nowhere was safe. Lorca’s brother-in-law, Granada Mayor Manuel Fernández-Montesinos was assassinated during fighting on August 18. Hours later, fascist militia turned up at the Rosales’ residence and García Lorca was arrested, no reason given. He had been visited and interrogated weeks earlier, but when a right-wing politician came and got García Lorca alongside armed men, all of García Lorca’s fears came true.

García Lorca was held overnight by armed gunmen, their whereabouts or activities murky. The following morning, García Lorca and three others – Joaquín Arcollas Cabezas, Francisco Galadí Melgar and Dióscoro Galindo González – were driven out to Fuente Grande, the middle of nowhere between the towns of Víznar and Alfacar. After digging their own  graves, García Lorca and the others were executed.

While the world was deprived of García Lorca from then on, the why’s and how’s have been debated ever since. He was shot by fascist forces, though his arrest came from CEDA, a conservative Catholic political group. Some think it was part of an elimination process of all who supported Marxism. His murderers spoke of his sexual orientation, leading that to be a theory on his killing, along with some kind of same-sex love and jealousy theory. García Lorca had friends in right and left-wing groups. He supported the left-wing government and had spoken at gatherings supporting the left. He also had communist supporters, yet was arrested in the home of a leading Falange fascist, and regularly met with Falange leader José Antonio Primo de Rivera. Francisco Franco himself ordered an investigation on the execution, but the paperwork has never been found.

Since the undignified death, countless have sought to find García Lorca’s burial place. One early search was by author Gerald Brennan himself, as documented in the wonderful The Face of Spain in 1949. Despite many attempts, García Lorca was never found in the Franco era (1939-1975).  The site of the executions was identified in 1969 by a man who said he helped García Lorca dig his grave, but it wasn’t until 1999 that digging by the University of Granada could begin. Nothing was found. García Lorca’s family long denied permission for people to dig up their relative, but relatives of another man also executed continued to push for answers, which the García Lorca family agreed to. DNA samples were taken from all families and in 2009, it was time again to find García Lorca.

 

site of 1999 excavation

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After two weeks’ work, samples were taken from a site for testing. No bones were found, and no bullets were uncovered. The grave was very shallow, about 40 cm deep, and could not have been a 70+ year-old grave-site. Three years later, another dig was launched, 500 metres from a first site, which also uncovered nothing. People who claimed to be part of the killings, hired men out killing for the Falange, claimed that García Lorca was a target after writing The House of Bernarda Alba, and the people portrayed in the story wanted him gone.

The Barranco de Viznar, a nearby spot of mass civil war graves in the wilderness, has been suggested as a site where García Lorca may lie, killed or moved there during the war. A memorial headstone lies there for García Lorca stating ‘We are all Lorca’. An olive tree at Fuente Grande has a memorial for García Lorca, where flowers are laid every year. All his family homes are now museums in Granada, along with a park named Parque Federico García Lorca. A famous statue of García Lorca stands in Plaza Santa Ana in Madrid, and his niece runs The Lorca Foundation in his honour.

me paying homage to García Lorca's life in Madrid
me paying homage to García Lorca’s life in Madrid

García Lorca’s work was banned by Franco until 1953, and then censored for the rest of the Franco era. Since then more work has been published and celebrated, along with new publications from unpublished manuscripts held dear by his family. Searches and theories on his death remain ongoing 80 years later. This month, Argentinian federal judge Maria Servini has agreed to take on the García Lorca case, sequestering paperwork on the killing of the poet, while she is also prosecuting over other civil war deaths. Perhaps one day, Federico García Lorca will be found.

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This is not a detailed analysis, instead a simplified report of Lorca’s life and death. Feel free to suggest an addition/clarification/correction below. All photos are linked to source for credit.