Time of Silence

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Time of Silence

by Luis Martin-Santos


A novel set in Madrid in the fall of 1949; published in Spanish (as Tiempo de Silencio) in 1962, in English in 1964.


A medical researcher strives for a cure for cancer in hopes of a Nobel Prize for Spain. While searching for mice for his experiments, he crosses rigid class barriers, breaks social taboos, finds himself implicated in crime and incest, and discovers that the whole society is afflicted with moral and intellectual cancer.

Events in History at the Time the Novel Takes Place

The Novel in Focus

Events in History at the Time the Novel Was Written

For More Information

Luis Martín-Santos, son of a military officer, was born in Larache, Morocco, in 1924, and raised in San Sebastian, in the Spanish Basque country, where he resided most of his life. He was both a practicing psychiatrist and a writer of two books, as well as articles on psychiatry, a book of essays and short stories, and two novels, Time of Silence and the incomplete Time of Destruction (Tiempo de destruction, 1975). Also politically active, Martin-Santos was jailed several times for his participation in the banned Spanish Socialist Party. Circumstances prevented him from enjoying the acclaim of Time of Silence for very long; in 1964, two years after its release, he died in an automobile accident. A searing indictment of Francoist society, Time of Silence also marks a turning point in the development of contemporary Spanish prose. The novel dramatically blends the social realism of the late 1950s with the experimental style of stream-of-consciousness writing that was destined to dominate the Spanish novel of the 1960s. While the experimental element reflected the author’s frustrations with social realist conventions, the plot of his novel illustrates his growing impatience with social conditions in Franco’s Spain.

Events in History at the Time the Novel Takes Place

Post-Civil War society

After his victory in the Spanish Civil War (1936–39), Nationalist leader General Francisco Franco became absolute dictator of Spain. His government tolerated only a single party, the Falange, or Spanish fascist party, which remained under Franco’s control. Though officially neutral during World War II, the Franco government supported the war efforts of the fascist dictators Adolf Hitler in Germany and Benito Mussolini in Italy, both of whom had helped arm Franco during the Spanish Civil War. As victors in World War II in 1945, the United States, Britain, and France ostracized Spain. The only surviving fascist dictatorship in the postwar period, Franco’s Spain found itself excluded from the U.S. Marshall Plan, which supplied aid to rebuild war-torn Western Europe in the late 1940s. In the same vein, the newly formed United Nations refused admittance to Spain. Meanwhile, the Spanish economy and infrastructure lay in shambles in the post-Civil War period. Economist París Eguilaz points out that “the national income, at constant prices [in 1940], had fallen back to that of 1914, but since the population had increased the per capita income fell to nineteenth century levels” (Eguilaz in Carr, p. 156). Not until 1952 would the standard of living return to its level at outbreak of the Spanish Civil War in 1936.

Plagued by food shortages, unrelieved even by imports from its few remaining allies, Spain suffered years of famine. Among the many references to this era of hunger in Time of Silence, most noteworthy are the allusions to it in the inner monologue of old Dora, owner of the boardinghouse in which Pedro resides. In real-life, prodded by hunger, country folk migrated to the cities at an ever-increasing rate, far exceeding the capacity of urban communities to absorb them. Franco’s Ministry of Housing financed construction of low-income dwellings, but their production “fell far short of the need” (Payne, p. 392). Most of the migrants were landless, illiterate laborers or subsistence farmers, like Muecas in the novel, who hails from the outskirts of Toledo in La Mancha, an impoverished region south of Madrid.

Many of the poor newcomers were forced to build shanties on the outskirts of the major cities. The makeshift dwellings were “nightmarish constructions of orange boxes, flattened condensedmilk tins, metal sheets made from gasoline containers or tar barrels, … bricks stolen one by one from building sites … scraps of wicker from what had formerly been hats … all this amalgamated by human flesh, sweat, and tears” (Martin-Santos, Time ofSilence, p. 40). A blight on Spain’s urban centers, the shantytowns lacked running water, electricity, basic sewerage, and any semblance of law. When their existence was even known to the authorities, they posed a threat to the authoritarian regime, which viewed their residents as difficult to control. As in the case of the Vallecas shantytown in the novel, these accumulations of hovels sat right beside the city dump, their residents foraging in the refuse of the city for sustenance. The novel portrays the shantytown as a cancer of a sick society, much like the cancerous mice that the character Muecas breeds for Pedro’s medical research.

