June 5, 1898 – Federico García Lorca: ‘
”To burn with desire and keep quiet about it is the greatest punishment we can bring on ourselves.”
84 years ago he was murdered by a fascist firing squad, but Federico García Lorca remains true to his famous aphorism:
”A dead man in Spain is more alive than a dead man anywhere else in the world.”
Lorca’s plays and poetry have afforded him posthumous fame in the world of Theatre only compounded by the abiding mystery surrounding his demise. Lorca was obsessed by death and had premonitions about his end.
Lorca was the son of a wealthy farmer and a pianist. He attended the University of Grenada to study law, but he left school to pursue a life of poetry and theatre.
In 1919, Lorca moved to Madrid, where he produced theatrical performances and read his poetry in public squares. His play The Butterfly’s Evil Spell (1920), and his poetry collections Book Of Poems (1921) and Gypsy Ballads (1928), brought him international attention. Lorca is associated with a group of creative types known as Generation 27, which included filmmaker Luis Buñuel, artist Salvador Dalí, and satirist K-Hito. The group tried to bridge the gap between Spanish popular culture and folklore, classical literary tradition and European avant-gardes.
From 1925 to 1928, he had a confusing involvement with Dalí. Dali’s friendship with Lorca had a strong element of mutual passion. It is clear something happened between them. Their letters show that something sexual was going on. What started as a friendship, became more intimate and moved to a physical level, but Dalí found it difficult and couldn’t consummate it. Considering his many hang-ups, it’s not surprising.
Little Ashes (2008) is about the love affair between Dalí and the doomed playwright and poet. Little Ashes is set in the culturally and politically tumultuous 1920s in Madrid and follows the intense relationship of all three revolutionary young artists played by Robert Pattinson as Dalí, Javier Beltrán as Lorca and Matthew McNulty as Buñuel.
In real life, Dalí denied his relationship with Lorca ever became physical:
”He was homosexual, as everyone knows, and madly in love with me. He tried to screw me twice… I was extremely annoyed, because I wasn’t homosexual, and I wasn’t interested in giving in. Besides, it hurts. So, nothing came of it. But I felt awfully flattered vis-à-vis the prestige. Deep down I felt that he was a great poet and that I owe him a tiny bit of the Divine Dali’s asshole.”
After an estrangement from Dalí and the breakdown of a love affair with sculptor Emilio Aladrén Perojo, Lorca was increasingly vexed by depression exacerbated by his anguish over his queerness. He felt he was trapped between the persona of the successful writer, which he was forced to maintain in public, and his tortured, authentic self, which he acknowledged only in private. He also felt that he was being considered just as a “gypsy poet.” He wrote:
“The gypsies are a theme. And nothing more. I could just as well be a poet of sewing needles or hydraulic landscapes. Besides, this gypsyism gives me the appearance of an uncultured, ignorant and primitive poet that you know very well I’m not. I don’t want to be typecast.”
The estrangement between Lorca and his closest friends reached its climax when Dalí and Buñuel collaborated on a film Un Chien Andalou (An Andalusian Dog) in 1929. Lorca thought, probably erroneously, that the film was a vicious attack on himself. At this time Dalí also met his future wife Gala and Lorca’s family arranged for him to enjoy a long stay to the United States of America in 1929–30.
Lorca moved to New York City to study English at Columbia University. The experience inspired him to write Poet In New York, published posthumously. The book explores the oppression of minorities, a common theme in his works.
Lorca returned to Spain during a period of political turmoil. He founded his own theatre company and wrote and produced the tragedies Blood Wedding (1933), Yerma (1934) and The House Of Bernarda Alba (1936), all considered classics today.
The traditional Catholicism of Spain caused Lorca to hide his gayness. He never used the word homosexual, many of his poems speak of his secret desires.
Lorca also traveled and had adventures in Cuba and Argentina, but his work is firmly rooted in his childhood in the Andalusia area of Spain and the customs, stories, songs and poems.
