Spain for Gerald Brenan was much more than just a subject to study. The country had proved to be a source of profound sociological importance.
Born on the island of Malta in 1894, Brenan came to Spain in 1919. Then, apart from some brief periods away, he lived on the mainland until his death. His brilliant literary and historiographic studies have prompted praise from the most specialist of international critics.
Brenan not only analysed the social and political situation in the country prior to the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War, he also made a personal interpretation of Spanish literary values, and made an anthropological study on the area and the people of La Alpujarra in Granada, a place where he lived for many years. He was also deeply interested in a number of emblematic figures from Spanish history, amongst whom numbered his favourite, San Juan de la Cruz. Brenan died in his home in Alhaurín el Grande, a province of Malaga in 1987 and he is now an important - and from a documentary viewpoint, essential - part of Spanish culture. Brenan wrote about his life experiences in his book Personal memoirs (1976) where he recalls the period between 1920 and 1975. He gives all manner of details, including assessment of intellectual society of the time with which he was familiar, as well as his association with the famous Bloomsbury Group.
Perhaps his most well-known work is The Spanish Labyrinth published in its English version in 1943 when the power of censorship of the Spanish regime was at its height. To all intents and purposes, the work has become a legend in the historiography of the 20th century, and is considered one of the most lucid visions of the events which led the Spanish to engage in a bitter civil war for three years.
So far as the public readership is concerned, what is so special about Brenan's writings is that despite their being rigorously erudite, they possess a certain charm, a style which - for serious sociologists and historians is very difficult to achieve.
Separately, it is surprising, that Brenan's affection for Spain never wavered whether he was examining the good or the bad in it.
Brenan knew how to adapt to the oppressive regime of the Dictatorship as if it were just another of life's challenging experiences, with its paradoxes, its stark contrasts, its political oratory,and its unpredictable popular movements.
Speaking of his work The Spanish Labyrinth, Brenan explains that the book was written during the Spanish Civil War and immediately afterwards. Frequently, it became difficult to have absolute confidence in the information that I got hold of. He also had to fight his own personal prejudice as he had supported the Republic cause.
Brenan attempted to explain that Spain, apart from its mainstream and commonplace social and political structure, was a land of the complete unknown. It was necessary to select and formulate a straightforward question: Why did things happen in the way they did? Brenan claimed that in Spain, people have a destructive and sceptical mentality which often brings together in the same person a profound longing for faith and certainty ... qualities which are very difficult to explain to the Anglosaxon mind, he said.
In his critiques of Spain's socio-political structure, Brenan used a lucid irony which revealed the scourge of a civilisation in decay and which was to lead the world to a war which was to be much more terrible than the Spanish Civil War, the Second World War.