“Years of Hunger”—urban survival

With the arrival of unskilled laborers in such throngs, unemployment increased dramatically, despite the execution, imprisonment, or economic ostracism of those who had fought against Franco in the Civil War. As shown in the novel, many of the poor sold what they could to survive: from individual cigarettes, to lighter flints near the subway stations and in the large plazas of the city. A permanent underclass of criminals, pimps, and prostitutes flourished.

By the late 1940s, under the rule of fascism, established Spanish society displayed a rigid social hierarchy, comparable to that of medieval times, making it virtually impossible to cross class boundaries. Landowning nobles still held sway at the top, joined now by high military and civilian officials of the regime and by the industrial leaders, many of whom had used their money and influence to buy government support.

The idea of conflict-of-interest between government and business did not exist. Anyone who did not line their pockets when given the chance was considered deranged. Juan March was probably the ultimate product of the system; his smuggled cigarettes almost broke the government monopoly, and it was said he had 40,000 Spaniards on his payroll from customs officials to ministers. When he died in 1962 … he was reputedly the world’s seventh richest man.

(Williams, p. 236)

Fascist Spain prohibited labor unions independent of government control. Instead, the Falange organized the industrial working class into “vertical syndicates,” which included management and a representative tied to the government. The Law of the Bases of Syndical Organization (1940) declared that “the social discipline of the producers should be established upon the principles of unity and cooperation” (Babiano Mora, p. 51). Strikes were considered acts of sedition, but “workers gained a plethora of benefits like Social Security, numerous paid holidays and bonuses, and job security so sacred that only the most heinous offense warranted dismissal” (Williams, p. 235). This created apathy toward social justice among those fortunate enough to find jobs in the first place. In Madrid in 1949, there were 34,632 unemployed (Soto Carmona, p. 88). “The idea was to replace class struggle with cooperation in a kind of state-run paternalistic world” (Williams, p. 232).

A struggling middle class, comprised of government functionaries, shopkeepers and their clerks, schoolteachers, mechanics, and tradesmen—formed perhaps the only group with some social mobility. Members of the working class could ascend to middle-class status, either by holding down several different low-paying jobs or by marriage; and children of the middle class, either through personal effort or higher education, could ascend to the professional class of businessmen, doctors, and lawyers. The professions, however, were mostly dominated by the upper classes, and a family’s clean ideological background (no significant activity on the losing, Republican side of the Civil War), or more importantly an enchufe (connection), was often necessary to attain the academic degrees or business permits required to attain professional status. Some individuals managed to breach the rigid boundaries and cross into other social classes. But it was generally dangerous to ignore the rigid class system. Whether aspiring upward or attempting to mix with those below, the individual always ran the risk of losing hard-fought gains.

Malcontents—from war “widows” to intellectuals

The case of prostitution was particularly grave in Franco Spain. The cause lay partly in the circumstances of the times, and partly in Spanish tradition, which kept economic power in the hands of men and codified that paternalism into law. Also, the Catholic Church exercised a strong influence on prostitution: taboos on premarital sex often led to the expulsion of a young girl from the family if she became pregnant. Abortion was illegal and therefore difficult to obtain. All these conditions converged to produce an army of young, single mothers who resorted to prostitution as their only means of support (Hooper, p. 165). Other prostitutes came from the ranks of women whose marriages had failed and who likewise had little choice. There were restrictions on how they could earn an income. The regime made it illegal for a married woman to seek any employment outside the home without her husband’s permission; nor could she control the family’s money, even the portion she brought into the marriage. Following Church dogma, the state made divorce illegal, leaving the unhappily married woman with few other options than to simply abandon her husband. As for the children, the so-called patria potestad, or paternal authority, guaranteed that the husband maintained custody. One curious solution to the question of honor, an eternal obsession in Spanish culture, was the phenomenon of the young “widow” (exemplified by the mother Dora in Time of Silence). In the relative anonymity of the city, especially in the years just after the Civil War, young widows abounded. It became easy to invent the martyred soldier husband, a Nationalist, of course, lost in the “Great Crusade,” and thus to hide the shame of a child born out of wedlock.

