BARCELONA, November 1936 by Cyril Connolly

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Cyril Connolly (1903-1974)

Cyril Connolly (1903-74) was a prominent British writer, editor, well known in particular for his book reviews. His biographer Jeremy Lewis described him as “Precociously brilliant in his youth, haunted for the rest of his life by a sense of failure and a romantic yearning to recover a lost Eden.” He was a schoolmate, from their earliest days, and friend of George Orwell, of whom he remarked: “He reduced everything to politics; he was also unalterably of the Left. His line may have been unpopular or unfashionable, but he followed it unhesitatingly; in fact it was an obsession. He could not blow his nose without moralising on conditions in the handkerchief industry.” Connolly himself is famous for his dictum addressed to would-be literary types: “Better to write for yourself and have no public, than to write for the public and have no self.” And reviewing for Harold Evans’s Sunday Times Miguel Garcia’s book Franco’s Prisoner (1972), his comradely words for the veterans, alive and fallen, of thirty years of anarchist resistance to fascism in Spain far surpassed in commitment any of the liberalistic phrase-mongering appearing in what passed for the mainstream anarchist press in Britain at the time.

THE FIRST THING ONE NOTICES ABOUT GOING TO BARCELONA is the peculiar meaningful handshakes of one’s friends. Accompanied though they are by some such phrase as “I wish I were going too,” one cannot avoid detecting in the farewell a moment of undertaker heartiness, of mortuary appraisal. In the early morning among the lagoons, the brown landscape and rainy sky of Languedoc, one begins to share it, only at the Spanish frontier does it completely disappear. As a rule, the change from Cerberé to Port Bou is one from gaiety and comfort to gloom and emptiness; to-day it is the Spanish end which is alive. The first thing one notices is the posters, extremely competent propaganda, of which that of a peasant’s rope-soled foot descending on a cracked swastika in a cobbled street is the most dramatic. The frontier is guarded by cultivated German and Italian anti-Fascists, and one begins at once those discussions on political ideology, which are such a feature of present-day republican Spain. “You journalists are the worst enemies of a revolution,” explained the Italian, “you all come here with letters like yours; then you go back and write Right-wing propaganda about us.” “Why can’t you admit that England is not prepared to help any democracy until its rearmament is carried out, when it will be too late?” said the other. Down in the little harbour the militiamen, in their blue uniforms and forage caps, were fishing with bits of starfish. The sombre Spanish train had been painted all along the carriages with crude pictures of troops departing and with harvests being gathered. As it drew out into the autumn sunshine one first became conscious of the extraordinary mixture of patriotic war-fever and revolutionary faith, and of that absolutely new and all-pervading sense of moral elevation which since the revolution is the most dominating note in Catalonia. For here one never says “since the military rebellion,” “since the Fascist revolt,” but simply “since the Revolution” or “since the 19th of July.” At the end of the train were two carriages of Anarchist troops, mostly under twenty, who waved their black and red banners, pointed their rifles at one, and in return for some cigarettes burst into a shout which was taken up all down the train of “Viva la Revolución.”

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