English, Department of


Date of this Version

December 2000


Published in Journal of American Studies, 34 (2000), 3, 487-502. Copyright 2000 Cambridge University Press.


At the start of Pagan Spain (1957), Richard Wright recalled a 1946 conversation with Gertrude Stein; she encouraged him to visit Spain: “ ‘You'll see what the Western world is made of. Spain is primitive, but lovely. ’ ” Wright meditated on his fascination with that country, an obsession rooted in the Civil War's political upheaval: “The fate of Spain hurt me, haunted me; I was never able to stifle a hunger to understand what had happened there and why” (PS, 10). Wright wrote as a leftist, as a political writer who had published anti-Franco articles. In his interest in Spain, and especially in his “hunger to understand” its fate after the fall of the Republic, Wright kept company with many mid-century American artists. Hemingway is the most famous instance of a writer engaged with Spanish affairs, but forms of Hispanophilia have marked the lives of many writers and painters. In his account of a trip to Madrid in 1947, Saul Bellow recalled: “ ‘And then of course I had followed the Spanish Civil War and knew as much about what had gone on in Spain between 1936–8 as a young American of that time could learn.’ ” At around that time, the Abstract Expressionist Robert Motherwell was creating his series of Elegies to the Spanish Republic, a parade of largely black canvases dominated by oblique representations of archetypal Spanish subjects such as bullfighting. As Arthur Danto has written of these images: “ ‘Spain’ denotes a land of suffering and poetic violence and political agony, and ‘Elegy’ carries the literary weight of tragedy and disciplined lamentation. ”