Abortion and divorce were not the only areas in which the Catholic Church exercised influence. Under Franco’s regime, the Church hierarchy regained power and prerogatives it had enjoyed before the Second Republic had come to power in 1931. The regime banned civil marriages, “bishops sat in parliament and on the Council of the Realm, and laws had to conform to Catholic dogma” (Williams, p. 231). In addition, the Church assumed control of the educational system and, though the Falange took responsibility for censorship and propaganda, by the mid-1940s the Church monitored these facets of daily life too.

The Civil War and postwar repression had an indelible effect on social and intellectual conditions. A majority of Spain’s greatest thinkers were executed, jailed, or forced into exile. Just two months after the Nationalist uprising, the poet-playwright Federico Garcia Lorca was shot by Falangists in the fields outside Granada. The poet Antonio Machado died of pneumonia in a French village after his arduous escape across the Pyrenees. The poet Miguel Hernandez languished in various prisons before eventually dying in one. Those who survived and remained in the country experienced what has been called an “inner exile.” They found themselves silenced by the Nationalist Catholic coalition that supported Franco, or censored beyond recognition. A “majority of


The picture opposite me of the man with the beard, the man who saw everything and who freed the Iberian people from their native inferiority in the field of science, gazes down silently, a witness of the lack of mice.

(Time of Silence, p. 3)

Time of Silence begins with Pedro, the protagonist, meditating on his frustrated cancer research, beneath the benevolent gaze of a photograph of Santiago Ramón y Cajal. Spain’s only Nobel laureate in science before 1949, when the novel takes place, Ramón y Cajal shared the prize in 1906 with Camillo Golgi for their research on the nervous system. Born in Aragon in 1852, Ramón y Cajal became not only one of Europe’s most respected physicians, but also a leading expert on micrography and histology, the microscopic study of human tissue. In the novel, Pedro despairs that under the conditions of Franco’s dictatorship no Spanish scientist would ever again achieve as much. However, Spaniards did win several Nobels for literature before the novel was published: Fréderic Mistral and Jose Echegary y Eizaguirre shared the 1904 prize, Jacinto Benavente won the award in 1922, and Juan Ramon Jimenez in 1956, Spanish writers have since won two more: Vicente Aleixandre in 1977 and Camilo José Cela in 1989. There was another scientific winner too, but a generation after the novel. In 1949, Pedro could not have known that only ten years later Severo Ochoa would win the prize for his study of the synthetic processes of DNA.

university professors had been enthusiastic Republicans [anti-Francoists] … so purging those that remained was a priority” (Grugel and Rees, p. 138). The ranks of teachers were filled by members of Catholic Action, and a growing branch of conservative Catholicism, founded in 1929, the Opus Dei (Work of God), began to assert itself in science and technology. The Opus dominated the Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Cientificas (CSIC or Council for Scientific Investigation), the organization that funds Pedro’s cancer research in Time of Silence. Founded in 1939, just after the war ended, CSIC “defined its goal as ’the necessary reestablishment of the basic Christian unity of the sciences, destroyed in the eighteenth century’” (Payne, p. 366). The declaration places blame on the rationalist philosophy of the Enlightenment, which rejected religious dogma when it proved inconsistent with empirical scientific evidence.

Clearly, any aspiration toward the sort of probing, groundbreaking research achieved by Santiago Ramon y Cajal, Spain’s only Nobel laureate in science, would encounter obstacles in this anti-intellectual atmosphere.

In the arts and literature, the salons of the rich continued, as is illustrated in Time of Silence, but they were purged of avant-garde voices that had flourished in the pre-Civil War Republic. Poetry was dominated by champions of the regime such as José María Pemán and Agostín de Foxá, who returned to bucolic verse that celebrated simple country life and emulated the Renaissance poet Garcilaso de la Vega. It was only in the literary cafes, such as Café Gijón, where Pedro meets his wealthy friend Matias, that some semblance of genuine literary ambition surfaced. Books from around the world, often smuggled in from France, were cautiously discussed in these cafes, as were antiestablishment ideas. But the mixture of alcohol, self-glorification, and dilettantism within the framework of the regime often undermined pretensions to progressiveness, a phenomenon brought into visible relief in Time of Silence.

