A Photographic Document


The afternoon that Federico read ‘Asi que pasen cinco anos to Magarita Xirgu, who had always been the best actress in the interpretation of his work and a great support to him, he listened to her cold words and must have reached some profound conclusions. The surrealist genre which he liked so much, ran the risk of only appealing to minorities, to literary elites.


What Federico wanted – it is well known now, he even died for it – was to be understood by the people in the ‘gods’ the audience in the cheapest seats, the people living in the smallest Castilian villages. For this experiment, he modelled himself on Lope de Vega, undoubtedly because this classical Spanish writer made people his protagonists bringing them on to the stage and talking about their problems, their hopes and their struggles with the powerful. In the same sense that he was developing a political consciousness, so it was no accident that Federico’s dramatic work was becoming more naturalistic, increasingly tied to the observation of Andalusian society.


The House of Bernarda Alba, premiered in Buenos Aires by Margarita Xirgu nine years after the poet’s murder, is the culmination of this growing identification between Federico and the Andalusian people. Surrelaist elements still exist in the play and there are ambiguities, as is the case with all great plays but the author’s intention, both to achieve a ‘photographic document’ and to avoid a poetic interpretation which would detract from the recognition of the repressive forces recognisable in society such as the overwhelming power of money, the sacrifice of the inner self to outward appearances and aspects of Catholic morality. Once more, he wanted to discover the s conflict between the world as it is presented by those in power and this same world as it is suffered by Bernarda’s daughters.


‘Photography’ in the hands of such a poet is very much more than a snapshot. Audiences of all times find reference in The House of Bernarda Alba not only to a real world in a specific time and place, but also to a conflict which is, perhaps, still the most important in modern society: the conflict between the imposition of order and liberty, between rules and regulations and personal freedom. In short, it is the pursuit of a utopia, not inconceivable, in which the social being and the individual being are in harmony – a world in which, not only would Adela not die, bit in which her very existence would be incomprehensible. Federico was speaking of these things very shortly before fascism – Bernarda – murdered him under the olive trees at Viznar.