Requiem for a Spanish Peasant
Requiem for a Spanish Peasant
by Ramón Sender
THE LITERARY WORK
A short novel set in Spain from about 1910 to 1937; published in Spanish (as Mosén Millán) in 1953; in English in 1960.
A priest remembers the life and death of a young man killed at the beginning of the Spanish Civil War.
Ramón Sender was born in 1901 to a country at a crossroads. Three years earlier, Spain had suffered a humiliating defeat to the United States in the Spanish-American War, and a debate raged among Spanish intellectuals and politicians about how their country could become a modern state, able to compete with the developed nations of the world. As Sender became a young man, the debate began to focus on a few key domestic issues, among them land reform and the relationship between the Catholic Church and the state. Sender’s childhood was spent in small villages in the rural province of Aragon, yet these national issues were quite relevant to his own life. He witnessed the injustices suffered by Aragon’s landless peasants, later expressing his concern for these injustices in his journalism and fiction. Sender’s writing was also influenced by his strict Catholic upbringing, which contributed to his critical view of the Church. Ultimately, the debate about Spain’s future would erupt into the bloody Spanish Civil War. The victory of Francisco Franco’s Nationalist forces drove Sender out of Spain, but could not drive the painful images of the war from his mind. Sender settled in the United States, only to write a number of novels based on his experiences in Spain, including Cronica del Alba (1942; Chronicle of Dawn, 1944) and El rey y la reina (1949; The King and the Queen, 1948). They were followed in 1953 by Requiem for a Spanish Peasant, which drew on his experiences in the Civil War to tell the story of a national tragedy on a local level.
A defeated nation
Spain suffered a traumatic loss in 1898; the once prodigious empire had to forfeit Cuba, Puerto Rico, and the Philippines, its last remaining colonies, because of its defeat to the United States in the Spanish-American War. What had once been a powerful empire spanning multiple continents was now a small country unable to compete with the modern armed forces of the United States. To many Spaniards, including the group of intellectuals known as the “Generation of ’98,” this defeat was a powerful symbol of more deeply seated problems. The country did not just need to modernize its military forces; it was suffering from political and economic crises as well.
Spain’s present form of government, a constitutional monarchy, was supposed to protect the country’s interests by requiring the throne to share its power with an elected parliament; however, this structure did little to safeguard the rights of Spain’s average citizens. Elections to the parliament were engineered by the king and by corrupt local leaders known as caciques, who often used threats of violence or promises of government jobs to garner the votes they needed to ensure victory for their party. At the turn of the century, one contingent of politicians and intellectuals believed that Spain should eliminate the constitutional monarchy and replace it with a truly democratic government that would protect the rights of all Spanish citizens. Another contingent argued that Spain had no need of a parliament and ought instead to rely on a strong, authoritarian ruler who could push though the changes necessary to modernize the country without threatening the power of the current elite, nobles, and wealthy landowners.
Not only did Spain suffer from a corrupt, outdated government, but it also limped along under an economy mired in the past. Still largely an agricultural nation at the turn of the century, Spain found itself unable to generate the wealth necessary to keep pace with the more industrialized economies of its British, German, and French neighbors. In much of rural Spain, especially the southern regions of Andalusia and Extremadura, a huge income disparity existed between landowners and farm laborers. A small fraction of landowners monopolized possession of rural Spain, operating huge estates with the sweat of a multitude of hired landless laborers. Often, these laborers were hired on a daily basis with no job security, so that on average they worked only 200 days a year and lived in squalor for the remaining months. Even in regions like Aragon, where a comparatively higher percentage of the population owned land, too many peasants competed for too little fertile soil. In England, France, and Germany, children of farmers could cope with such conditions by moving to earn a living as factory workers, but in Spain, few factories existed at the turn of the century, so patriarchs divided the family farm into smaller and smaller portions as their families grew, exacerbating poverty. Conditions spiraled so that by the dawn of the twentieth century in Spain, some sort of land reform became inevitable.
