Spain fails to turn page on Franco’s legacy of censorship

Phrases and even entire pages are still missing from books by writers such as Orwell and Hemingway

Francisco Franco died more than four decades ago but the censorship imposed by the Spanish dictator lives on in dozens of works by writers such as Ernest Hemingway, George Orwell, James Baldwin and Ian Fleming.

According to new research, modern classics that were censored at the time of the dictatorship are still available in Spain only in the version approved by Franco’s regime. In many cases, that means they appear without references to the Spanish Civil War or to Franco himself, and are stripped of phrases and passages deemed too sexually explicit, critical of the church or immoral by the standards of the regime at the time. Some Spanish translations appear with whole pages from the original simply cut out.

James Bond, the womanising spy at the heart of Ian Fleming’s fiction series, suffered particularly gravely at the hands of Franco’s censors. Many of his graphic sexual exploits — in books such as Dr No and Thunderball — are missing from the Spanish versions of the books even today.

In the case of Hemingway’s Across the River and Into the Trees, even recent Spanish editions include a string of changes made by the censors. A reference to “lesbians” in the original text translates as “good friends” in the current Spanish hardback edition. A reference to “General Fat Ass Franco” in the English text appears as the unspecific “General Asno Gordo” (or fat donkey) in the latest paperback version from 2001. Coarse language and Hemingwayesque insults such as “son of a bitch” are toned down throughout the text.

“This is a legacy of the Franco regime that is somehow invisible. It is there but readers don’t know about it,” said Jordi Cornella, a lecturer in Hispanic Studies at Glasgow University. “Censorship disappeared after Franco — but not the effect of the censors.”

Mr Cornella first realised that current Spanish editions continued to be laced with such bowdlerisation while analysing the translation of Bond novels. “The last chapter of Dr No was totally distorted because they took out a couple of pages with sexual references. I thought this must be a mistake but then I started researching and found other examples,” he said. “The problem now is that these versions appear even in ebooks, so you can say that censorship is still alive and well in Spain.”

Mr Cornella says he has so far documented censorship in dozens of books, in multiple post-Franco editions, from George Orwell’s Burmese Days and James Baldwin’s Another Country to Ira Levin’s Rosemary’s Baby. Works by John Dos Passos, Muriel Spark and Dashiell Hammett are also affected. According to Mr Cornella, publishers are often not even aware their books are compromised. “This has nothing to do with ideology. It happens either because of financial reasons or because they simply don’t know that the text they have has been censored,” he said.

A spokeswoman for Planeta, which published the most recent editions of Across the River and Into the Trees, said the group had been unaware of the censorship changes at the time of publication, adding that it no longer held the rights to the work. “With this new information, any self-respecting publisher will be delighted to issue a new version,” she said, adding that Planeta had recently released new censorship-free editions of works by writers such as Carlos Fuentes and Juan Marsé.

Franco’s rule over Spain lasted from the end of the civil war in 1939 until his death in 1975. Over that period, close to 500,000 books were published in Spain, all of which had to pass the censors. According to Mr Cornella, it is unclear how many of these works were in fact cut or changed, and how many of these changes are still in use in contemporary editions. Spanish democracy has long passed its infancy, but, as Mr Cornella remarks, “books have a very long life”.

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