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Open Access Publications from the University of California

The Persistence of Memory: The Spanish Civil War in Contemporary Spanish Narrative

  • Author(s): O'Neill, Matthew J.
  • Advisor(s): Herzberger, David K.
  • et al.

The primary aim of this study is to examine the widespread and formative presence of the Spanish civil war in contemporary Spanish narrative. Parting from Marianne Hirsch's formulation of cultural production at a generational remove from any historical trauma--what she terms postmemory--and Pierre Nora's organization of cultural production around both singular and collected cultural artifacts termed sites of remembrance--lieux de mémoire--the study explores the ways in which five contemporary Spanish novels rely on the conflict and its aftermath for primary source material, adopt and reconfigure the narrative commonplaces constructed during the years between the war and the reestablishment of democracy, and will continue to shape forthcoming narratives of similar thematic bent. The study analyzes novels by four different contemporary Spanish authors--Antonio Muñoz Molina, Luis Mateo Díez, Julio Llamazares, and Marina Mayoral--from differing critical perspectives; potential points of connection that can be drawn between these novels and other works of literature, Spanish and not, accompany each piece of textual analysis with the aim of underscoring the very public reckoning with the events and consequences of the war that has taken place since its putative end in 1939.

The last two decades have witnessed a number of outstanding changes in public policy, culminating most recently in the 2007 Ley de memoria histórica, but these investigations, exhumations and legal proclamations only emerged after years of protestation and petition, both overt and subtle. One form that this resistance to collective national amnesia has taken is that of narrative produced since 1939, and this study separates one branch of that fiction--those novels that confront the war, written since Franco's death in 1975--and identifies the ways in which that fiction constitutes a multifaceted lieux de mémoire to mitigate the inevitable forgetting that accompanies the passage of historical time. The aim of the present study, then, is to demonstrate that, despite differing approaches to the representation of those particular historical events, memories of the civil war, and, in the case of these authors, postmemories, persist and form an important segment of the literary and cultural imagination in Spain today.

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