Anarchism, communism, and socialism in Spain
In 1868, an Italian disciple of Russian thinker Mikhail Bakunin visited Spain and introduced its peasants to his philosophy of anarchism. As its base, anarchism is the theory that all forms of government should be eliminated, but Bakunin’s brand of anarchism was tinged with more religious sentiments. Bakunin spoke of a universal day of revolution and salvation, when landless workers would become the equals of their landlords, all land would be shared, and people would live harmoniously, without selfishness or the need for government. Bakunin’s ideas appealed to many rural Spaniards and eventually spread to the cities; by 1910 a uniquely Spanish brand of anarchism had evolved, and the anarcho-syndicalist union (CNT) was established. The CNT sought to replace the government with trade unions and collectives, which would allow all Spaniards to exchange goods and services in a fair, equitable way. In the service of this Utopian vision, however, many anarchists supported the use of violence to help instigate the revolution. In fact, a CNT insurrection in 1933 resulted in the group’s being banned by the government for three years. The CNT remained popular, though. When the group emerged from underground in 1936, CNT membership approached one million.
With the success of the Russian Revolution in 1917, more Spaniards became interested in fighting for dramatic social change. Spanish peasants of the late 1800s had not greeted the philosophy of Karl Marx, which forecasted a revolution sparked by the industrial working classes, with much enthusiasm. However, when Spaniards saw that such ideas could be applied to Russia, an essentially agricultural nation like their own, Spain’s communist and socialist parties, both based on Marxism, took on new life. The development of industry in the provinces of Asturias, Catalonia, and the Basque Country in the early 1900s contributed to the growth of these parties, which, like the anarchists, supported the unionization of factories. By the mid-1930s, the Partido Comunista Español (Spanish Communist Party) counted about 30,000 members, and the more moderate Socialist Party, the Union General de Trabajadores, counted over one million. Sender himself showed an interest in communism, socialism, and anarchism during his young adulthood in Spain. After a trip to Moscow from late 1933 to early 1934, he wrote articles for the CNT newspaper Workers’ Solidarity, and in the spring of 1936, in a Marxist literary review, he urged Spanish novelists to use their writing to improve the lot of the working class.
From dictatorship to republic
Ultimately both of the main voices in the debate over Spain’s political structure would see their ideas realized within the first few decades of the twentieth century. Not only would Spain experiment with authoritarian rule, but it would also become a democratic republic. From 1918–21, a series of anarchist revolts among the landless peasants of the south and violent clashes in Barcelona between factory owners and laid-off workers had brought Spain’s political and economic crises to a peak. When Spanish general Miguel Primo de Rivera staged a coup in 1923, many Spaniards, including King Alfonso XIII, welcomed him as dictator, suspecting that one powerful fist could lead Spain out of its miasma more effectively than dozens of corrupt, squabbling parliamentarians. Primo de Rivera, however, found it difficult to please all of his initial supporters. Some expected him to protect the interests of the Catholic Church and wealthy landowners and to squelch reform, while others hoped he would be an “iron surgeon,” a leader who could singlehandedly modernize Spanish industry and infrastructure, reform the military and education systems, and improve the lives of rural and urban laborers so that all Spaniards lived in harmony (Joaquin Costa in Ribeiro de Meneses, p. 12). In his attempts to live up to both of these contradictory sets of expectations, Spain’s new dictator turned many of his supporters against him, including King Alfonso. Soon Alfonso would come to regret Primo’s fall, however. The dictator’s replacement by another general, Dámaso Berenguer, did little to improve the public perception that a dictatorship-monarchy was not solving Spain’s problems. In 1931, after witnessing the broad national support for a republican government in municipal elections (an event mirrored in Requiem for a Spanish Peasant by Paco’s election), the king fled the country. The monarchy and the dictatorship were no more; Spain was now a republic.