He was noted for his generosity and generosity of spirit, and for his defense of the marginalized and forgotten: women, black people and those who, like the poet himself, were gay.
Francisco Franco‘s fascist dictatorship (1939-1975) made homosexuality illegal, and then changed from a crime to a ”mental illness”, where gay men like Lorca were herded into prison camps and locked up in mental hospitals, some receiving electric shock as ”treatment”.
Lesbian couples would go on double dates with gay male couples, and created a coded language where they referred to themselves in public as ”libreras” (booksellers).
This repression did not end immediately after Franco finally died in 1975. And while thousands of political dissidents and other prisoners were pardoned a year later, gay citizens could still be jailed as ”social dangers” until 1979. At least 4,000 people were locked up for homosexuality during the Franco dictatorship. The regime was more than willing to erase and deny LGBTQ history.
Lorca’s fame has eclipsed many legendary Spanish lesbians, like the acclaimed Margarita Xirgu, who starred in the 1938 film adaptation of Lorca’s Blood Wedding.
Today, Spain has one of the highest degrees of liberty in the world to its LGBTQ citizens. After recognizing registered partnerships in certain cities and communities since 1994 and 1997, Spain legalized same-sex marriage and adoption rights for same-sex couples in 2005. Transgender individuals can change their legal gender without the need of sex reassignment surgery. Discrimination in employment regarding sexual orientation has been banned nationwide since 1995. LGBTQ people serve openly in the military and have been allowed to donate blood since 2005.
Spain is also one of the most LGBTQ-friendly countries in the world and queer culture has had a significant role in Spanish literature, music, film, and politics. Public opinion about LGBTQ people is noted by pollsters as being overwhelmingly positive, with 88 percent of Spanish citizens accepting homosexuality. Madrid and Barcelona are two of the most LGBTQ-friendly cities on the planet. It’s no surprise that Lorca continues to have enduring appeal to Spaniards.
Of course, there is his death. Lorca knew that he would be suspect to the rising right-wing for his outspoken socialist views. He chose to go to Granada, a place so tumultuous that it had not had a mayor for months; no one dared accept the job. In 1936, when Lorca’s brother-in-law agreed to accept the mayoral position, he was assassinated within a week. On the same day he was shot, Lorca was arrested. It was just one month after the Spanish Civil War had broken out, and right-wing militia and riot police surrounded the house where Lorca was hiding. A police report dated almost three decades later says that he was driven with another detainee to a nearby ravine, and executed.
His murder and disappearance made Lorca arguably the most famous martyr of the Spanish Civil War and a symbol of the rampant anti-intellectualism and intolerance that characterized Franco’s fascism. The fact that his body has never been found, has come to represent the buried and unsettled legacy of the Spanish Civil War and that dictatorship.
Lorca is world famous and would have become that even if they hadn’t killed him. He is more than just famous because he was a victim of fascism.
That helped to catapult him to fame but it would never have been enduring had his work had not been extraordinary. As one of the disappeared, for me, he represents all the dead of the Spanish Civil War and all the horror of dictatorships.
Franco placed a ban on Lorca’s work, which was not rescinded until 1953. Following this, his plays were produced on the main Spanish stages. His homoerotic Sonnets Of Dark Love (1935) were lost until 1984 when they were found and finally published. It was only after Franco’s death that Lorca’s life and death could be openly discussed in Spain. It was not just political censorship, but also to the reluctance of the Lorca family to allow publication of unfinished poems and plays.
Lorca has become the face of Spain, appearing on education and tourism logos, though paradoxically, he continues as a counterculture icon for political dissidents, exiles and especially LGBTQ people worldwide. And while his disappearance haunts his fans today, his tragedy continues to unearth other forgotten stories of those who disappeared.
Many Spanish women are among the missing. They have been silenced and erased from history. But like Lorca, their bodies disappeared, yet their stories live on.
From The Fable And Round Of The Three Friends,
Poet in New York (1929)
“Then I realized I had been murdered.
They looked for me in cafes, cemeteries and churches
…. but they did not find me.
They never found me?
No. They never found me.“