Contextualising the text – Garcia Lorca
Throughout his adult life, Garcia Lorca spoke frequently and with great pleasure about the profound importance he attributed to his early childhood in the small villages in the countryside near Granada, and later, in the provincial capital itself. Lorca’s father, Federico Garcia Rodriguez was a wealthy landowner with several substantial holdings in the rich alluvial plain called La Vega de Granada.
Having been widowed in his first marriage and left without children, Don Federico’s second marriage (of which his family disapproved because of the inferior social and economic background of his bride) was to a school teacher from Granada, Vincenta Lorca Romero. The mere fact that she had a profession and a job is an indication of her independence and strength of character. The influence of her personality was to be of the utmost importance for Federico Garcia Lorca, her eldest son, born in June of 1898.
The experience of the first ten years in that fertile region of slow rivers and poplar groves, with the snow-capped Sierra Nevada in the distance, seems to have provided Lorca with an inexhaustible well-spring of inspiration and feeling for Spain’s rural people and their world. The rural folk he was surrounded by became a great influence in his work as we are shown in his second rural play Yerma. Act 2, scene 1 shows us a parallel to what Lorca would have witnessed often during his childhood. In his late teens he began to write poems that he would recite in local cafes.
As a child he was known to carry on conversations with inanimate objects, bestowing upon each object a personality and speaking with them as if they were living things and might speak back at any moment. His writing career began with a book of essays in 1918, followed by a play in 1920 and book of poetry in 1921. In 1919 he left to study law at the Residencia de Estudiantes, where he met and became friends with film director Luis Bunuel and painter Salvador Dali, among other Spanish notables of his generation.
With the exception of summer vacations spent in Granada, Garcia Lorca would stay in the Residencia until 1928, by which time he had become Spain’s most highly respected younger poet. In the period of his greatest fame, Lorca drifted into a depressive, disillusioned state of mind. He described himself to a friend as suffering “one of the saddest and most unpleasant moments of my life. ” He abandoned the gypsy ballad poetry that was making him famous. He even stopped reading his poetry to friends.
He was rescued from this melancholy mood by his mentor, Fernando de los Rios, who took him from Madrid through France and England to New York City. In his plays, the pivotal characters are women. Women are the ones who suffer from desire and pass through conflict to tragic or comic resolution. Most of the scenes take place in women’s spaces, the domestic interiors which they rule and from which men are estranged (or, as in The House of Bernarda Alba, completely prohibited). The female characters reveal themselves most easily and deeply in conversations with other women.
The poetry which erupts at moments of emotional intensity usually comes from the mouths of female characters. Especially in the three great tragedies which are known as his “trilogy of rural life,” Lorca chooses women to exemplify the human life which is crushed by Spanish customs and social life. He went to Cuba in 1929-30 and returned to Spain in 1931. That year Spain became a Republic, which gave hope to many – Garcia Lorca included – that Spain’s standard of living would be improved, its illiteracy reduced and its culture more widely disseminated.
He became a director of a student theatre company, “La Barraca,” which toured small villages and in the faces of harassment by Fascist partisans presented the Spanish classics to the peasants. The company produced the three “rural tragedies” on which Garcia Lorca’s theatrical reputation rests. Yerma (1934), the second of the three tragedies, is the story of a woman who is unable to conceive although she desperately longs to have a child.
The first and third tragedies are Blood Wedding (1933) and The House Bernada Alba, which was never performed during Garcia Lorca’s lifetime. At the start of the Spanish Civil War, he went to Granada, which he regarded as relatively safe. Although he had no political affiliations, he was known to be a friend of left-wing intellectuals and an advocate of liberty. Apparently this was enough of an indictment for the Falangists who arrested him on the orders of the Nationalist Civil Governor on August 16, 1936. He was held for two days, tortured and shot.
Garcia Lorca was homosexual, and he suffered greatly because of the strict, conservative nature of Spain at that time. His writings were outlawed in Granada’s Plaza del Carmen. Even speaking his name was forbidden. The young poet quickly became a martyr, an international symbol of the politically oppressed, but his plays were not revived until the 1940s, and certain bans on his work remained in place until as late as 1971. Today, Garcia Lorca is considered the greatest Spanish poet and dramatist of the 20th Century.