Meanwhile, the vast majority of the population spent its free time in what historian Raymond Carr refers to as the culture of evasion: bullfights, the music hall, soccer, radio serials, kiosk literature, and the tightly controlled movies. As Carr points out, these phenomena, along with the more benign coercion in politics and the occupational sphere that replaced the terror of the early years, worked “to keep the ordinary citizen a passive member of the new consumer society” (Carr, p. 164).

It is the collection of these conditions—social rigidity, religious control, imposed passivity, abhorrent living standards for the underclass, scientific backwardness, intellectual paralysis, sexual, marital, and economic precariousness for all but the wealthiest—that gives rise to the searing indictment of Spanish society in Time of Silence.

The Novel in Focus

Plot summary

Although the basic narrative structure of Time of Silence follows Pedro, the protagonist, through Madrid, his movement is frequently interrupted by meditative passages, philosophical digressions, mock-epic descriptions, and the inner monologues of three characters: Pedro himself, the boardinghouse owner and grandmother Dora, and a young tough from the slums named Cartucho (“Cartridge”).

The action spans six days in the fall of 1949 in Madrid. Pedro, a young, middle-class doctor, exhausts his supply of the special, cancerous mice imported from the United States for his experiments on the cause of cancer. He is exploring whether genes or environment causes the disease. His laboratory assistant, Amador, reveals that his cousin Muecas, hustling king of the shantytown, has stolen a mating pair of mice to resell their offspring. In the shantytown of Vallecas to which Amador leads Pedro, Muecas, his wife, and two daughters live in misery and breed those mice.

Pedro himself is hardly better off in his shabby boardinghouse in a working-class neighborhood in mid-Madrid. The novel flashes back to describe his dismal living conditions, along with the subtle seduction plotted by the owner Dora and her daughter to unite Pedro and Dorita, the granddaughter, in order to improve the family’s economic and social status. Pedro divides his leisure between the boardinghouse and the Café Gijón. At the café, he meets his wealthy friend Matías, as well as a young woman and a German painter. They set out for the painter’s studio, continue drinking until drunk, then Pedro and Matías head for Dona Luisa’s brothel. The two spend a great deal of time socializing with the prostitutes but never sleep with any. Upon his return to the boardinghouse, still quite drunk, Pedro finds Dorita naked in her bed. In a dreamlike state, he sleeps with her, telling her over and over that he loves her. He later recognizes that he has sealed his connection to her and her family and, envisioning his sordid future, he washes himself compulsively, seeking some kind of purification.

At dawn, a frantic Muecas seeks Pedro’s services. He takes Pedro to his shack where his older daughter Florita is bleeding to death from a botched abortion. Muecas himself is the abortionist and the father of the fetus. Pedro cannot reverse the damage and Florita dies. Cartucho, her boyfriend, having already killed one rival for Florita’s affections, threatens Amador into revealing who was responsible for her death. Amador lies and blames Pedro. Cartucho swears revenge.

Later that day, Pedro visits the home of Matías in the wealthy district. In Matias’s room they contemplate a print of Goya’s Witches’ Sabbath, a work also known as The Great Billygoat. In Pedro’s mind, the animal comes to symbolize the male-dominated, patriarchal Spanish society, whose narrow-mindedness, based on sexual dominance, spills over into intellectual life. In Goya’s painting, the goat is surrounded by admiring female worshippers:

The great goat, the great male, the great buck, the scapegoat, the well-made Hispanic billygoat. The stinking expiatory goat? No! The great buck in the splendor of his glory, in the supreme power of his dominion, the center of female adoration, his horn no longer ominous but a sign of glorious phallic domination.

(Time of Silence, p. 127)

Laced with irony, the speech on the painting constitutes a thinly veiled critique of the philosopher José Ortega y Gasset. In real life, women flocked to Ortega’s public lectures on philosophy. In the novel, Pedro and Matías arrive at one of these lectures, delivered at the Barceló Theater on the theme of point-of-view in philosophy and life. The audience contains upper-class women and well-meaning young intellectuals. Sarcastically described as a “well-arranged cosmos,” the theater is divided into three sections, a metaphor for social divisions in Spain (Time of Silence, p. 131). The basement is a dance hall for the workers, the main floor serves as a lecture-hall for the wealthier classes, and the stage, like a throne, has “only a virtual or allegorical existence until the precise moment of the Master’s appearance on his doctoral pinnacle,” a mocking reference perhaps to Ortega’s elitist philosophy (Time of Silence, p. 132).

