Franco's Crypt Spanish Culture and Memory Since 1936

Jeremy Treglown

Farrar, Straus and Giroux



Trade Paperback

336 Pages



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True, false, or both?

—Spain's 1939–75 dictator, Francisco Franco, was a pioneer of water conservation and sustainable energy. —Pedro Almodóvar is only the most recent in a line of great antiestablishment film directors who have worked continuously in Spain since the 1930s.—As early as 1943, former Republicans and Nationalists were collaborating in Spain to promote the visual arts, irrespective of the artists' political views.—Censorship can benefit literature.—Memory is not the same thing as history.

Inside Spain as well as outside, many believe—wrongly—that under Franco's dictatorship, nothing truthful or imaginatively worthwhile could be said or written or shown. In his groundbreaking new book, Franco's Crypt: Spanish Culture and Memory Since 1936, Jeremy Treglown argues that oversimplifications like these of a complicated, ambiguous actuality have contributed to a separate falsehood: that there was and continues to be a national pact to forget the evils for which Franco's side (and, according to this version, his side alone) was responsible.
The myth that truthfulness was impossible inside Franco's Spain may explain why foreign narratives (For Whom the Bell Tolls, Homage to Catalonia) have seemed more credible than Spanish ones. Yet La Guerra de España was, as its Spanish name asserts, Spain's own war, and in recent years the country has begun to make a more public attempt to "reclaim" its modern history. How it is doing so, and the role played in the process by notions of historical memory, are among the subjects of this wide-ranging and challenging book.
Franco's Crypt reveals that despite state censorship, events of the time were vividly recorded. Treglown looks at what's actually there—monuments, paintings, public works, novels, movies, video games—and considers, in a captivating narrative, the totality of what it shows. The result is a much-needed reexamination of a history we only thought we knew.


Praise for Franco's Crypt

"This is an erudite and at the same time pleasurable and intriguing book about Spain's historical memory that gives the best and most thought-provoking portrait of the culture of the Franco era and its aftermath. Jeremy Treglown shows the reader poignant examples of commemoration of atrocities and their erasure—bland assurances of reconciliation and durable antipathy. Informative, searching, and disturbing, Franco's Crypt updates what V. S. Pritchett called ‘the Spanish temper.'" —Paul Freedman, Chester D. Tripp Professor of History, Yale University

"Franco's Crypt is the most comprehensive, most perceptive book on Spain I have read in a long time. I'm full of admiration for the scale of Jeremy Treglown's undertaking, for its fine balance between storytelling and reflection, and for its subtle and deep political and aesthetic judgments, which touch on practically everything that irritates or pains me most about my country. Normally these matters are presented abroad with exasperating stereotypes, and at home with intolerable factionalism. Spain, so obsessed with memory, is extraordinarily forgetful. This is a book that must be read, in Spain and abroad, by anyone who wants to understand the country's history, her present, and her future." —Antonio Muñoz Molina, author of Sepharad and two-time winner of Spain's Premio Nacional de Narrativa

"How should a country remember civil war and dictatorship? Or is it better to forget? Jeremy Treglown has written an insightful and deeply humane account of Spain's attempts to dig up its past both literally, by searching with backhoes for mass graves, and imaginatively, through novels about survivors, films about tango, and paintings of screams. Franco's Crypt is an indispensable guide to Spanish culture in the twentieth century, and a provocative reflection on the ambiguities of truth-telling." —Caleb Crain, author of Necessary Errors

"A thoughtful, erudite hand grenade of a book that takes issue with contemporary narratives about Spanish cultural life during the Franco dictatorship. Examining various works of fiction, journalism, and art, as well as public controversies about museums, graveyards, and other centers of historical gravity, Treglown argues that our understanding of culture under Franco has (ironically) been muddied by efforts to cultivate cultural memory of the period . . . Whether or not they share his concerns about cultural memory, readers interested in postwar Spanish art, literature, or politics will appreciate and likely learn from Treglown's deep knowledge of these subjects." —Brendan Driscoll, Booklist

"Spain under Nationalist dictator Francisco Franco was not a mute, traumatized wasteland, but a country with a complex, imaginative culture that deserves to be remembered, according to this probing study. Treglown surveys an eclectic range of cultural artifacts from the Spanish Civil War, the Franco period, and Spain's modern democratic era—everything from monuments and hydro-electric dams, to video games and the latter-day movement to unearth the mass graves of Republican opponents shot by Nationalist forces. He unflinchingly registers the crimes of the Franco government, but argues that sophisticated, even subversive voices were tolerated and at times nurtured by the regime: novels with ambivalent attitudes toward the war and the sides that fought it, challenging art, films that satirized Franco-ite mores. Treglown presents subtle and perceptive critical readings of unjustly neglected works, showing how far they depart from the caricature of bland conservatism that some apply to the culture of the Franco era. But he also advances a deeper argument about modes of historical awareness, contrasting the confrontational and sometimes simplistic commemorative politics of democratic Spain with the oblique, symbolic but still rich expressiveness of the more repressed Franco period. Treglown's elegant and thoughtful meditation shows us that authoritarian power is neither monolithic nor immune to the soft power of civil society and individual creativity." —Publishers Weekly

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  • Jeremy Treglown

  • Jeremy Treglown is a British writer and critic who spends part of every year in Spain and has written about the country for Granta and other magazines. His previous books include biographies of Roald Dahl, Henry Green (which won the Dictionary of Literary Biography Award), and V. S. Pritchett (which was short-listed for the Whitbread Biography Award and the Pol Roger Duff Cooper Prize). Formerly the editor of The Times Literary Supplement and a fellow of the New York Public Library's Dorothy and Lewis B. Cullman Center for Scholars and Writers, he has taught at Oxford, University College London, Princeton, and the University of Warwick, and has written for The New Yorker and The New York Times Book Review.

  • Jeremy Treglown University of Warwick