|Former Resistance Fighter Publishes Student's Commentary on Back Cover of Memoir About the Spanish Civil War
September 10, 2009
Contact: Bill Giduz
Edmund Neyle '09 and Ángel Fernández would seem to have very little in common. Neyle (pronounced "Neal") was born and raised in Sullivan's Island, S.C., and enrolled in Davidson with aspirations to a career in science or medicine. But as a young man, Fernández watched his mother and siblings die in the bombing of Barcelona during the early stages of the Spanish Civil War. Fernández joined the maquis resistance to the Franco regime, was captured and spent nearly 16 years in jail as a political prisoner before being released in 1964.
|The front cover of "Rebelde" shows images and documents relating to the imprisonment of former maquis Angel Fernandez.
Completely different lives.
But at Davidson Neyle nurtured an interest in Spanish literature that developed into a senior honors thesis about the maquis. His thesis advisor, Conarroe Professor of Spanish Mary Vásquez, steered him to contact Fernández, one of a dwindling few survivors of the maquis, as one primary source of information for his paper.
The young Davidson student's scholarship about the dark episode in Spanish history so impressed the 82-year-old Fernández that he printed a summary passage from Neyle's thesis as the back cover text for his recently published second half of his memoirs, Rebelde (rebel).
It just goes to show you never know where a liberal arts education might lead.
Neyle explained, "I remember one day during my sophomore year walking by the flagpole talking to someone on my hall. I had an epiphany right there that I wasn't going to med school. I was enrolled in a Lorca seminar with Professor Vásquez and realized what I really loved was reading and analyzing Spanish literature, and investigating how the Spanish language crosses multinational boundaries, thereby unifying a multicultural world."
Neyle declared a Spanish major and ended up taking five or six classes with Vásquez as he fulfilled his major requirements. One was a course in Spanish film during his junior year that included screening of the movie "Broken Silence" about the Spanish Civil War guerrilla movement. When Neyle qualified to do an honors thesis and was approved by the department chair to do so, he approached Vásquez to ask if she would direct him in the year-long work. Neyle realized he already had a fascinating subject in mind. He and Vásquez settled on approaching the maquis movement by analyzing its representation in literature and film.
The Spanish Civil War devastated Spain from July 1936 to April 1939. It began after an attempted coup d'état against the government of the Second Spanish Republic by a group of army generals. The insurgency was supported by conservative groups, and the war ended in the founding of a dictatorship led by General Francisco Franco. The maquis were anti-Franco guerrillas, many of whom had fled to France after the civil war. They conducted operations against the German occupation of France throughout World War II, then fought the Franco regime thereafter. Though they were largely defeated by 1952, remnants of the movement continued fighting until the early 1960s.
Over the course of a year Neyle and Vásquez met twice weekly in her office for an hour or more each time to discuss the project. Vasquez recommended to him a memoir she discovered, Rebel: The Fight for Liberty Against Francoism written by Ángel Fernández. Neyle read the book and discovered Fernández was still alive. Recognizing that the aging former fighter would be an excellent primary source for his paper, Neyle contacted him at his current home in Toulouse, France, via telephone. Fernandez was amenable to helping Neyle, and several rounds of e-mail correspondence followed.
|Prof. Mary Vasquez poses proudly at Commencement 2009 with her star graduate, Edmund Neyle.
It was a turning point for the thesis, said Neyle, who is now enrolled at the University of South Carolina Law School. "I was frustrated early on in my senior year trying to find an approach to the subject. But when I read his book during the fall semester it gave me a real picture of the suffering endured by many of the maquis. His true story was more graphic than any fictional account or movie could show."
Neyle continued, "Fernandez was remarkable, too, because he doesn't seem to hold any grudge against his oppressors. His message seems to be that young people need to understand the reality of dictatorial social injustice and make sure it's never repeated."
Neyle defended his thesis last spring before a panel of three professors, who rewarded his work and 118-page paper with the designation "high honors." "Edmund's intellectual passion, his work ethic and his absolute joy in learning were exceptional, even at Davidson," commented Vásquez.
Neyle credits Vásquez for the honor. "Those sessions with her were the most important thing," he said. "People think the one-on-one relationship at Davidson with a professor is just a sales pitch, and I thought that, too. But for me it became a reality. We developed an ongoing friendship."
Neyle shared parts of his thesis with Fernández as Fernández was working on the second volume of his Rebelde memoir. However, Neyle never expected that Fernández would give him the honor of the back cover text. Neyle said he appreciates the gesture, but is most happy that his scholarship might further Fernández's hopes that young people will come to know the maquis story and realize that fascism must be suppressed by the continual free expression of liberty.
In translation, Neyle's back cover text reads:
The Pícaro from the Mountainous Scrublands: The Representation of the Maquis in Spanish Literature and Film, with a Historical Contextualization
As Ángel Fernández's suffering indicates, the saga of anti-fascist guerrilla resistance in Spain continues into the present. Emphasizing the necessity to remember and commemorate the endurance of the Spanish maquis, writers and film directors continue to produce works that expose and conserve the historical memory of these guerrilla fighters. This literary and cinematic phenomenon has not only generated fictitious accounts of guerrillas but also a new perspective on the results of Francoist repression on the Spanish psyche. Just as the dictatorship wanted to suffocate the anti-fascist resistance that was occurring in the mountains, rural areas, and cities of Spain, the Regime's agents also sought to erase the guerrilla warfare from the Spanish national consciousness. Resisting this sociopolitical injustice, novels and films imagine the guerrilla resistance within a fictional sphere; meanwhile, documentaries recreate the atmosphere of uncertainty and perseverance that the maquis knew (and that Ángel Fernández still lives). As the maquis persist in books and movies, a shadowy line exists between the imagined guerrilla fight and the historical resistance itself. Thus, it is possible to see the existence of the maquis in literature and film as an emblem of the guerrilla fight's persistence. Like the stubborn Mediterranean vegetation, the macchia, from which their name is derived, the maquis have survived the Francoist silencing and live on in the fecund fields of literature and film.
DEDICATION: To all those maquis, alive or dead, real people or fictitious characters, who caused me to reflect, believe, create and commemorate them.
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