In its first incarnation, the new Republic had a leftist bent. Socialists and leftist Republicans controlled the parliament, with the leftist Republican Manuel Azaña serving as prime minister from 1931–33. Spain’s new government wasted no time in establishing its ground rules. Within a few months, the country’s leaders had drafted a new constitution that proclaimed a true
UTOPIAN IDEALS BREAK DOWN: ANARCHISM IN ARAGON
By the 1930s, Sender’s home province of Aragon had become an anarchist stronghold, and in the first months of the civil war, three fourths of the land in Aragon was forcibly collectivized, with the help of both the CNT and Republican troops. At first, many poor peasants were thrilled to have their own land, but by October 1936, anarchist militias had requisitioned so many of the collectives’ crops and livestock that even the Anarchist president of the Defense Council of Aragon feared the “total ruin” of the region. Ordering the heads of militias to seize no goods unless authorized by the council, he explained, “We hope that everyone, without exception, will abide by this order, thus avoiding the lamentable and paradoxical circumstance of a free people hating its liberty and its liberators, and the no less sad situation of a people totally ruined by the Revolution for which it has always yearned” (Joaquín Ascaso in Bolloten, p. 524).
democracy and put an end to corrupt cacique influence. It also declared “Spain is a republic of workers of all classes,” and instituted widespread reforms to address the needs of the working class (Browne, p. 8). Agrarian reforms were the first, and according to some historians, the most revolutionary. Day laborers were protected with a mandated eight-hour workday and a law that landowners must hire farmhands within their own municipalities, a precautionary measure to avoid driving down wages. The Republic also encouraged collective bargaining among worker unions and employers, establishing an arbitration board to oversee the process. Finally, to fight unemployment, the new government required that all arable land be cultivated, and to protect against eviction, it demanded that rents for farmland be frozen. These were only a few of the numerous social and economic reforms instituted in the first few years of the new Republic.
By 1934, though, the coalition that had been so effective at pushing through such sweeping reforms crumbled. Disagreements about the pace and scope of reform led to divisions within the left and opened the door for the right to take over the parliament until 1935, reversing many of the left’s reforms. The shortcomings of both the left’s and the right’s rule were described in the following editorial:
From the June 6, 1936, Edition of the Moderate Republican Newspaper El Sol
Since the advent of the Republic, we have been oscillating dangerously between two extremes, particularly in the countryside. During the first biennium [1931–1933] agriculture was burdened with a ridiculous working day, and the wave of idleness and indiscipline through which it passed ended by ruining it. The farm laborers received high wages and worked as little as possible. … During the second biennium [1933–35] we fell into the other extreme. Within a few months wages declined sharply from ten and twelve pesetas a day to four, three, and even two. Property took revenge on labor, and did not realize that it was piling up fuel for the social bonfire of the near future.
(Bolloten, p. 4)
Although the February 1936 elections returned Manuel Azaña to leadership, this time with a coalition of moderate republicans, socialists, and communists known as the Popular Front, the “social bonfire” had already been sparked. Frustrated by delayed land reforms and urged on by communist newspapers, landless peasants seized the estates of wealthy landowners for themselves. In the cities, strikes of angry workers demanding higher wages and shorter hours paralyzed the economy. Throughout the Republic political divisions led to multiple murders, such as those committed by the men from Madrid in Requiem jor a Spanish Peasant. Meanwhile, many on the right, especially those in the military, became increasingly convinced that their country’s crisis could not be solved without abolishing the Republic.
The changing relationship between Church and state
Part of the impetus for abolishing the Republic came from its transformation of Spain into a secular state. For centuries, Spain had been ruled by Catholic monarchs with close ties to the Church. Through these close ties, the Church acquired huge amounts of land, substantial political power, and financial backing. In the nineteenth century, however, liberal reformers began to place limits on the property and power of the Church. The government claimed and sold most of the Church’s lands, but made them available only to those who could afford them, thus weakening even more the position of workers and strengthening that of the upper and middle-class landowners. Instead of the Church, the king gained the right to appoint bishops and other clergy not affiliated with a specific religious order. Yet until 1931 Spain was still a Catholic state. All schools, from primary to university level, followed Catholic doctrine, and many were run by members of the clergy. Non-Catholic religious practices were allowed, but only in private. With the new Republican government, all of this changed. The Constitution abolished state financial support of the Church and established a secular education system. Freedom of religion was proclaimed, and divorce, considered a sin by the Catholic Church, was finally legalized.
