The Rare Book Collection was delighted to receive a visit this spring from Professor Anthony George Lo Ré, UNC alumnus and retired faculty member of the Department of Romance Languages and Literatures. Professor Lo Ré received his doctorate from Chapel Hill in 1965 with a thesis entitled The Novel of the Spanish Civil War, 1936-1960. To complete his dissertation, he corresponded with forty novelists and collected first and significant editions of their books. In 2004, he honored the University Library by donating his collection of over one hundred Spanish Civil War novels to the RBC.
The Spanish Civil War (1936 to 1939) began when armed Nationalists rose up against the Popular Front, a coalition of Liberals, Socialists, and Communists that was elected to govern the Second Republic of Spain. Hitler supported the Nationalists, led by General Francisco Franco, and the Republicans turned to the Soviet Union for aid. Foreigners sympathetic to the Republicans fought in the International Brigades, a phenomenon famously fictionalized by Ernest Hemingway in his novel For Whom the Bell Tolls (1940).
While many in the U.S. know Hemingway’s book, few know the dozens of Spanish-language novels that appeared during the war years. Publication also flourished a decade later, as Professor Lo Ré established in his thesis. One of the most popular of the second wave of novels was El Vengador [The Avenger] (1956), by José Luis Castillo Puche, a friend of Hemingway. Castillo Puche, according to the account he gave to Professor Lo Ré, had a complex personal history that intersected with different aspects of the conflict. He served in the Red Army, while his family was persecuted and almost exterminated; he experienced a religious crisis at the end of the war and entered a Roman Catholic seminary; and he subsequently abandoned his religious vocation to study journalism. Castillo Puche wrote El Vengador out of a need for inner peace, as he noted in his letter of July 27, 1960, which is printed in the appendix of Professor Lo Ré’s thesis. Castillo Puche’s Hicieron Partes (1958) had won Spain’s National Prize of Literature. However, the author judged El Vengador to be his novel that had had the most success—a novel about the futility and sterility of vengeance. The original edition’s existentialist cover art certainly resonates with that message.
When Professor Lo Ré acquired El Vengador over half a century ago, it was a recent publication. Today, it and the other novels he donated to RBC have the patina of the past. Thanks to Professor Lo Ré’s generosity, researchers now have the opportunity to consult these evocative volumes at Wilson and examine one of the twentieth century’s most polarizing world events through the literature it engendered.