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New Left Review I/77, January-February 1973

L. R.

A Spanish Masterpiece

Son of a poor Madrid washerwoman whose husband had died, Arturo Barea was born in 1897 in Madrid. He was brought up by a relatively well-to-do uncle and a bigoted catholic aunt. A scholarship took him to a catholic school for the rich in Madrid, while both sides of his family had peasant relatives living in Castile whom he visited on his holidays. One group lived in the poor village of Brunete, later to become famous as a battlefield in the civil war; the other in a more prosperous wine-growing village where his grandmother, an outspoken atheist, was the dominant member. In Madrid, the boy was the washerwoman’s son living on the charity of relatives; in the villages he was the sailor-suited, rich little Madrileño. Split between irreconcilable alternatives, his life was that of a ‘bastard’ in the Sartrean sense. The courage of the boy was not to give in to the easier of the options, never to yield to the temptation to deny his roots in the working class; but at the same time always to be able to view the class from which he sprang with a certain objectivity. It was this strength that allowed him to write one of the few masterpieces of contemporary Spain.

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L. R., ‘A Spanish Masterpiece’, NLR I/77: £3

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