After the lecture, at a reception for the philosopher in Matias’s home, the superficiality of the upper class, especially of the women, concerns Pedro. He recognizes his own ambivalence: “Did he despise that way of living because it was really despicable or because he was incapable of getting close enough to take part in it… ?” (lime of Silence, p. 141). Yet he takes little solace when he escapes the party to attend the funeral of Florita. There follows a mordant satire in technological terms of burial practices at the municipal cemetery of Madrid, with the suggestion that death is the only industry Spain carries off successfully.

Pedro’s troubles with the law begin with an exhumation of Florita’s body, ordered because Pedro had failed to sign a death certificate. Pursued by the authorities, Pedro takes refuge at Doña Luisa’s brothel. His friend Matias blunders, turning to Amador for help, unaware of his treachery. Amador betrays Pedro once again, this time by divulging his hiding place to the police, who arrest the fugitive.

In an inner monologue in jail, Pedro recriminates himself by criticizing his every act, including his passive compliance, which he regards as cowardice. In time, however, he comes to see his condition as a liberation from all cares, especially from his ambition for the Nobel Prize, which had led to his being in this current fix. Pedro’s liberation from prison ironically emanates from the dregs of society. His upper-class friend Matias fails in trying to secure Pedro’s release through influence in the higher echelons of society in the city. His middle-class fiancee Dorita and her grandmother harbor the idea of freeing Pedro only to enslave him themselves. Dorita’s grandmother sees his current circumstances as one more step in his fall into their clutches: “The old woman knew that a little humiliation makes a man more amenable” (Time of Silence, p. 182). Only the lowly earth-mother Ricarda, wife of Muecas, comes successfully to Pedro’s rescue. Ricarda witnesses the autopsy of her daughter Florita and considers the situation. Reflecting on her own life of suffering with the incestuous Muecas, she informs the authorities of Pedro’s innocence.

Once released from jail, Pedro finds himself dismissed from his post at the research institute, fired by the director of research for unsavory deeds. His only recourse lies in practicing medicine in some obscure village of the provinces. Overcome with apathy about his fate, he takes his fiancee to a musical revue, part of the Spanish “culture of evasion,” and later to a fair. Here the vengeful Cartucho murders Dorita in cold blood. The novel ends with Pedro’s inner monologue of resignation to his fate as he arrives at the train station, bound for medical practice in the provinces. With Dorita dead and his research position lost, he explains why he has allowed society “to castrate” him (Time of Silence, p. 244). Comparing his silent acquiescence to the agonized screams of the eunuchs castrated on the beaches of Anatolia by the Turks, he points out that his is an “age of anesthesia” (Time of Silence, p. 244). In the end, gazing on the Es-corial Palace as his train heads out into the countryside of Castile, he compares himself to the martyr St. Lawrence, patron saint of El Es-corial: “St. Lawrence was a man, he didn’t cry out, he lay there silently while the pagans roasted him over the fire, and history tells us that all he said was: Turn me over, for I’m done on this side,’ and the executioner turned him over merely as a matter of symmetry” (Time of Silence, p. 247).

Madrid: metaphor

As if it were a specimen under a microscope, Luis Martin Santos dissects the city of Madrid, examining its every nook and cranny, in order to diagnose the cancerous society it reflects. The novel follows Pedro’s movements through the city, much as the British writer James Joyce described Leopold Bloom’s movements through Dublin in Ulysses. Both literary works, of course, are ultimately based on Homer’s ancient Greek classic the Odyssey.


José Ortega y Gasset, a major twentieth-century Spanish philosopher, was born in Madrid in 1883. He became a writer and publisher, founding such important journals as Es pania, Revista de Oceidente and the newspaper El Sol. A brilliant essayist, he was perhaps best known for his books of essays The Revolt of the Masses, Invertebrate Spain, and The Dehumanization of Art, which included the ideas on perspective and relativism parodied in Time of Silence. A liberal Republican, upon the outbreak of the Civil War in 1936, Ortega went into voluntary exile, In 1948 he returned to Madrid and founded the Institute for the Humanities. The lecture depicted in the novel is one in a series he delivered at the Teatro Barceld in Madrid in 1949, But times had changed. Ortega’s notions of society as a meritocracy, a project of a moral and mental elite, as set out in essays like The Dehumanization of Art and The Revolt of the Masses, had undergone perversion in Franco Spain as justification for fascism. Younger leftward-leaning intellectuals like Luis Martín Santos, though highly influenced by Ortega, found his apparent elitism repugnant, and regarded his reappearance on the intellectual scene as evidence of what seemed to them to be his tacit complicity with Franco.

