British perceptions of Spain during the 1930s, and their use in the interpretation of the events of the Spanish Civil War
On 11 September 1936 a Times editorial made reference to the 'clamourous partisanship' that had been brought about by the civil war in Spain. In literature since the war this polarisation of opinion has been central to representations of British responses to the conflict. Much attention has focused on the divergent British political responses, and particularly on those of the left, responses which became increasingly bitter as Spain became a 'distorting mirror in which Europe[could] see an exaggerated reflection of her own divisions'. Yet, as The Times editorial continued at the time, in spite of all 'incitements the great mass of public opinion (remained) firmly opposed to any taking of sides. This public resistance to the 'clamourous' efforts of supporters of the Republic or advocates of the Nationalists has been noted in subsequent literature but has not been explored in any depth, explanation generally centring around the policy of appeasement. While not ignoring such explanations, this study argues that the imagery and language employed in the various contemporary interpretations of events played a significant part in distancing events. The study, then, aims to add a cultural perspective to the more widely examined political understanding of British responses to Spain during the 1930s. Through an analysis of representations in mass culture, and through an examination of the experiences of the growing numbers of British visitors to the Peninsula, the study first seeks to identify the expectations of Spain and the Spanish people most commonly held in Britain of the 1930s. It then goes on to examine how, during the life of the Republic and especially throughout the Civil War, supporters of both sides, in every form of mass media available, repeatedly referred to this framework of preconceived notions as they endeavoured to interpret issues and events for their British audiences. Particular attention is given to differing portrayals of the Spanish political scene and the Catholic Church, to the representations of the two sides and what they reportedly stood for. Finally, by looking at reactions to events in the Basque provinces, examining responses to humanitarian aid appeals and once again assessing the attitudes found in fictional representations of the war the study offers some measure of the impact of the war on the wider British public.