Lorca, in his element, in Montevideo 1934

Lorca was evidently deeply troubled by his less-than-successful homosexual relationships prior to his New York visit. We have valuable evidence given by his friend and close confident, Pepe García Carillo, to researcher Agustín Penón in the 1950s regarding Lorca’s position in provincial Granada’s gay scene, and while some of his anecdotes may be taken with a pinch of salt and put down to the bravado of a suppressed minority in the face of a hostile environment, they do throw some light on the poet’s attitudes and behaviour. For example, according to Carillo, Lorca claimed have “slept with all the boys of Valderrubio” (the village that was the centre of his father’s agricultural enterprise throughout much of his childhood and early youth). One supposes that many of the boys of Valderrubio would beg to differ, and not take kindly to the assertion, but it does reveal a certain defiant pride in his sexuality that could never be expressed freely and openly in contemporary society.

Whatever, during the years Lorca spent the summers at his father’s farm in Valderrubio, up until 1925, it is a fact that he liked to spend evenings at the nearby Fuente de la Teja, a spring on the banks of the River Cubillas, in the company of the local youth, the farm workers, who made up a captive audience. There he would read his works, talk about poetry, tell stories. He felt at ease, Carillo suggested, with the simple people of the countryside. He loved the farmworker-type, the more peasant-like, the better; he liked them “dirty and sweaty”: this is according to Carillo’s evidence. This evidence, I hasten to add, is not bolstered by Lorca’s later choice of lovers, who were anything but “dirty and sweaty”.

One of these peasant-types was Frasco, Francisco Santalla Sánchez, who would leave work and go without pay to be with Federico at the Fuente de la Teja. During one of their conversations, Agustín Penón, 20 years after Lorca’s death, notes that goose-pimples suddenly stood out on Frasco’s arms as a result of his memories of the grieved-for poet.

Here, one can’t help sharing the observation of Ian Gibson, who picked out the poem “Madrigal del Verano” from Libro de poemas (1921), to argue that Lorca is describing his own preferences when he asks a fictive “Estrella la gitana”:

  ¿Como no has preferido a mis lamentos
los muslos sudorosos
de un San Cristóbal campesino, lentos    
en el amor y hermosos?
How is it that you didn't prefer to my laments
the sweaty thighs
of a peasant Saint Christopher, so ample,
and slow in love?

After recovering from his depression and after the crucial months spent in New York and Cuba, it does seem that Lorca came to terms with his own sexuality and even came to feel rather comfortable with it: He learnt to stop fighting against his own instincts, as he himself put it.

An indication of this I would suggest is the friendship he maintained with Rafael Rodríguez Rapún which lasted from the time they became acquainted in 1933, with Rapún working as his secretary during his spell as artistic director of La Barraca travelling theatre group, until his death. It coincided with the period of Lorca’s great social, commercial, and artistic successes, which saw the acclaimed performances of the rural tragedies Blood Wedding and Yerma, the whole  Argentinian furore of 1933-4, the completion of Poet in New York, the House of Bernarda Alba, the collection that became known as los Sonetos del amor oscuro, andthe development of numerous other projects cut short by his politically motivated murder. The passionate stage of this relationship may not have lasted beyond the Argentine sojourn, as some suggest, but the friendship does seem to reflect a certain maturity in the life of the great poet. Photographs of the two men show them as relaxed in each other’s company, in contrast to the posing of so many of those showing him together with Dalí, or the one with a smirking Emilio Aladrén.  

with Rafael Rodríguez Rapún
With Emilio Aladrén

Rapún was heterosexual, it is said, but came under his boss’s thrall during the Barraca period. Rapún enlisted in the Republican Army shortly after Lorca’s murder became public knowledge and died as a result of injuries sustained, seemingly fatalistically, on the battlefield a year to the day after Lorca was shot, make of that what you will.

Lorca was notoriously promiscuous, driven by a pervasive and obsessive fear of death and hence an overwhelming need to seize the moment, to live life to the full, to defy death’s menacing proximity, which he seems to have been constantly and painfully aware of. Dalí, Buñuel and other residents of the Student Residence where Lorca resided during much of the 1920s witnessed their friend’s anxiety in this respect; how he would go through a ritualistic performance of his own death before he could fall asleep at night, a purpose of which seems to have been exorcising the horror of physical decay after death.

Sexual fulfilment contributed a means to this end, keeping the horrors of death and physical decay at bay when they most threatened to overwhelm him.

Parallel to his intimate friendship with Rapún, Lorca also maintained an emotional relationship with Eduardo Rodríguez Valdivieso, fifteen years his junior, through much of the 1930s, as secret correspondence between the two would reveal. An aspiring actor, Valdivieso read for Lorca in an audition for a possible role with the Barraca. Lorca’s notes were compassionate and complimentary, without reaching any firm decision as to the suitability for the troupe of his young admirer. On his Saint’s Day, 18 July 1936, the same day as Franco’s nationalist uprising, Valdivieso was guest at the Huerta de San Vicente, now the family’s preferred summer residence on the edge of Granada.  

On the very day he was playing host to Valdivieso at the family summer home, Lorca posted a letter to another young admirer and lover, Juan Ramírez de Lucas, at 19 barely half the poet’s age.  At the age of 38, Lorca was now at the height of his powers and his fame and the target of admiration for many a budding poet, or would-be actor.

Lorca had met Ramírez the year before and had been at once smitten by “that fair-haired boy from Albacete, tall, solitary and friendless.” The letter that he posted on that fateful July day of 1936 reveals to us that the now well-established poet-playwright was harbouring a hare-brained scheme to take this fair-haired teenager with him to Mexico, where he was to promote the Margarita Xirgú Company tour of performances of what were already his classic plays.

Ramírez was in Albacete to seek paternal permission for the trip, a mission that was so clearly doomed to failure that one must wonder if Lorca was not trying to back out of the commitment. In his letter, Lorca urges his young devotee to get his family’s approval for the trip and to persuade them to “accept his ideas”. Yet, we know that Lorca was far from certain of getting his own father’s assent to the Mexico project, and took some care to conceal his own sexual preferences from him.

It has relatively recently been pointed out that the creative process that brought us the Sonetos del amor oscuro corresponded so closely to the poet’s love affair with Juan Ramírez de Lucas that it is reasonable to suppose it was their inspiration. [This is in the Wikipedia entry for Juan Ramírez de Lucas, for example.] Lorca started to compose the sonnet series in Valencia in 1935 in a period of forced separation at the start of their relationship, and we know from Félix Grande that Lorca was working on perfecting them right up to his arrest on 16 August 1936 at the Rosales family home in Granada.

In other words, right up to the last minute of his literary productive life a passionate desire for sexual-emotional fulfilment went hand in hand with the fervour of poetic creation, as it did so often.

The close conjunction between unconquerable sexual attraction, leading to deep spiritual suffering, and ultimately self-realisation and -satisfaction is a repeated facet of the poet’s life experience. It hints at an inability to form deep and sustained long-lasting relationships due to his existential anxiety that had him searching always for new and intense experiences out of fear that life might otherwise somehow pass him by. These short-lived and intensive passions made him suffer, and out of that suffering, that gave him so little respite in his short and artistically fecund life, his poetry and drama took shape.

These observations of mine give us a glimpse into something of what we might expect from the Maurer exhibition. The truth is, argues Maurer, that we have hardly explored this aspect of Lorca.

It’s on till 6 January 2006, open from 10 – 14 Tuesday to Sunday, additionally 17 – 20 Tuesdays to Saturday, closed on Mondays.