As Pedro moves around the city, the author finds frequent opportunities to characterize Spanish society in general as reflected by the city’s elements. He makes his intent clear at the start. As Pedro and Amador set out for Muecas’s shack, the novel spends an entire page on one paragraph that is, especially in the original Spanish, one of the most scathing indictments ever written of a city. It begins with “The city is so stunted” and ends with “in this city with no cathedral” (Time of Silence, p. 11–12). In between are mentioned so many of Spain’s historical pretensions, inadequacies, and failed longings for greatness as to leave the reader gasping for breath. And of course, in this most Catholic of societies, where all great cities have their one main cathedral, nothing could prove Madrid’s shortcomings more than its unfinished Almudena Cathedral.

Included in the city are smoky taverns, street prostitutes, dwarves selling lighter flints, swindler taxi drivers, smooth talkers exploiting tourists, bars refrying squid in old olive oil, pharmacies producing cut-rate cure-alls, and the decrepit shanty town lurking on the outskirts. If the foregoing images represent the illness of Spanish society, the shantytown is the festering, open sore.

Doña Luisa’s brothel, the Café Gijón, Matías’s home, the Teatro Barceló, the music hall, the prison, and especially Pedro’s boardinghouse, are likewise described in long-winded, epic fashion, complete with Homeric epithets. Through the grandmother’s inner monologues and the third-person narration, the boardinghouse is treated almost as a complete microcosm of the decadence of the city and, in turn, of mid-twentieth-century Spanish society.

Emasculation and political impotence

Within this microcosm, the author equates sexual seduction and emasculation with the social and political impotence of society, one of the central metaphors of the novel. Manhood is identified with the city itself: “A man is the image of a city, and … a city is a man’s entrails turned inside out, … a man finds in a city, not only his justification, his reason for being, but also the stumbling blocks as well as the invincible obstacles that destroy his manhood” (Time of Silence, p. 13).

In the Madrid of Time of Silence these “invincible obstacles” are most frequently represented by the women who come into Pedro’s life. Foreshadowing his victimization, Pedro’s life with the “three [female] generations” of the boardinghouse (Dorita, her mother, and her grandmother) illustrates his sense of impotence:

During this silence the hidden intentions of the three women became more clearly perceptible to Pedro, as though the three Fates were whispering the meaning of the web of his life … and he was troubled by a slight anguish as he felt himself yielding to temptation.

(Time of Silence, p. 39)

The calculating nature of women, and men’s incapacity to escape them, are illustrated in the monologue of Dorita’s grandmother and in her actions as well as those of her daughter, Dora. Dorita’s own seductive powers may not be so innocent, suspects Pedro, a suspicion that the novel underlines by equating her powers with those of a Venus Flytrap: “He must not fall into this halfopen flower like a fly and remain caught by the feet” (Time of Silence, p. 95).

Mythic figures, carnivorous plants, and insects are all employed to describe the women in the novel, which also associates them with witchcraft through the discourse on Goya’s painting The Great Billygoat also called The Witches’ Sabbath (1797–98). While it originally may have been an Enlightenment-inspired attempt to undermine superstition, in Time of Silence the painting serves as a scathing example of misogyny in a novel that casts women as one of the roots of man’s incapacity to transcend his circumstances. The novel’s Philosopher, based on Ortega y Gasset, author of the famous statement “I am myself and my circumstances,” is set up as the Great Goat; the women who adore him as the witches, the source of his power: “The women press toward him to hear that truth. And it is precisely these women who are completely indifferent to the truth” (Time of Silence, p. 128).

Even the one female worthy of praise, the source of Pedro’s redemption from the charges against him, is hardly spared the author’s contempt. Ricarda, Florita’s mother, is referred to as an “earthlike creature,” little more than a large stone, “almost circular,” with a “strikingly smooth and expressionless face” (Time of Silence, pp. 205, 49, 51). Her epiphany, which leads to Pedro’s release, is like a simple force of nature, “not from love of the truth, nor from love of decency … but because she thought she was doing her duty in speaking like that” (Time of Silence, p. 206).

