No two persons ever read the same book. --Edmund Wilson

Thursday, October 11, 2007

#60: A Woman Unknown: Voices from a Spanish Life -- Lucia Graves

...my story is partly the story of Spain; .. all these ends and changes in Spanish life reflected ends and changes that also occurred in me.
Lucia Graves (daughter of the poet Robert Graves) writes of life between cultures -- Spanish, Catalan and English -- and the life of women in twentieth-century Spain: the village midwife in Majorca, her marriage declared unlawful after the Spanish Civil War; Lucia's own education in a convent in Palma, chanting Fascist slogans and being gently pressured to convert to Catholicism; the village girls watching silently as their fiances flirted with the first wave of English and Scandinavian tourists ...

I read this whilst on holiday in Barcelona, and it did give me new insight into the oppression of the Franco years (suspicion of the authorities, endless bureaucracy, everything -- in Lucia's memories, at least -- grey) and into some hitherto unfamiliar aspects of Spanish, and especially Catalan, life, past and present: the Sephardic Jews, the folklore of the land, women in Catalan history ... But I found myself more fascinated by glimpses of Robert Graves the family man. I read Graves' poetry avidly in my teens and twenties, but I don't think I even realised that he was still alive (he died in 1985) much less that he'd raised a family, that he used to comfort his little daughter by picking the nightmares from her scalp and flushing them down the toilet, that he'd run on stage after the annual ballet show with bouquets for everyone, that he was simply Senor Graves in the Majorcan village where the family made their home.

From the sound of it, Lucia didn't at first know just how famous her father was in the English-speaking world. At school in Geneva, her English teacher made her feel inadequate for her failure to write English as fluently as her father. Later, she was an undergraduate at Oxford when he was Professor of Poetry there; by which time, she says, she'd 'largely overcome the feelings of inadequacy'. But it wasn't until I, Claudius was shown on Spanish television that Graves' adopted homeland began to take an interest in him. By that time he was already too ill to deal with this late fame, and Lucia became her father's representative on lecture tours and in interviews.

This is not only a book about being the daughter of a famous man. Lucia Graves' account of herself as a woman divided between cultures, caught in the gap between languages, is honest and direct. "To say that the man was dead was simply not the same as saying he was mort, even if both words have the same meaning. ...'dead' was like a dull pain, like the quiet end of a smile ... mort was the sudden tolling of bells, deep mourning, a gloom beyond words." Like Persephone (her father's metaphor) she learns to love both her lives, English and Spanish.

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