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When Brenan foresaw the end of Franco

Gerald Brenan, in later life, at his home
Gerald Brenan, in later life, at his home / SUR
  • In a previously unseen work he proposed a constitutional monarchy, many years before the dictator died

  • To mark 30 years since the hispanist's death, The Casa Gerald Brenan publishes The Spanish Scene, translated into Spanish, which suggests a solution for Spain's future

Professors at Cambridge University offered him the Modern History Chair, but with the same courtesy with which the proposal was made, Gerald Brenan told them that he had never been to the university and that his only wish was to return to Malaga, to the place which he had portrayed and revealed as if it were a map in The Spanish Labyrinth, which he wrote in 1943.

Three years after that book was published, Brenan wrote what Carlos Pranger, his executor, calls a 'pamphlet', a spin-off of that book, also in English, in which he delved even further into the Spanish labyrinth and even suggested a way of overcoming the Franco problem.

"In The Spanish Scene, he explained that if the dictator were eliminated there would be another bloodbath, and said that the political future of our country would be a constitutional monarchy," says Carlos, adding that the text also refers to a "moderate socialist party" which would favour modernisation and make Spain equal to the rest of Europe. "He wrote all that in 1946, nearly 30 years before it actually happened," he explains.

This 'pamphlet', which was commissioned by a foundation and originally published by the Bureau of Current Affairs, is now being produced in Spanish thanks to a translation which Carlos Pranger has done to mark the 30th anniversary of the death of Gerald Brenan, which was on 19 January.

The house in which Brenan used to live in Churriana, now a foundation, is publishing 'La escena española' with the support of Malaga city council. It shows not only the author's knowledge of Spain, but also his ability to understand the soul of the society of the time and the Spanish political scene.

The original text was published at a time when the UN Security Council was concerned about the situation regarding the Franco regime and the country was the subject of international debate. It was in that context that Brenan was commissioned to produce this portrait of Spain, and it is an informative and expert view of the country.

The publication of 'La escena española' coincides with a new edition of The Spanish Labyrinth in Spanish, published by Planeta, which is being presented today, Friday 20 January, at the Casa Gerald Brenan in Churriana. Silvia Grijalba, the director of the writer's former residence, says he was fully aware of the future of Spanish politics, describing Spain as the country of "patria chica" because of the strength of regional and municipal feelings compared with those for the State.

Gerald Brenan at home

That view of nationalism and the prediction of the end of Franco did not cause problems for the writer with the regime. At least, no more than the difficulties they placed in his path when he wanted to return after the civil war.

"He had to negotiate his return. He even had to meet the Spanish ambassador in London to try to persuade the regime," explains Carlos Pranger. Brenan's return on 7 January 1953 must have seemed like a gift from the Three Kings. "Once he was back in Churriana, they left him alone," says Carlos, who is sure that there is plenty more yet to be discovered in the legacy of the British hispanist.

Stories and aphorisms feature among these previously unseen writings, but it is Brenan's correspondence about which there is the least knowledge.

"He used to write to his friends, tell them what had been happening, and he loved gossip," says Carlos. After returning to Malaga, Gerald Brenan became an important figure in the up-and-coming Costa del Sol, and frequently hosted foreigners who were visiting Spain.

Virginia and Leonard Wolf, Ernest Hemingway, Bruce Chatwin, Lytton Strachey, Carmen Laforet and Paul Bowles used to visit him and some of them wrote about it, such as Bowles, who said that anyone who wants to get to know the Costa del Sol should knock at Gerald Brenan's door.

However, it was not only the famous who went in search of this well-known author: he also became popular with people in their 20s from the 'beat' generation who were looking for freedom on the Malaga coast.

"He regained his own lost youth by being in contact with laid-back young people. Poets and musicians used to visit him and breathed new life into him," says Carlos, who recommends that people visit the Casa Gerald Brenan in Churriana for themselves to see the collection of private photos of this entertaining yet private writer.