As Ronald Rapin points out, sexual dysfunction operates in the novel as a metaphor for repression by the dictatorial regime. This elaborate and at times contradictory metaphor was affected by the ideological restrictions imposed by Franco’s censors. Since the institution of the 1938 Press Law (established by the Nationalists’ provisional government even before it had taken complete control of Spain), it was “the obligation for all printed, visual or broadcast materials to be submitted for censorship before publication” (Labanyi, p. 208). Censors were given a set of rules to apply: Did the work attack Catholic dogma, morality, the Church or its ministers?

Did it attack the regime, its institutions, or those who cooperate with it? And finally, do objectionable passages compromise the work as a whole? (Rapin, p. 240). Most censorable of all was any mention of censorship itself.

According to Rapin, the harsh description of the brothel in Time of Silence is in reality an indictment of the dictatorial regime, and of the government’s support of the brothels as an escape valve for otherwise dangerous urges (Rapin, pp. 238–39). As such, it was excised from the original 1962 Spanish edition and did not appear in Spain until the 1971 edition. Curiously a passage referring to the Papal See was excised in this later edition (Time of Silence, p. 85). It had slipped past the censors in the original, but Rapin speculates that when the editors were about to re-issue the novel, they cut it themselves. If sexual themes were handled more leniently by then, political and religious themes were treated more strictly (Rapin, p. 238). Fines could be quite high, which made publishers cautious; more importantly, their works would be vigilantly combed for offenses in the future if they slipped, which made them, as well as their writers, careful. All this effort proved effective. One of the few avenues of cultural satisfaction under Franco, literature was also a significant instrument of social change.

Sources and literary context

Time of Silence has been continually cited as a turning point in the modern Spanish novel. It has the curious distinction, as Suarez Granda points out, of combining “an unoriginal theme and an original style” (Suarez Granda, p. 5). The author clearly takes his cues from the Odyssey of Homer and from James Joyce’s Ulysses, as well as the Bible and classical mythology, alluded to in numerous references, usually employed ironically. In much of the novel, the lowliest situations are described in the most grandiloquent terms: “just as Moses had stood on a much higher mountain” (Time of Silence, p. 39).

There is also a clear similarity between Pedro’s relationship with Amador and Don Quixote’s with his squire, Sancho Panza in Miguel de Cer-vantes’s Don Quixote (also in WLAIT 5: Spanish and Portuguese Literatures and Their Times). Their walk through the streets of Madrid, as they head toward the shantytown, mirrors Don Quixote and Sancho’s travels, sharply contrasting Pedro’s highminded analysis of the decadent society surrounding them with Amador’s sanchoesque cravings for a meal, a drink, the embrace of one of the young women they pass. Cervantes is in fact mentioned directly various times. Ricardo Doménech has also noted the influences of Jean-Paul Sartre in the existential philosophy of the protagonist; the absurd, nightmare quality inspired by Franz Kafka, and the provocative sense of memory reminiscent of Marcel Proust (Domenech, pp. 290–91).

More generally, the novel is striking in its amalgamation of different literary genres: “testimonial, serial literature … philosophical discourse, parody, clinical report, regenerationist reflection, naked dialogue, interior monologue, erudition” (Suarez, p. 7). Time ofSilence is also noted for its use of dialectical realism, the synthesis between objectivist tendencies of 1950s Neorealism (which sought to deal realistically with post-World War II social problems) and experimental aesthetic techniques and psychological analysis (Winecoff Díaz, p. 234). In fact, readers of Spanish novels in the 1960s were able to accustom themselves to the linguistic and ideological experiments of Juan and Luis Goytisolo, Juan Benet, and Juan Marse precisely because of the impact of Time of Silence (Suárez, pp. 6–7; see Juan Goytisolo’s Marks of Identity , also in WLAIT 5: Spanish and Portuguese Literatures and Their Times).

