Female trauma

Novels featuring women in the Spanish Civil War allow us to study the link between history and memory. Reading keys for an analysis of trauma, they show that literature is also a memory puzzle.

write out the trauma is a work resulting from the doctoral thesis that Sophie Milquet carried out between the Free University of Brussels and the University of Rennes 2. At the beginning of the 2000s, especially at the time of the law of historical memory (2007), the novels that we called were flourishing on the tables of Spanish bookstores of memory. Their authors, often children or grandchildren of victims, tried through fiction to rewrite the missing or rather torn pages of the Spanish history of the XXe century.

Almost concomitantly with this growing interest, encouraged by the new law of memory, these cultural products have become subjects of study allowing us to question the link between history, memory and literature and to apply the writings of Pierre Nora to the Spanish case. Sophie Milquet's thesis and book are part of this intellectual movement.

State of the question

The work proposes to examine memory from a gender perspective – “feminine writing”, with various tools from psychoanalysis, psychology, sociology, literature and history.

The introduction reminds us that we did not have to wait until the 2000s for the civil war and Francoism to be mentioned in literature. It offers a state of the question centered on the work of Maryse Bertrand de Muoz, Viviane Alary, David Becerra Mayor, Ana Luego, Maro Corredera, Maud Joly.

However, certain works are ignored or passed over in silence, such as those of French Hispanists who were also interested in these questions, such as Georges Tyras, Nathalie Sagnes Alem, Catherine Orsini, Genevive Champeau and Lucas Merlos. Despite everything, other international specialists, not mentioned at the start, will be cited subsequently and will enrich Sophie Milquet's thinking, such as Mercedes Yusta or Jo Labanyi.

The statement that opens the study is general: Sophie Milquet is interested in the links between history and memory thanks to a bibliography which calls on, among others, Ricur, Veyne and Chartier. It is a question of narrativization of history, of fiction that draws inspiration from history, of the porosity of disciplines, of history as literature and of literature as history.

The two are not in a relationship of opposition, but of complementarity, to the extent that literature which is nourished by history is a gateway to knowledge of the past that is less demanding than that of History in the academic sense.

Poetry of trauma

Sophie Milquet chooses the notion of trauma as an axis, following the line of trauma studies who strive to give (or give back) a place to victims. Literature would have reparative capacities, to the extent that it allows us to understand the trauma and possibly overcome it.

The author looks at this putting into literature trauma for the Spanish case, that is to say in the stories relating to the civil war, but also to the later years of Francoism. Eight authors are chosen, with twelve works published between 1975 and 2010.

By mentioning the women's memory of the Spanish War, the author refers to female characters, which explains the presence of male authors in her corpus, although in the minority (two against six). Another clarification, two write in French: Agustin Gomez Arcos and Mercedes Deambrosis, an element which will of course be taken into account in the analysis. In this same introductory part, Sophie Milquet returns to the work of associations responsible for historical memory, without mentioning precisely the legal framework for the expression of this memory, such as the amnesty law of 1977 and the long road towards the law of historical memory in 2007.

The following chapter is the last step before entering into the detailed analysis of the corpus. Female experiences of war offers a list of different manifestations of trauma: silence, mourning, body, identity, gender under Francoism. Developed first, silence seems to be common to several manifestations of trauma: silence inflicted on the vanquished, impeded and mute bodies, the impossibility of mourning or even confiscated identity.

Sophie Milquet created a poetry of trauma nourished by references to psychoanalysis. Trauma has physical repercussions: it is inherited and transmitted from one generation to another, with consequences on the construction of identity. On this subject, it is ethnosociology that is invoked, to show the extent to which rites participate in the construction of identity and the structuring of memory, whether they are funeral rites, objects or narrative as ritual, by referring to the exorcising power of writing such as let Ricur hear it.

From the fourth chapter, the analysis of the texts becomes more precise: each chapter focuses on one or two novels, according to three salient points of the representations of the female experience of war (which) underlie the entire thematization of traumaknow the genealogy, the body and the voice.