While many Spaniards applauded such changes, they alienated a large number of middle-class Catholics who otherwise would have supported the Republic’s reforms. To add insult to injury, when a small group of anticlerical Spaniards destroyed religious images in some 100 Church buildings during May of 1931, the Republican government ordered the police force not to intervene. Hard-line Catholics were outraged, and it did not take long for them to respond. Within a year of the Republic’s founding, a coalition known as the Confederación Española de Derechas Autonomas (Spanish Confederation of Autonomous Right-wing Groups), or CEDA, was established to fight for conservative issues within the structure of the Republic. Others were convinced that only a return to the monarchy or another form of absolute rule could restore the power of the Church and reverse the moral decay they believed had already begun in their country. Some resentful Catholics had begun to join forces with army officers angered by the Republic’s military reforms. One such officer, Jose Sanjurjo, had been demoted by Azaña from his position as head of the Civil Guard. With the support of about 5 percent of the army, he staged a coup in 1932; though it was unsuccessful, it served as a bitter omen of what lay in store for Spain within four years.
Civil war breaks out
In July of 1936, amidst the chaos of strikes, land seizures, and political assassinations, a military uprising against the Republic began, and with it, the Spanish Civil War. The rebellious military officials, who waged war in the name of “Nationalism,” were joined by a coalition of anti-Republican forces—monarchists, fascists, and former CEDA members—who envisioned themselves rescuing Spain from the influence of godless foreign ideas like Marxism and restoring order and tradition to their troubled country. With extensive foreign aid from Portugal, Germany, and Italy, the Nationalists gradually took over the country from the Republicans, whose sole source of consistent foreign support was the Soviet Union. By spring of 1939, the war was over, and General Francisco Franco, leader of the victorious Nationalists, became the dictator of Spain.
CIVIL WAR BALLADS
In the eyes of many Spaniards, the Republicans came to represent progress and reform, but this did not mean that they rejected all of their country’s traditions. In fact, during the Spanish Civil War, the Republican Army relied on one very old tradition, ballad singing. A ballad, known in Spain as a romance, is a song passed from generation to generation that tells a story—usually a tragic human drama that often changes with the times. At the peak of their popularity in Spain, the late 1400s to the late 1600s, ballads were as popular among royalty as peasantry. By the start of the Spanish Civil War, however, they had become a symbol of working-class solidarity, written and sung to inspire Republican troops and their supporters. Ballads praising the valiant fighting of Republican peasants were broadcast over Republican-controlled Radio Madrid, printed on flyers dropped out of airplanes, and blasted from loudspeakers across battlefields to the Nationalist forces on the other side. Franco’s Nationalists apparently made no attempts to coopt the ballad for their own propaganda purposes. According to one literary historian, among Franco’s supporters, “the romance was looked down upon as a lesser verse form suitable for ignorant people” (Hart in Smith, p. x).
Requiem for a Spanish Peasant begins in 1937, a year after the start of the Spanish Civil War, in a rural Aragonese village near the Catalonian border. Mosén Millán, a priest, is waiting in his church sacristy for people to arrive for a requiem mass. The description in the first paragraph of the novel creates a vivid picture of the priest’s still, fragile world of tradition and ritual:
The parish priest, clad in the chasuble of Requiem services, sat in an armchair, head bowed, waiting. An odor of incense hovered in the sacristy. In a corner was a sheaf of live branches left over from Palm Sunday, its leaves so dry that they looked metallic. Whenever Mosén Millán passed nearby, he avoided brushing against them for they were ready to part from their stems and fall to the floor.
