Selected Letters

(Literary Masterpieces, Volume 12)

Federico García Lorca, born near Granada in 1898, was something of a flamboyant legend during his lifetime and has become almost a modern myth since his death at the hands of Fascist assassins in 1936 on the eve of the Spanish Civil War. Scores of books and hundreds of articles—both scholarly and popular—have been devoted to his life and artistic work, and the mystery surrounding his alleged assassination has never been clarified. For decades, the work of García Lorca has been accepted in the canon of academic literary studies, and for very good reason. His plays and poetry have unquestionable merit and represent a refined, mythic expression of the romanticized legends of Spanish honor and passion and the tragic Gypsy. While most of Spain’s outstanding writers have gone unrecognized abroad, García Lorca achieved a notoriety during his lifetime which was heightened by the apparent political circumstances of his death.

This book is a collection of letters written by García Lorca to his friends, many of whom were, or have come to be, well-known in the fields of literature, art, and music. For the most part, the letters are of a personal nature, but they do include a certain amount of self-criticism and observations about García Lorca’s work as well as a few nasty comments about his contemporaries. Gerardo Diego, a respected poet of García Lorca’s generation, suffers the most, as García Lorca refers to the paucity of his images and calls him a “budding seraph,” then refers to him as a great poet in other letters. Throughout the correspondence, but particularly in the later letters, García Lorca is ruthless in talking about the people who have not responded to his requests. The playwright Eduardo Marquina and the famous actress Margarite Xirgu make the mistake of delaying a production of García Lorca’s play Mariana Pineda because of the death of Xirgu’s mother, and García Lorca’s expression of displeasure is only slightly less than petty. He refers obscenely to the “putrid” newspaper critic Francisco Martínez Lumbreras and then calls the Jew-Galicians in Granada “the worst in the world.”

Offhand comments such as these reveal a García Lorca less admirable than the mythic literary personality apotheosized as a hero of the Republican cause in the Spain of the 1930’s. The compiler and translator of these letters, David Gershator, defends García Lorca in the introduction against the charge of “exasperating egotism” made by Sebastián Gasch, one of García Lorca’s correspondents, yet the letters do reveal the less attractive side of García Lorca’s personality, even though Gershator seems unaware of this.

Obviously, this is the risk that exists when the personal correspondence of public figures is brought out into the open. Items not meant for public consumption suddenly become common knowledge, and with them comes the question of ethics and taste in revealing what was said in the assumed confidentiality of communication between friends. Gershator also defends himself from this charge in the introduction, saying that García Lorca himself would surely find the publication of this correspondence flattering.

The most reasonable defense against the charge of poor taste on the part of the compiler-translator would be this: that so much has already been revealed about the life of García Lorca—so much romanticized nonsense, so much gossip, so many half-truths and fabrications—that the actual autobiographical documents can only do more good than harm. The most curious thing about Gershator’s collection—which is only a selection of letters, all of which have been previously published in Spanish in various places—is that in all the correspondence and in the introduction, there is absolutely no mention of the fact of García Lorca’s life that has been most controversial and most disputed, his alleged homosexuality. There have been several books and numerous articles of literary criticism devoted to illuminating the homosexual themes in García Lorca’s work. Several biographical studies have alluded to his homosexual activity, including at least one book-length study that suggests that his death was not political at all but a case of revenge among a circle of homosexuals in Granada of which García Lorca was an active participant.

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(The entire section is 1777 words.)

Selected Letters Bibliography

(Literary Masterpieces, Volume 12)

New Leader. LXVII, March 5, 1984, p. 17.

Publishers Weekly. CCXXIV, September 30, 1983, p. 113.