115th Annual Conference - Honolulu, Hawaii
Friday, November 10 - Sunday, November 12, 2017

Autobiographical Fiction Beyond its Boundaries: The Case of the Spanish Division of Volunteers

Macarena Tejada-Lopez, University of Oregon

This paper explores the diverse rhetorical preferences used by the Spanish divisioners who fought in WWII to recount their experiences. By using the autobiographical theories of Lejeune and Hellbeck, I analyze how these preferences (diary, memoir, novel) serve the writer and how these writers adapt or challenge the pre-existing characteristic of the genre.

Proposal: 

The Blue Division was the military division of volunteers that Francoist Spain sent to northwest Russian to help Hitler fight Communism. The presence of these 47.000 men in the Novgorod-Leningrad area extended between October 1941-October 1943, as an integrated division in the Wehrmacht. Writing during the campaign or right after repatriation facilitated the divisioners a space for self-expression. With varying levels of literary skills, in the narrativa divisionaria abound impressions of life outside Spain: life as a soldier in a land strange to them, and also the lifestyle of the people they encountered. Their wandering and scarce moments of solitude drew them to reflect on the nature that surrounded them, thus recording their fascination for the Russian steppe in whose immensity they liked to get lost. But the intimacy that the trench diaries offered was also limited as they could be read by someone else; therefore, the divisioners had to practice restraint from everything they wanted to convey. In the same way that Jochen Hellbeck (Revolution on My Mind) refers to the diaries under Stalinism as private yet not intimate spaces, the surveillance of much of what the divisioners wrote forced them to avoid certain themes. This restraint was primarily about political observations related to Franco’s government, or the realization of the futility of the campaign in 1943. Consequently, the divisioners who published in the second half of the 1940s and the 1950s filtered out of their accounts any political remarks, reserving a space in the prologue for open though subtle criticism of Franco’s government. In the majority of cases, the main text attempts to represent the experience of the Division as a collective. With the hope to avoid extreme subjectivity and to make his experience relatable to other divisioners, the author creates the text in collaboration with other veterans.

Furthermore, this plurality affects the textual markers of the text at times confusing the reader about the correlation of author-narrator-protagonist. Memoirs and diaries are genres commonly understood to provide an intimate conversation between the author and his reader. But such “pact” is broken when the reader sees “we” where it should appear “I”. Given that not all prologues include an explanation on narrative choices that guides the reading, this proposal puts in conversation The Autobiographical Pact by Philippe Lejeune to disentangle the confusion. In this work, Lejeune provides the reader the textual and discursive markers necessary to identify the type of text we are reading when the pact between the author and the reader is unclear. At the subjective level, Jochen Hellbeck’s work on diary-writing practices under Stalin sheds light to the collective meaning of a text as intimate and subjective as the diary is. In the corpus of the Blue Division, collectivity is marked with the use of the subject pronoun “we”. This paper explores the diverse rhetorical preferences used by the Spanish divisioners who fought in WWII to recount their experiences. By using the autobiographical theory by Lejeune and Hellbeck, I analyze how these preferences (diary, memoir, novel) serve the writer and how do the writers adapt or challenge the pre-existing characteristic of the genre.

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