(Sender, Requiem for a Spanish Peasant, p. 3)
As he bides his time silently, head bowed, his acolyte comes and goes, reporting that no one has entered the church yet. The acolyte then begins singing a ballad composed by the people of the town:
There goes Paco del Molino
Crying with a mournful sound;
They’ve given him his sentence now,
And marched him to the burial ground.
(Requiem, p. 5)
Through this verse of the ballad (which the acolyte continues to sing throughout the novel), we learn that the mass is being held for Paco del Molino, a man the young acolyte remembers as a local hero. As Mosén Millán continues to wait, he thinks back to his first memory of Paco, the day he baptized the dead hero. This memory sparks a series of related flashbacks that tell the story of Paco’s life.
Paco is born to a coarse, practical peasant with little interest in religion. He expects nothing more of Paco than that the boy “learn to pull up his breeches and make a good overseer for the farm hands,” but Mosén Millán seeks a more religious future for Paco (Requiem, p. 19). The priest considers himself Paco’s spiritual father, and thinking he might be able to win his family over to the Church, he befriends the boy, who comes to serve as the priest’s acolyte. One day, Paco accompanies Mosén Millán to a cave near the village, where a dying man waits for the priest to perform last rites. Overwhelmed by the squalid conditions in which he finds the dying man, a farm laborer, and his wife, Paco asks the priest why no one from the village visits the couple or tries to help them. Mosén Millán compliments him on his compassion but warns him not to get involved: “The best thing he could do was to go straight home. When God permitted poverty and affliction, he said, it was for some purpose” (Requiem, p. 41).
Paco gradually drifts away from the priest in the years following this event, and when he reaches young adulthood, his father begins to share with him this concerns about the family’s livelihood. Paco learns that his family rents their pasture land from an old duke who has never seen the village and who also collects rent from the farmers of five nearby villages. Protesting to his father that this system is unjust, Paco is told to ask Mosén Millán about it, since he is a friend of the Duke’s administrator, Don Valeriano. Paco complies, telling the priest that something should be done to help the poor people in the village who live in wretchedness, but the priest’s reply is as peremptory as his earlier response: “What wretchedness? … There’s more misery in other places than there is here” (Requiem, p. 47).
As Paco continues to struggle with the injustice he has grown aware of, strange events begin to happen in the town. One night, the local police, enforcing a ban on evening serenades, arrest Paco and his friends in the midst of their songs, but Paco seizes their guns before they can bring him to jail. Although Paco returns the guns to the mayor the following day, this act earns him a reputation as a daredevil and rebel. Soon afterward, the village elects a group of young, nonreligious members to the municipal council. The group, which includes Paco, plans to seize the Duke’s land. Then word reaches the village that the king of Spain has fled the country, and a new countrywide government, a Republic, is elected. Soon, with the help of an order from the Republic, Paco has seized the Duke’s land for the village and begins to devise a plan to help the cave dwellers. But all at once Paco’s progress is halted. The village police are called away and a group of rich young toughs from Madrid arrive, murdering councilmen and other villagers under cover of darkness. To protect his own life, Paco hides out in an abandoned house outside the village. Meanwhile the young toughs have seized control of the village and named Don Valeriano mayor; the Duke’s lands have been returned to the Duke. Mosén Millán learns of Paco’s whereabouts, and under pressure from the band of murderers, reveals his location to them, on the condition that they let him live. Of course, when they find Paco, they shoot him, but not until Mosén Millán has heard his final confession and administered his last rites.
Interspersed between the events in Paco’s tragic story are descriptions of the priest’s waiting to begin the requiem mass. As he waits, puzzled by the absence of any villagers in the church, the three wealthiest men of the village, including Don Valeriano, arrive and offer to pay for the mass; Mosén Millán refuses their money, reflecting bitterly to himself that they contributed to Paco’s death. Paco’s mule, which has been roaming freely through the village since his master’s death, then bursts into the church mysteriously and gallops around it until he is coaxed out by the three men and the acolyte. Finally, convinced that no one else will arrive and troubled by his own guilty memories, Mosén Millán begins the requiem mass.
