Adelaida Garcia Morales’ El Sur Seguido de Bene Essay
Translated in the English language as ‘The South and Bene,’ Adelaida Garcia Morales’ two novellas, originally written and published in 1985 as ‘El Sur Seguido Bene,’ and later in 1999 made available to the English reading populace carrying the aforementioned translated title, affords its readers a glimpse of Spanish life in the post civil war era.
But instead of delving deep into political issues and concerns which could be exacted from the said context, Adelaida Garcia Morales uses the context and setting of a fear driven and fear plagued environment which had most individuals living in it committing voluntary and involuntary acts of censorship, amongst themselves and the people they know, from the fear brought about by the dictatorial regime at the time; Garcia Morales uses the same fear in post civil war Spain to heighten the ominous and sinister sentiments which exist in her haunting novellas, both of which tell the story of separate girls, who, having both lost a prominent male figure in their lives, confront their demons by writing their respective deceased relatives letters approximating their farewells, constituting the struggles which exist in their lives, and the loss of the person they are writing their letters to. In the first novella, El Sur, the narrator exists in the person of a young woman named Adriana.
She is writing a letter centering mainly on her father, who, after a successful attempt at suicide, incites her to reflect on the instance of how and what life was like when her father was alive, bringing her to finally converse and confide in him through the written word, writing the letter from her father’s hometown of Sevile, south of Spain, which is where El Sur took its title. Adriana initially pronounces of her estrangement from her father, but notes of their shared physical attributes, as well as innate proclivity to sorrow and solitude as affirmation of their biological relations, something which was able to induce sentiments of closeness. She writes: “Back then I didn’t know anything about your past. You never talked about yourself or your family.
To me, you were an enigma, a special being who had arrived from another land, a legendary city that I had visited only once and that I remembered like the scenery from a dream. It was a fantastic place, where the sun seemed to shine in a different light and where an obscure passion made you leave, never to return. You don’t know how well I understood the death you chose. I think I inherited not only your face, shaded with Mama’s coloring, but also your enormous capacity for despair, and above all, for isolation. Even now, the greater the solitude surrounds me, the better I feel… ” The tone and setting of the novella is immediately established as grim, with the looming ghost of Adriana’s father palpable and evident, hanging on every word in her letter.
The fact that she confides of knowing ‘full well’ the death that her father chose, which is to say, by his own hand, and that apart from similarities in facial attributes, she also regards her father’s ‘enormous capacity for despair’ as something she easily relates to, or identifies easily with, puts readers in the uncomfortable position of identifying Adriana as a girl who could possibly be contemplating, or has the capability of taking her life, of committing suicide the way her father did, and was able to do. The instance of her father’s suicide naturally altered the course of Adriana’s and her family’s domestic life and existence, she remembers her mother praying for his father’s forgiveness from God, asking for the redemption of his soul; Spain being a predominantly Catholic nation, the worldview, ideology and belief of its people, tends to lean on the religious, the superstitious, and perhaps to a similar degree, in the supernatural.
In the succeeding pages, Adriana writes of her father as someone possessing the said ‘supernatural’ qualities, of being a seeming magical person which appeared to exist and originate from another realm and plane of existence altogether, that despite her mother attributing her father’s death to his ‘lack of faith,’ Adriana believed he left the world because he did not belong in it, and was not of it. Of her father, whose death, others felt was inevitable because of the misery he exuded, she writes, “And you used to appear there, between them, like someone who endured a superhuman and incomprehensible suffering. And in that image of you that, in your absence, they kept shaping, I also began to perceive an extreme bitterness. Nevertheless, I was never able to ask you anything about it, since with your presence, always tender and luminous for me, I forgot about that horrible shadow they alluded to in you… ”
But the instance of magic and the air of ethereal and the supernatural which Adriana attributes to her father in the previous text exists as something which can be likened to a child who regards her mother a princess or faery because she believes with a pure naivety that her mother is the most beautiful creature she has yet seen. Perhaps a similar line of romanticising sentiment applies to Adriana in the way she regards her father; only she wasn’t a child, but an adult reminiscing on what life was like as a child and adolescent before and after the instance of his father’s death. Her convictions transcend childlike naiveties and carry more depth because the bond they shared consituted more than appearance, but more importantly, of the proclivity that they shared towards despair and isolation. This made the bond between Adriana and her father exist with the same preciousness and ethereality which she relates to and defines her father by.
In the same manner, El Sur narrates in haunting tones, the instance of a loved one’s death, and the proverbial ghost which plagues the lives of the people that the dead left behind, thereby evoking similar intense sentiments anchored outside of the mundane and ultimately, in the supernatural. In Bene, a similar tone and narration is followed. Angela, the young woman in the second novella addresses the death of another major male figure in his life – his brother – like Adriana, in a letter intended to converse with, and perhaps exorcise the ghost left by their loved one’s departures. “Couldn’t it have been you, Santiago, who played the part of a ghost for me?
It wouldn’t have been very hard for you, hidden in the distance, supported by that constant terror of mine you knew so well. I remember those dark figures you used to show me, playing them for me. You used to look for isolated stages, lost in the night, where no one could come to my aid… ” Angela’s written remembrance of her brother Santiago closely resembles that of Adriana’s memory of her father, in that they both relate to an aspect of their deceased loved ones on a visceral level. Angela’s narrative however, appears more gothic, but nonetheless evokes the same haunting tones and sentiment revolving in an eerie environment hushed by the instance of death.
Apart from her brother, Angela’s memoirs calls to mind Bene, a secretive and enigmatic gypsy who serves as the family’s maid, and who is as close as Angela could have to a family, not having her mother and brother by her side, and having a father who hardly pays her a significant amount of attention. Her memories of Bene as a child appear to blur between fantasy and that of reality as she recalls from memory demon possessions, gypsy superstitions, and similar occurences entrenched in the extramundane and supernatural. Her belief that Bene is an individual capable of exacting sinister and unnatural occurences to ensue is made evident in the following text: “Santiago, taciturn and absorbed in thought, kept a tense silence, and he seemed submerged in a pain that was new to him, which without any doubt, Bene was responsible for; at least that was what I thought while I fixed my accusing gaze on the girl. ”
The aspect of the extramundane and supernatural exists largely in the book’s second novella, as evident in the person of Bene. Whether or not Angela’s memories of Bene are fabricated from the distant past that is her childhood, or that the memory which she referred to was in fact, real, is left to the readers to decide. All that is certain is that the instance of death in both novellas establishes two narratives disconnected from the mundanity of the physical world, turning instead towards addressing the inescapable instance that is isolation, acknowledging the existence of ghosts in the metaphorical and literal sense, and ultimately underlining the belief or regard for the supernatural.