Events in History at the Time the Novel Was Written

Franco relaxes his grip

By 1962, the year in which Time of Silence was published, many changes had come about since its setting in 1949. In 1952 Bienvenido Mr. Marshall (Welcome, Mr. Marshall), a parody of Spanish pretensions to Marshall Plan funding, found its way uncensored to the screen. With the intensification of the Cold War (the competition between the United States and the Soviet Union for world leadership), and Spain’s strategic location at the entrance to the Mediterranean, the United States signed an agreement with Franco in 1953. The agreement allowed American bases in Spain, in exchange for liberalized trade relations and substantial financial assistance—millions in foreign aid flowed into Spain from the U.S. government (Williams, p. 237). Franco’s regime was further legitimized when Franco signed a concordat with the Vatican in 1954. In 1955 Spain was finally admitted into the United Nations.

Most importantly, Spain reorganized its economy with the Development Plan of 1959. Much of this effort was stimulated by the founding, and instant success, of the European Common Market in 1958. Hoping for eventual admittance, the regime saw it had to liberalize its economy, which, not incidentally, was in a shambles. The regime began to allow local collective bargaining of workers, though still within the framework of its verticalist Syndical Organization. Also, the Opus Dei, with its hundreds of so-called technocrats, had by this time worked its way into key positions both in industry and in the administration. There were indications that government change was in the offing too. Since the days of the novel’s setting, Juan Carlos, the grandson of the last king, Alfonso XIII, had been living in Spain and was educated under Franco’s wing, a clear indication that the dictator would keep his promise to someday restore the monarchy. Yet 1962 Spain was still a dictatorship, authoritarian in nature, characterized by censorship, a rubber-stamp parliament, a restrictive social structure, and a second-rate economy.


Time of Silence was hailed at its publication for its break with the social realism then in vogue. Writing in in ĺula magazine, Ricardo Domenech saluted its originality, its variance from the “monotony of character, situation and action” of its contemporaries. Despite its “apparent multiplicity of styles,” the whole novel seemed to him to be “astonishingly unified” (Domenech, pp. 290–91). In the New York Times Book Review, Thomas Curley praised the novel in translation: “the bravura and lyricism of the prose … the casual deftness of the symbols and most of all the brilliant concluding monologue.… The fact that the novel was published in Spain only after much cutting is evidence that their censors have neither common nor aesthetic sense” (Curley, p. 57). A year later a review in the London Times summed up Time of Silence as “an extraordinarily good study of a nation in the midst of decay” (Times of London, p. 83).

—Eric M. Thau

For More Information

Babiano Mora, José. Emigrantes, cronometros y huelgas. Madrid: Siglo XXI de España Editores, 1995.

Carr, Raymond. Modern Spain: 1875–1980. Oxford, New York: Oxford University Press, 1980.

Curley, Thomas. “Man Lost in Madrid.” The New York Times Book Review, 29 November 1964, 57.

Doménech, Ricardo. “Luis Martín Santos.” Modern Spanish and Portuguese Literatures. Ed. and trans. Marshall J. Schneider and Irwin Stern. New York: Continuum, 1988.

Grugel, Jean, and Tim Rees. Franco’s Spain. London: Arnold, 1997.

Hooper, John. The New Spaniards. London: Penguin, 1986.

Labanyi, Jo. “Censorship or the Fear of Mass Culture.” In Spanish Cultural Studies, An Introduction.

Ed. Helen Graham and Jo Labanyi. London: Oxford University Press, 1995.

Martin Santos, Luis. Time of Silence. Trans. George Leeson. New York: Columbia University Press, 1964.

Payne, Stanley G. The Franco Regime 1936–1975. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1987.

Rapin, Ronald. “The Phantom Pages of Luis Martin Santos’ Tiempo de silencio.” Neophilologus 71 (1987): 235–243.

Review of Time of Silence, by Luis Martin-Santos. The Times of London. 4 November 1965, 83.

Soto Carmona, Alvaro. Clase obrera, conflicto labored y representatión sindical (Evolutión socio-labo-ral de Madrid, 1939–1991). Madrid: Ediciones GPS Madrid, 1994.

Suarez Granda, Juan Luis. Guias de lectura. Tiempo de silencio. Madrid: Ed. Alhambra, 1986.

Williams, Mark. The Story of Spain. Malaga, Spain: Santana, 1990.

Winecoff Díaz, Janet. “Luis Martín Santos and the Contemporary Spanish Novel.” Hispania 51 (March-May 1968): 232–38.