How did the idea for the book ‘… And they died in exile’ come about? What was a man like you looking for who has worked in all the media with important positions?
As a passionate reader and lover of history, he had read many authors about the 19th and first third of the 20th centuries, both in essays and narrative. I always found that women occupied a very secondary role and that it was Pérez Galdós who gave them prominence. At the same time I had been interested in the vicissitudes suffered throughout their lives by women such as Clara Campoamor, María de Maeztu and other women such as Concepción Arenal, Emilia Pardo Bazán, Beatriz Cienfuegos… One day ten years ago I was wandering through the port of Corcubión next to Cape Finisterre and I saw a maritime rescue ship docked at the pier bearing the name of María de Maeztu. And right there I got the inspiration to write about the history of women in Spain and its concatenation with feminist movements that took place in the 19th century. And I dedicated myself to this for ten years, reading, underlining, making index cards until, after eight years of previous work, I decided to write this book ‘…And they died in exile’. It is titled like this because most of the women who fought the most for the defense of their rights in the first third of the 20th century had to go into exile, starting in 1939, and most of them left never to return.
What does a book like this owe to someone who is passionate about history and someone who has dedicated so many hours or so much life to journalism?
I am the one who congratulates myself for having had the opportunity to dedicate these years of my life, once retired from the daily exercise of journalism both in radio and in the press, to an exhausting job but it fills me with happiness.
Is half the world’s woman mistreated by the other half, as Javier Cercas says?
Of course. Not today. At least in the Western world, but there are consequences – we see it every day – even among us, Europeans of the 21st century.
What would be three or four key conclusions of its more than a thousand pages?
That the woman already has her place. She has earned it. I finished my essay in the 50s, in full Francoist fervor, by the way. I am not interested in today’s feminist movements, loaded with clichés, misrepresentations, and ignorance. Women today have access to all employment and decision-making positions. Some semi-illiterate women have even been appointed ministers because of a false equality, for the same reason that other semi-illiterates have come to occupy ministerial portfolios.
It focuses on many women, but one of the most fascinating is Emilia Pardo Bazán, so reviled in her time. What is her lesson or her example?
Doña Emilia, like her predecessor Concepción Arenal, fought against the tide. They were all against her. She not even in the world of literature. She was denied the possibility of entering the Royal Academy of Language for the mere fact of being a woman. I have just quoted Concepción Arenal who suffered the greatest attacks and disqualifications of her work for the same reason: being a woman was the same as being nothing.
He quotes a lot of women, with erudition and good analysis. What story moved you the most?
There are many that I should mention. For example, Gertrudis Gómez de Avellaneda, María Espinosa de los Monteros, Isabel Oyarzábal, María Goyri, Maruja Mallo, Matilde de la Torre… That is to say, I would not know how to define myself by one or the other, except for the aforementioned Clara Campoamor and María de Maeztu, who are in my first line of preference.
For example, you remember two Cajal students. How was that collaboration between the great men and their female assistants?
A collaboration with many chiaroscuros. Santiago Ramón y Cajal was a misogynist through and through. He had a great woman by his side as a collaborator but she was still an exception, a ‘rara avis’. For Cajal, women were an inferior being.
What did we lose with the exile of so many valuable women?
Exile caused us to lose a series of very important women in the field of science and culture. From Dr. Trinidad Arroyo (who had saved Pérez Galdós from blindness), to Margarita Xirgu, the best actress we have had throughout our history. Many. Unfortunately, many.
He quotes the Aragonese Amparo Poch. How do you see that woman who dies in oblivion in Toulouse?
She is another of the great exiles. Dr. Poch had a very interesting life. But obviously it was difficult for her to be accepted in post-war Spain when she had attended many of the guerrillas who fought in the Pyrenees and who entered and left Spain, in the 1940s. But, yes. Amparo Poch was a brilliant woman.
What makes you feel most satisfied with such a task?
To bring to the reader a history of Spain, through the history of women, almost completely unknown.
Was the 20th century the century of women or should the 21st be, really?
Yes Yes. It was the 20th century. Now women reap the fruits of the seeds sown throughout the 20th century, here and in the rest of the world.
We are in the time of ‘Me Too’. Is this a feminist manual written by a man?
I haven’t thought about it. It is the result of what I have read on the subject.