A war of words: the literary response to the Spanish Civil War

Monday 13 June 2016

Few 20th-century conflicts were as ideologically and emotionally charged as the Spanish Civil War which lasted three years from 1936–39. Fewer still can claim to have united a generation of young writers, poets, photographers and artists, such as Auden, McNeice, Dos Passos, Ehrenburg, Hemingway, Koestler, Bell, Lee, Malraux, Neruda, Orwell and Vallejo, in political fervour.

Internationally, writers responded with moral outrage to the murder of the poet Federico Garcia Lorca and the attack on democracy by military and fascist forces. Others took an alternative view, and supported the coup to stop the spread of communism. Writers – men and women – harnessed their pens to create the world’s memory of a conflict that had a profound impact far beyond Spain’s borders. In Spain, where memories of the military uprising are still contentious, a rich and diverse corpus of literary works continues to this day.

To mark the 80th anniversary of the war, the Institute of Modern Languages Research (IMLR), a member of the University of London’s School of Advanced Study (SAS), is holding a two-day symposium (11–12 July) entitled ‘The Spanish Civil War and World Literatures’. It will critically examine the part literature played in the war, especially in the Spanish Republic’s fight against fascism.

A who’s who of international literary critics and historians will come together to review the worldwide literary response to the Spanish Civil War, in works published in several languages from 1936 until today. The conference will include a book launch on the impact of the war in Latin America, and a reception sponsored by the Spanish Embassy.

‘The Spanish Civil War and its contested legacy is still very much in the Spanish headlines following the socialist Historical Memory Law of 2007 which attempted to redress the Pact to Forget after Franco’s death in 1975’, explains Professor Catherine Davies, the IMLR’s director. ‘But we must never forget the sense of injustice felt across the world when a violent military coup brought havoc to the country and resulted in a military dictatorship lasting forty years. Let’s recapture some of the idealism of the 1930s.’  

Among the line-up of distinguished keynote speakers are Professor Paul Preston (LSE) who will speak on ‘from journalism to literature’ during the civil war; Professor Cary Nelson (Illinois) on the poetic legacy of the war and Professor Andrew Hussey, director of the School’s Centre for Postcolonial studies and author of the critically-acclaimed The French Intifada, whose talk is called ‘A rising tide of murder - Georges Bataille and André Masson in Spain in 1935’.

Further keynotes will be delivered by Professor Patricia Rae (Queen’s, Kingston-Ontario) on Orwell, Spain and ‘late modernism’; Professor James Whiston (Trinity, Dublin) on three Republican poems of the Spanish Civil War and Dr Martin Hurcombe (Bristol) on female agency in the French novel of the war.

The conference will examine why so many felt compelled to take sides, what impact they had on the course of the war, and how their involvement affected the development of European culture both during and after the war until today.

A full list of participants is available here.

For further information, please contact: Professor Catherine Davies, Director, Institute of Modern Languages Research, School of Advanced Study, University of London. Catherine.davies@sas.ac.uk.

Notes for editors:

1. For further information please contact Maureen McTaggart, Media and Public Relations Officer, School of Advanced Study, University of London. maureen.mctaggart@sas.ac.uk / 020 7862 8653. Images available on request.

2. The Institute of Modern Languages Research (IMLR) was established in 2004 (previously the Institute of Germanic Studies and the Institute of Romance Studies, founded in 1950 and 1989 respectively). Until August 2013, IMLR was known as the Institute of Germanic & Romance Studies. Its current name emphasises its national research role and wider remit. The Institute is committed to facilitating, initiating and promoting dialogue and research for the Modern Languages community. www.modernlanguages.sas.ac.uk

3. The School of Advanced Study (SAS), University of London is the UK’s national centre for the promotion and support of research in the humanities. SAS and its member institutes offer unparalleled academic opportunities, facilities and stimulation across a wide range of subject areas for the benefit of the national and international scholarly community. In 2014-15, SAS: welcomed 805 research fellows and associates; held 2,073 research dissemination events; received 23.1 million visits to its digital research resources and platforms; and received 213,456 visits to its specialist libraries and collections. The School also leads the UK’s only nationwide festival of the humanities: Being Human. Find out more at www.sas.ac.uk or follow SAS on Twitter at @SASNews

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