Continuing my exploration of the themes of love courtship and growing up in post-war Europe, on my reading list in the British Library this week was Carmen Martín Gaite’s book, Courtship customs in postwar Spain. Best known for her novels about post-war and contemporary Spain, through which she manages to explore both the experiences of living in and remembering life in Franco’s Spain, this is a different, even an odd sort of book. It is both a non fiction account of coming of age in 1940s and 1950s Spain, and an attempt to write a history of the collective experiences of one’s own generation. First published in Spanish in 1987, it’s unusual too in that Gaite focuses her attentions completely on the private sphere, on love, courtship and especially on the lives of girls and young women, in her portrait of the first generation to grow up and come of age under Francoism. It’s only more recently that, as far as I have found anyway, historians have begun to pay serious attention to themes like this when looking at the history of twentieth century Europe, and life in fascist societies. Even though themes of gender and women’s lives have been a concern for much longer, the spheres of private life, intimacy and expectations about love are only recently getting the attention they deserve. read more
The following advice was given to a reader of the popular Italian magazine Grand Hotel who wrote in 1955 with the pseudonym ‘Gone with the wind’, and it manages to capture in a few words, the complex meanings and expectations associated with love and marriage in 1950s Italy.
“It wouldn’t have been very nice of you to marry (the first man) just to have a comfortable life. As for the other one, if he really loved you and had serious intentions, he would be able to persuade his parents to break his obligation. Be careful then dear, (…) neither a marriage of convenience nor a clandestine relationship with a man who is engaged to another. You’ll be left with empty hands and a bitter smile.” read more