Academic journal article Bulletin of Hispanic Studies

The Violence of History: Rosa Chacel's Memorias De Leticia Valle

Academic journal article Bulletin of Hispanic Studies

The Violence of History: Rosa Chacel's Memorias De Leticia Valle

Article excerpt

Published in its final form in Buenos Aires in 1945 (ten years before Nabokov's Lolita, six years after the end of the Spanish Civil War) when Rosa Chacel was living in exile, the novel Memorias de Leticia Valle is a first-person retrospective narrative from an eleven-year-old girl who may have seduced her teacher Don Daniel, the archivist at Simancas. It is a difficult novel to read, not just because of its subject matter, but because of its elusive and elliptical style; the climax and focus of the novel is represented by a blank space on the page.

Chacel's novels and stories are celebrated for their challenging prose, but rarely interpreted as contemporary responses to events as they played out on the world-historical stage. Memorias de Leticia Valle has often been read as a response to the author's relationship with José Ortega y Gasset, her one-time mentor and the doyen of Spanish philosophy in the 1920s and 1930s (Rodríguez 1989; Requena Hidalgo 2007; Johnson 1996: 60; Mangini 2001: 151; Scarlett 1994: 84, 92; Maier 1992; López Sáenz 1994).1 An exile, a woman, and stigmatized by her association with Ortega, Chacel was unpopular both inside Francoist Spain and among Republican exiles; her work was dismissed as '"dehumanized" literature of little relevance to the postwar social realist movement' (Mangini 1993: 138; see also Mangini 1987: 18).2 While the sexism that characterized Spain in the 1930s was carried into exile by Chacel's male counterparts (Zubiaurre 2002: 273-80; see also Mora 1987), matters were further compounded by Chacel's vocal opposition to feminism and her 'utopian and oversimplified vision of the status of women' (Pattison 1993: 9-11; see also Mangini 1987: 18; Fernández- Klohe 2005: 24-25). In 1980, just as a new generation of Spanish authors and literary critics were taking an interest in her writing, Soldevila Durante could still claim: 'Es rarísimo, excepcional, en Rosa Chacel la transcripción en literatura de una cuestión contemporánea' (1980: 43; see also Marra Lopez 1963: 146-47).3 Tellingly, he omitted her name from the onomastic index in La novela desde 1936 (1980). Of course, not everyone shares this view and a handful of critics have reminded readers of the undeniable chronological links between Memorias de Leticia Valle and the Spanish Civil War: 'Begun in the midst of the Civil War [...] and published in 1945, Memorias de Leticia Valle can be classified as one of the first works of Spanish postwar fiction' (Scarlett 1994: 80; see also Davies 1998: 159).

In this article I will consider Memorias de Leticia Valle with the Civil War very much in mind. I will pay particular attention to what it says about how history is written and whose history is written. I will argue that it challenges Francoism's appropriation of history by dramatically silencing the representatives of a conservative, traditionalist, and ultra-Catholic interpretation of Spanish history. Making this case involves examining the multiple interrogations of history, historiography, authority, power and gender that inform the novel's premise, structure, and plot. It is important to emphasize the calculated use of violence in the contest between Leticia and her history teacher, Daniel, and indeed, the violence that runs through the novel as a whole. What is at stake in all of this becomes clear when Daniel is read as a symbol of Nationalist historiography, the Rebels' use of Moroccan soldiers during the war, the reputation for brutality that these soldiers gained, and Francoism's simultaneous deployment of first, an ultra-Catholic idea of Spain based on direct descent from the Reconquista; and second, a shared Moroccan-Spanish cultural history. Memorias de Leticia Valle systematically engages, not just with meta-historiographical debates, but also with specific interpretations of Spanish history. Chacel's narrator took possession of Spanish history for her own at a time when dissent within Spain was being silenced by the Francoist regime. …

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