Texting bodies

The chapter Gnalogies focuses on the trilogy by Josefina Aldecoa, which relates the events by giving voice to different voices, on The mitad of the alma by Carme Riera and Ruth's Cancin of Marif Santiago Bolaos, who have in common the filiation and the generational link. It is about the importance of the family story that certain characters deliver, ask for or seek.

The work of memory, with all its flaws, ellipses, imprecisions, repetitions, discontinuities, flashbacks, selections, is transparent thanks to literary and formal processes. Thus, the narrator who is often the character who intends to reconstruct the story of the past takes the reader with him; together, they build the memorial puzzle. If it is indeed fiction, the link with the history of Spain is strong. The novels are punctuated with historical milestones, family and national temporalities overlap, the referentiality giving greater scope to the present cases.

Chapter 5, Corpographs, starts from the concept of Pierre Zoberman, which designates the linguistic, textual and semiotic shaping of bodies. It is a question here of the traumatized, bruised, abused body, sold by the enemy, in the novels that Agustin Gomez-Arcos writes in French and The three roses by Jess Ferrero (2003).

Sophie Milquet distinguishes two textual treatments of the body and trauma. At Gomez-Arcos, it is associated with the aesthetic of subversion, subversion of traditional female figures of the virgin, the mother and the whore. There is also a subversion of the language, with texts written in a French that is often clumsy, but which allows more freedom, Spanish being the language of theenemy.

As for Ferrero, he chooses to relate a real event, the drama of Trece roses, 13 young women, most of them members of Unified Socialist Youth, imprisoned in Madrid and murdered in 1939 at the Almudena cemetery. If the anchoring in reality is certain, the young girls appear in a spectral way in the novel.

In both cases, for Sophie Milquet, who relies here on the work of Labanyi, moving away from the strictly referential narrative would allow distance and, thereby, stronger criticism. It seems to us that this statement could be qualified, to the extent that the potification of the story can also erase or blur the impact of the demands. This is also what the author points out, when she regrets that a study of the reception of the works could not be carried out.

Make sleeping voices speak

The sixth chapter, Voicethe third place of inscription of the trauma, echoes the inaugural silence and focuses particularly on The voice slept by Dulce Chacn (2002) and A long silence by Ngeles Caso (2004), whose titles refer to the antagonistic couple of silence and voice.

Both have women as protagonists, but the intentions diverge. In the first, they are women from Ventas prison; it is also a question of 13 roses, which appear for the first time in literature. Sophie Milquet identifies a diffraction of the story, a polyphony, the use of archival documents which anchors the story in reality and the use of the voice as a means of resistance. In this case, the omniscient narrator becomes a support to make the sleeping voices that struggle to express themselves speak. It is a story which insists on the necessary construction of a collective memory, the repercussions of which must be social and real: Dulce Chacn was inspired by the testimonies of people with whom she campaigned to collect their memory.

On the contrary, in Ngeles Caso, even if there is a plurality of characters, it is more of a juxtaposition than of a collective memory construction. Here, the past is repressed, left silent, and there is little hope for the losers.

In a word, Sophie Milquet's work is very relevant. It has the merit of offering a solid theoretical anchoring and of using sources and concepts from several disciplines, notably psychoanalysis and psychology, which offer keys to reading this literary analysis of female trauma linked to the Spanish War.

In terms of regrets, we deplore a lack of historical references on the notion of silence. They are developed on a literary level, but how can we not mention the silence imposed by the Spanish government which, in 1977 with the amnesty law, formalized this peace of silence And del olvido (pact of silence and forgetting)? References to the legal framework could have further nourished the link between memory and history, because it also invokes the terms of silence and damnation, and thus refers to trauma. Furthermore, it would have been wise to better justify the criteria used for the selection of the corpus; but this was undoubtedly in the thesis.

Indeed, I am thinking of an author in particular, Alfons Cervera, who also questioned this feminine memory of the war, following the same formal (use of photographs) and narrative (fragmented stories and structure of the investigation) procedures and putting the silence, fear and voice at the heart of his work.