Trapped in the past
Ramon Sender wrote Requiem for a Spanish Peasant more than 15 years after the fictional action in the novel concludes, but the vividness of descriptions, such as that of the priest waiting in the first paragraph, sometimes makes it seem as if it were written in a time capsule. In one sense, it was, for Sender’s access to Spain ended when he fled the country near the end of the war. The memories of Spain that he carried with him, from his childhood in Aragon to his days as a Republican soldier, come to an abrupt halt at the end of 1938. As an exile, Sender’s vision of Spain was trapped in history, so it seems fitting that one of the central issues in the novel is Mosén Millán’s inability to move beyond the past.
Like many of the Spaniards who rejected the religious and economic reforms of the Republic, Mosén Millán is a character heavily invested in the traditions of the past. As a priest, he is automatically entitled to a modicum of respect from his parishioners, as well as the harvest offerings that even Paco’s nonreligious father donates to the Church. More crucially, he benefits from his close association with Don Valeriano, the duke’s administrator—a symbol of the Catholic Church’s traditional affiliation with the conservative elite. When the rich terrorists from Madrid make their rounds, Mosén Millán knows that both his status as a priest and his friendship with Don Valeriano will protect him from harm. Perhaps he is attached to tradition partly because of the security it offers.
Sender demonstrates the limits of such an attachment throughout the novel, however. When the king flees Spain and the villagers look to Mosén Millán for guidance during the transition, he simply ignores the king’s departure, not even mentioning it in his homily. When the men from Madrid begin their reign of terror in the village, he is confused and disturbed, but is only able to articulate a concern about the unholy way in which his parishioners are being murdered. He complains to Don Valeriano that they were killed “without being given time for confession” (Requiem, p. 95).
Through the priest’s actions in these scenes, the novel shows his passivity and inability to face the truth of his circumstances. Furthermore, it reinforces this critique in a more subtle way, through its very structure. There are two stories within Requiem for a Spanish Peasant. The novel begins with the story of Mosén Millán’s waiting to perform the requiem mass, a story that ends virtually where it begins. In the 20 to 30 minutes that transpire during this story, the priest is seated almost the entire time and speaks very little, usually to ask his acolyte the same question: “Has anyone arrived for the mass?” Paco’s story, which comprises the core of the novel, is a fast-paced drama full of action and emotion that spans about 25 years. By establishing such a dramatic contrast in pace and movement between the two stories, Sender injects Paco with life while draining the life out of Mosén Millán. The fact that Paco has been immortalized in a ballad that will likely be sung for generations, while Mosén Millán cannot find one honest parishioner to attend his requiem mass is Sender’s final blow to the priest. In the minds of the villagers, Paco is not dead; the priest’s religious ritual—an empty tradition of the past—is.
Sources and literary context
Requiem for a Spanish Peasant is clearly a novel that grew out of Sender’s own experiences in Spain. It is set in an Aragonese village, much like the one in which Sender spent his childhood. Though Sender’s father was not a farmer, like Paco’s father, Sender’s did work for a short time as a land administrator and may have served as a model for the character of Don Valeriano. Reputed to be a cold, distant man and a strict Catholic, Sender’s father may also have inspired the critical treatment of Mosén Millán. Two important similarities exist between the plot of the novel and Sender’s own life. As a young boy, Sender once accompanied a priest on his visit to a dying man in a cave dwelling, and he was profoundly shaken by the misery in which the cave dwellers lived; he later attributed the birth of his own social conscience to this event. Secondly, Sender’s wife and brother were executed by Nationalist forces for sympathizing with the Republicans; their executions took place in October 1936, around the same time that Paco is killed in the novel. Perhaps Requiem for a Spanish Peasant was Sender’s own literary requiem for these lost loved ones.
