Spain: Censorship under Franco still looms over the arts

8 March 2017
Literary works censored during Franco’s regime are still being published today with the altered or deleted text deemed unacceptable over 40 years ago.
Photo: General Franco giving a speech in Éibar in 1949/Wikicommons


While Dr. Jordi Cornella, currently a lecturer in Hispanic studies at the University of Glasgow, began his research on censorship in translated works under Francisco Franco’s dictatorial regime in Spain (1939-1975), his findings took an unexpected turn.

“It was a total surprise,” Cornella told Freemuse, explaining his discovery that literary works that had been censored during Franco’s regime were still being published and sold today with the altered or deleted text deemed unacceptable over 40 years ago.

While focusing on the Spanish translation of British novels for his research, Cornella noticed that in a 1990s reprint of Ian Fleming’s 1958 James Bond novel ‘Dr. No’ there were passages from the original text missing in the translation. In fact, all the reprinted versions of the novel, including the new digital versions, had been using the Spanish-language censored version from Franco times.

In 2012, while conducting his research at Bangor University in Wales, he explained in a university feature that a 1960 Spanish translation of the novel was “rejected outright by censors” and that five years later censors “forced substantial cuts on the editor”.

“The last two pages of the novel, for instance, were deemed to be pornographic and were completely excised, and as a consequence the ending feels rushed and makes little sense,” he said.

This discovery led Cornella to see if ‘Dr. No’ was an exception, or if the practice of reprinting censored text was more rampant.

“What I realised is that this [reprinting of censored text] was frequent; it was not an exception and it is happening on a regular basis,” he told Freemuse. “Censorship is still alive [in Spain]. This needs to be addressed systematically or it’s not going to be stopped.”

In his five years of research, Cornella has discovered approximately 30 novels in the English language that continue to be made available, in various editions, in their censored versions. For example, Ira Levin’s novel ‘Rosemary’s Baby’, which is available in approximately 21 different editions, continues to contain censored or expurgated passages.

Legacy of censorship in the age of technology
The disturbing factor of unknowingly perpetuating the legacy of Franco’s censorship is that many works from the 1930s-1950s are, or will soon be, part of the public domain, meaning that publishers will be able to freely reprint and distribute them in their censored versions.

This, coupled with the growing ease and use of technology, worries Cornella: “It is very easy to scan old text and make it into an e-book, and it is relatively cheap; this could be a real problem if publishers are unaware that they are reprinting censored texts.”

This worry is very real as Cornella notes that this process has already begun.

“When e-books were being published I realised this would never stop. New technologies will continue and give new life to what censors did,” he said. “They [censors] didn’t realise then that their work would be so effective. This was my most shocking discovery.”

Sensitive topics under Franco
During the nearly four-decade rule of Franco, censorship was widespread and covered the usual suspects of subject matter: moral, political and social issues.

The regime enforced a strict Catholic worldview, therefore topics of sex, contraception, homosexuality, divorce and behaviour unbecoming of women were taboo in Spain at the time and a focus point for censorship.

“One had to be careful in how the church or religion was represented,” Cornella explained. “There couldn’t be references to atheism or anything critical of the pope. For example, non-fiction books on religions, which are mostly unpublished today, did not have any references to Protestantism as it was seen as directly challenging Catholicism.”

Politically, the sensitive subject of the Spanish Civil War, fought from 1936 – 1939 and won by Franco’s Nationalists, was another focus point for censors.

“References to the Civil War, even those not so critical, were censored,” Cornella explained. “References to Franco as well, even those that were not very challenging of him, censors preferred to censor just to avoid any problems.”

As far as social issues, Cornella said the topics that were most sensitive were about drugs and poverty, but only when it came to their description of Spanish society, explaining that works, such as some by American writer John Dos Passos, which depicted problems of poverty in other countries would mostly pass censor scrutiny.

The censorship apparatus
Franco was very strict during his rule and required that every single book headed for publication in Spain had to be reviewed by his administration’s censors.

Though some parts of the censorship process remain unclear due to a lack of transparency, such as how censors were selected and who they actually were – since many signed off on reports only using their surnames, “we do know that many of the censors were priests, war veterans, military personnel, writers and journalists,” Cornella said.

“Even [Camilo José] Cela was a known censor at the time,” Cornella explained. “Being a censor was an easy way to make money at the time. It was good for an aspiring writer to make some money while working on their book.”

