Life Writing "from Below" in Europe

Prison Letters: Spain Confronts Its Past


  • Martyn Lyons University of New South Wales, Sydney



Spanish Civil War, prison letters, petitions


In post-Franco Spain, the families of the regime’s victims, as well as other republican supporters, have not only struggled to recover the bodies of victims of the repression, but also have tried to recover a lost historical memory after years of imposed silence. Véronica Sierra Blas’s new study of Franco’s prisoners (there were approximately 280,000 of them) aims to give recognition and some human dignity to their obscure fate. This article offers a critical discussion of her study of a corpus of about 1500 letters written by prisoners during the Spanish Civil War and the subsequent Francoist repression. They include petitions to the authorities, messages secretly smuggled out of jail, and the ‘chapel letters’ written by condemned prisoners on the eve of their execution. Many of the latter were designed to be made public for propaganda purposes. This article suggests that as those condemned to execution reviewed their lives, their final farewells constituted a form of life writing in the face of certain death.

Author Biography

Martyn Lyons, University of New South Wales, Sydney

Martyn Lyons is Emeritus Professor in the School of Humanities and Languages at the University of New South Wales in Sydney. His research interests lie in the history of reading and writing practices in Europe and Australia, and his most recent books were The Writing Culture of Ordinary People in Europe, c. 1860–1920 (Cambridge University Press, 2013), and Approaches to the History of Written Culture: A World Inscribed, edited with Rita Marquilhas (Springer International, 2017). He is currently preparing a study of the impact of the typewriter on writing practices.





Life Writing "from Below" in Europe