Like Sender’s Requiem, many of the numerous novels set during the Spanish Civil War contain significant autobiographical threads. Some Spanish authors who chose to make their art resemble life so closely were part of a movement for “socially committed” literature. They may have been influenced by the 1905 call of Russian Marxist leader Vladimir Lenin for literature that clearly supported the cause of the working classes. Others were reacting against The Dehumanization of Art, a key 1925 work of aesthetic criticism by the Spanish intellectual José Ortega y Gasset. In this work, Ortega claims that art and literature should not be concerned with social reality—that quality art and literature are self-contained and have no transcendent meaning. In the 1930s, Sender clearly believed that he should be writing committed, not “dehumanized,” literature. In a 1936 essay published just three months before the war broke out, he ridicules previous writers who
SOME SPANISH CIVIL WAR NOVELS
From the Republican Perspective
- Campo cerrado, by Max Aub (1943; Closed Camp)
- La forja de un rebelde, by Arturo Barea (1944; The Clash or The Forging of a Rebel, 1946)
From the Nationalist Perspective
- Camisa azul, by Felipe Ximéz de Sandoval (1939; Blue Shirt)
- La fiel Infantería, by Rafael Carcía Serrano (1943; The Loyal Infantry)
focus on “trivialities of form” and fail to embrace the “life force” of the working class (Sender in Thomas, p. 95; trans. A. Weisz). It is unclear whether Sender continued to hold such strong views when he wrote Requiem for a Spanish Peasant. In any case, his creative use of narrative structure shows that innovative form and social realism are not mutually exclusive.
With the Nationalist victory in the Spanish Civil War came a mass exodus of Republican sympathizers from Spain. Between 400,000 and one million Spaniards left, many writers among them, the majority of them settling in France or in the Spanish-speaking countries of the Americas. Most left out of a well-founded fear that they would be imprisoned or even executed for their Republican sympathies. Others who had not been politically active knew that their freedom of expression would be stifled by Franco’s harsh censorship laws. In Paris, Toulouse, Buenos Aires, and Mexico City, Spanish exiles founded literary and political journals to keep some sense of national consciousness alive. These writers sought to come to terms with the new challenges and opportunities of exile without succumbing to the despair of being transterrados, or “transplanted ones.” In his essay “For Whom Do We Write?” the exiled novelist Francisco Ayala concludes that because exiled Spanish writers must adjust to writing for a new, broader audience, they should enlarge their scope as writers, moving beyond texts that focus on Spain’s present situation and destiny. However, his mixed feelings about the success of such a response are evident in the conclusion to his essay: “For whom do we write? For everyone and for no one” (Ayala in Ugarte, p. 64). While some exiled writers were able to immerse themselves and their pens in the new cultures they joined, many were either unable or unwilling to leave the tragic past of the Spanish Civil War behind them. During the 25 years following the end of the war, at least 30 novels dealing with the war were published by Spanish writers using publishing houses in Mexico, Venezuela, and Argentina. Of course, none of these novels were available to readers in Franco’s Spain. In 1966, however, with the relaxation of Spanish censorship laws, exile literature began to flood the country, much of it to wide acclaim.
Ramon Sender may have shared the fear of many exiled Spanish writers that they would lose their readership when they left home, but many of his works, including Chronicle at Dawn and The Affable Hangman, received international critical acclaim. However, the 1953 publication of Mosén Milldn, the original title of Requiem for a Spanish Peasant, was slow to attract the attention of reviewers. It was not until the early 1960s, after the publication of the English translation, that reviews of Sender’s short novel began to appear in international journals. Gradually American academics began to take notice of Requiem One scholar of Spanish literature called it “a superbly written short novel” and praised its “straightforward” style and its “psychological realism” (King, p. 80). A teacher argued for its use in high school Spanish classes in the United States, claiming that it painted an excellent picture of Spanish civilization. The novel continued to grow in popularity and is now one of the most commonly studied novels of the Spanish Civil War, both in the United States and in Spain. At a recent conference on Sender in Aragon, the novel was praised for its effectiveness at bringing history to life for local students; though Sender himself would only return to Spain briefly before his death in 1982, it seems that his Requiem for a Spanish Peasant has returned to stay.
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