Form and Content

(Literary Essentials: Nonfiction Masterpieces)

The Spanish Civil War, which lasted from July, 1936, to March, 1939, was in some ways an international civil war as well: Partisans and opponents of Fascism from all over the world took part in it. Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy sent arms to aid the right-wing rebels led by Francisco Franco. Joseph Stalin sent arms and advisers to the Spanish Republican government and ordered the Communist International to organize the International Brigades in defense of that republic. Although the governments of France, Great Britain, and the United States maintained strict neutrality, most intellectuals in Great Britain and the United States supported the side that ultimately lost, that of the Spanish Republic; some even went to Spain and fought for the Republic. Among them was a thirty-three-year-old British novelist and journalist named Eric Arthur Blair, who used the pen name George Orwell.

Orwell arrived in Barcelona, the capital of the northeastern Spanish province of Catalonia, in December, 1936; his wife, Eileen O’Shaughnessy Blair, followed him a few months later. Because the bulk of the Spanish officer corps had gone over to the rebels in July of that year, the defense of the Republic had rested initially in the hands of the volunteer militias organized by trade unions and left-wing political parties. Since Orwell’s letters of introduction were from the Independent Labour Party of England (ILP), he decided to join the militia of the Partido Obrero de Unificacion Marxista (POUM), a small left-wing Spanish party affiliated with the ILP, rather than enlisting in the Communist-run International Brigades. As a soldier in the POUM militia, Orwell served on the Aragonese front in northeastern Spain, fighting alongside Spaniards and foreign volunteers.

During the first five months of 1937, there was growing friction behind the Republican lines, between the Spanish Communists on the one hand and the Anarchists and the POUM on the other. One bone of contention was the Communists’ demand, supported by influential liberal and Socialist politicians, that the militias be replaced by a regular army. In May, 1937, while Orwell was on leave in Barcelona, bloody clashes took place between police and militiamen in that city; fresh security troops had to be sent there to restore order. The Communists blamed the POUM for the unrest, although Anarchists had been involved in the disturbances as well. In June, a new Republican coalition cabinet, at the urging of the Communists, issued a decree outlawing the POUM. Orwell, who had just been wounded fighting Franco’s soldiers, was forced to flee to England with his wife.

Orwell began writing his account of his experiences in Spain, Homage to Catalonia, in July, 1937, while his memories of his adventures there were still fresh. He had some difficulty...

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(Literary Essentials: Nonfiction Masterpieces)

Benson, Frederick R. Writers in Arms: The Literary Impact of the Spanish Civil War, 1967.

Carr, Raymond. “Orwell and the Spanish Civil War,” in The World of George Orwell, 1971. Edited by Miriam Gross.

Cunningham, Valentine. “Spanish Front,” in British Writers of the Thirties, 1988.

Hunter, Lynette. “Language and Tradition, Criticism, and Compromise: Homage to Catalonia and Coming Up for Air,” in George Orwell: The Search for a Voice, 1984.

Muste, John M. “Voyage and Exile,” in Say That We Saw Spain Die: Literary Consequences of the Spanish Civil War, 1966.

Reilly, Patrick. “The Transient Paradise,” in George Orwell: The Age’s Adversary, 1986.

Stansky, Peter, and William Abrahams. “An Education in Spain,” in Orwell: The Transformation, 1979.

Zwerdling, Alex. “The Making of a Socialist,” in Orwell and the Left, 1974.