Literary works censored during Franco’s regime are still being published today with the altered or deleted text deemed unacceptable over 40 years ago.
Monument to Camilo José Cela, Padrón, Spain

Cela, a famous Spanish writer who won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1989, worked as a censor from 1941-1945 and specialised in magazine censorship. Cela earned 375 pesetas per month, equivalent to 2.25 Euros. In later years, the writer said when he started working for the Ministry of Interior’s Censorship Deprtament he needed the money badly and he didn’t know he wanted to become a writer.

In fact, some of Cela’s work fell victim to Franco’s censorship. His novels ‘Mrs. Caldwell’ and ‘La Colmena’ were extensively censored, and one book ‘La Familia de Pascual Duarte’ was banned in Spain in 1943, forcing Cela to seek publication in Argentina.

In September 2016, the Royal Spanish Academy and Penguin Random House, as part of the writer’s centennial commemoration, published ‘La Colmena’ in its full, uncensored form, including the passages censored by the government, as well as those that Cela himself removed in an act of self-censorship.

Further, there is a surprising amount of information preserved just outside Madrid, in the Archivo General de la Administración, part of the national archives system, which stores documents related to the functioning of the public administration from the 1850s onwards, including documentation and censorship reports from Franco’s time.

“The archives [from Franco’s time] were not destroyed, so we can see what they did,” Cornella said.

How censors worked
Censors would have to write a report for each work reviewed, including a detailed explanation for why a book shouldn’t be published or why it should be censored. The censors, however, wouldn’t have the last word on what happened to a work, there was a chain of command and a so-called head of censorship.

When censors determined a work could be published, but with alterations, sometimes the censors themselves would change the passages. In other instances they would make suggestions for how certain passages could be changed to comply with censorship guidelines while attempting to not lose the original meaning. In other cases, they simply indicated on which pages changes needed to be made.

Once these changes, suggestions or indications were made, censors would then send a letter to the publisher alerting them of the change or asking them to make the changes according to their suggestions or indications.

Once a publisher incorporated the changes, the new and censored version would be printed, which would then have to go back to the censors for another review before it was deemed acceptable for the public.

This time-consuming and bureaucratic process could go on indefinitely until it passed the censors’ scrutiny, which Cornella said was one of the main complaints of publishers at the time.

More than just English translations
While Cornella’s research has primarily been on Spanish translations of English-language novels, he notes that literary works in other languages, such as French, Spanish and Catalan, have also suffered the same treatment.

He also believes that there are significantly more works in Spanish, Catalan, Basque and Galician literature that were censored and continue to be printed in their censored form, noting that there is another scholar doing the same type of research for these languages.

According to The Financial Times nearly 500,000 books were published during Franco’s time, which all had to pass the judgment of censors.

Film also a victim
Cornella also noted that the same is happening to film. Old films that were censored in Franco’s time continue to be screened in that altered form.

In some cases, some films have been re-dubbed to match their original, uncensored form, but the censored versions continue to be available in theatres and on television.

In fact, as far as back as 1981, Spanish newspaper El País reported on the censorship of film in Franco’s time, explaining that in 1941 a decree was made that only Castilian Spanish could be spoken and heard in the country.

This meant that films, both foreign and domestic, were dubbed into Castilian Spanish and censored along the way if content was deemed too sensitive for public consumption. The practice became so sophisticated that they would dub in statements defending Spain’s political system and moral values.

These versions of films were never presented with subtitles; so, once dubbed and changed, many of the original versions of domestic films, with original dialogues and meanings, have been lost and are “unrecoverable”, as reported by the newspaper over 30 years ago.

Slow, generational shift
The spotlight on censorship is finally shining, as Cornella explains, because of a generational shift in Spain in which his generation, and generations subsequent, are beginning to ask questions and want to know what happened during Franco’s regime and Spain’s transition to democracy after his death.

“There was a disconnect between us and our grandparents because they fought in that [civil] war and lived in that regime, so we couldn’t talk about any of it in an open way together; but now we are not affected by the silence of other generations,” Cornella told Freemuse.

He notes that his generation is the first generation to be born and completely educated in a democratic Spain and not under Franco’s regime, and that his generation started asking questions and looking for answers.

“The archives were available in the 1980s, but not much was done with them; there were many years of no work,” he said. “It’s been less than ten years since people started to look into these [censor] reports.”

