So I’ve got a negroni and a giant blond wig: exactly what I need to write a review of this 1960s collection of three plays by Federico García Lorca.
In this slim and battered volume are contained translated texts of Blood Wedding (Bodas de Sangre), Yerma (Yerma) and The House of Bernarda Alba (La Casa de Bernarda Alba), collected here as a set of “rural” tragedies. Are they similar? Yes, in tone, plot and denouement, they are INCREDIBLY similar, and characters do seem to resonate and reappear throughout. The first two contain (some) dialogue in verse, and all of them focus on desperate, sad and lonely women in the countryside. In the countryside of Spain what feels like far more than 80 years ago.
To loosely summarise: Blood Wedding is about a heterosexual couple married to the wrong people, and they realise this on the woman’s wedding day and scandal ensues; Yerma (in my opinion the strongest of the three) focuses on a woman whose husband works on his farm ALL THE TIME and refuses to have the sex with her that will allow her to become pregnant and thus find purpose in her lonely life (Lorca’s tone) – she doesn’t go find another man to give her the juice, but she is accused of it anyway and scandal ensues; The House of Bernarda Alba focuses on a large family (five daughters and a freshly-widowed matriarch) and its servants, as two of the daughters fight over the fiancé of a third: this one’s a bit messy but, needless to say, scandal ensues.
All of the texts speak at great length of the horrors of being a woman in Spain at this point in time – the powerlessness, the lack of opportunity, the problems with male-dominated/controlled society, but also (and this is where the plays’ LACK of feminist credentials becomes apparent) the inability for women to successfully govern themselves when left alone.
So in the plays’ focus on women*, yes, there is something liberal and modern about the texts. Also there is discussion of problems within rural society – sexuality and purposelessness if without a job OR a man (there is some discussion of class), lots about propriety and ideas of chasteness and behaviour and shame and… Ideologically, there is a lot of interest in here, and most of the good stuff is present and at its strongest in Yerma.
But, ultimately, are they any good?
Not universally, no. Bernarda Alba falls apart in its concluding “women need men to keep them sane” message at the very end; all three have utterly stupid and unnecessary deaths at their conclusions; the occasional verse used in BW and Yerma is a bit irritating; and all three are so resolutely of a time and of social mores so distant from those of today that it is difficult (except in Yerma) to see any relevance to the modern age.
I’d never read any Lorca before, and I shan’t be rushing out to read any more, to be honest. Yerma is interesting and I would, I suppose, recommend that, but the other two weren’t anything special at all.
Maybe in the 30s this was radical. Maybe the translation I read was mediocre**. But (other than Yerma) I found very little here that could be applied with any relevance or importance to the 21st century.
A bit of a disappointment.
* This negroni is huge, I’m only halfway through and I feel a little… odd…
** By James Graham-Luján and Richard L. O’Connell.
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