Further, a big push in opening up this part of Spain’s history came in 2007 when the government passed the Law for the Recovery of Historical Memory, which seeks to re-examine the country’s past and take into consideration the victims of the regime.

“When Spain transitioned to democracy after Franco there was a sense that people were trying to forget the past,” he told Freemuse. “People wanted to leave the past behind; they saw it as an embarrassment – a liability. Politics and social issues were not discussed, but now that’s starting to change and some issues are being addressed.”

For example, since the law was passed monuments and statues of Franco and his generals began to be taken down and stored in museums, commemorative plaques in cities were also removed and stored, and street names were changed as well.

Cornella noted back in 2012 at Bangor University that though this new 2007 law helped shed light and restart the discussion surrounding Franco, books and other cultural artefacts were not focused upon.

The so-called ‘pact of forgetting’, a conscious decision not to question or examine the past in order to facilitate the transition to democracy, has prevented readers, libraries and publishing companies from developing strategies to address this issue. Some books have been retranslated or restored, but as a result of the general amnesia surrounding the regime’s cultural policies, these efforts have passed largely unnoticed, to the point that Spanish public libraries, unaware of the problem, still promote the reading of censored materials.

That lack of awareness is not the only aspect that allows publishers to reprint censored works, the other issue is financial as the process of systematically comparing texts to originals is a lengthy and expensive undertaking, but there are publishing houses that are slowly trying to correct this decades-long culture of censorship.

The changing face of censorship
For his part, Cornella continues to do his research and get the word out as much as he can, not only speaking out in public in Spain to try and engage audiences, but also with publishers, literary critics and others, to make them aware of the ongoing censorship.

He says he is often met with a “reaction of disbelief” when he talks of his findings and publishers will often tell him that retranslating and republishing uncensored works is now mostly an economic issue.

However, publishers are beginning to publish uncensored translated works, as well as Spanish works that were either censored or banned.

In early 2016, Cornella was approached by a publisher from publishing company ECC Ediciones who had read his articles and was interested in publishing the original, uncensored versions of all 14 Ian Fleming-penned James Bond novels.

As of the writing of this article, ECC Ediciones has published ten of the 14 books, each of which including a statement that the book is free from censorship in an effort to make the public aware of this ongoing censorship phenomenon.

In April 2017, they will publish the next uncensored version in the series, ‘Dr. No’, the book that started it all for Cornella’s research, meaning Spanish audiences will finally have the chance to read the book, as it was meant to be, with all the missing passages and that missing ending.

ECC Ediciones plans to complete the publication of the series in October 2017.

Here is a partial list of literary works Cornella has identified that have been reprinted in their censored versions, or have recently been reprinted in their uncensored versions:

  • George Orwell’s ‘Burmese Days’
  • Ira Levin’s ‘Rosemary’s Baby’
  • Betty Friedan’s ‘The Feminine Mystique’
  • Nathaniel West’s ‘Miss Lonelyhearts’
  • Muriel Spark’s ‘The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie’
  • Henry Miller’s ‘A Devil in Paradise’
  • Simone de Beauvoir’s ‘La Deuxième Sexe’
  • Ernest Hemingway’s ‘Across the River and into the Trees’
  • John Dos Passos’ ‘Manhattan Transfer’; ‘Parallel 42’
  • Dashiell Hammett’s ‘The Maltese Falcon’
  • James Baldwin’s ‘Another Country’; ‘The Fire Next Time’; ‘Go Tell it on the Mountain’
  • Blai Bonet’s ‘L’Evangeli segons un de tants’ (post-war poetry book by the Catalan poet)
  • All 14 titles of Ian Fleming’s James Bond series (10 of the titles have already been translated and published by ECC Ediciones, the remaining four titles are scheduled to be published by October 2017)
  • Carson McCullers’ ‘The Member of the Wedding’; ‘The Heart is a Lonely Hunter’ (revised in its Catalan version in 1990 in which its six censored passages were re-introduced)
  • James M. Cain’s ‘The Postman Always Rings Twice’ (published in its uncensored, full version in 2009)
  • Carlos Funetes’ ‘Cambio de Piel’ (unpublished during the Franco regime; recently published by Editorial Planeta including an explanation of the censorship the work suffered)
  • Juan Marsé’s ‘Últimas Tardes con Teresa’ (published in its uncensored version by Editorial Planeta)

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