Elena Fortún (1886-1952): Celia y la Revolución – Celia and the Revolution

Practitioner: 

Date: 

Jul 18 1936

Location: 

Madrid Spain

Encarnación Aragoneses Urquijo (886-1952), commonly known by her literary pseudonym Elena Fortún, was a Spanish writer who focused in children and teenagers literature.

She was born in Madrid, where she studied Philosophy and Humanities. In 1908 she married Eusebio de Gorbea y Lemmi, a member of the republican army. They left the country after the Civil War to live frist in France and then in Argentina.

She started writing for children in the summer of 1928, when she published a series of short stories in the infantile section of the magazine Blanco y Negro (Black and White). These stories featured the character of Celia Gálvez de Montalbán, a young girl from a middle class family who, half innocently, half not, questioned the rules and norms of the adult world.

Her stories gained great popularity, and Aguilar publishers took interest in her. In the following years she published a series of books starring Celia, like Celia, lo que dice (Celia, the Things She Says - 1929), Celia en el colegio (Celia at School - 1932), Celia y sus amigos (Celia and her Friends - 1935). In those she also introduced new characters, like Cuchifritín -Celia’s brother- and Matonkiki –Celia’s cousin- that also became popular and loved by the Spanish children of that time.

There is a statue of her in Madrid’s Parque del Oeste, and there is also a street named after her.

From what is written above, Elena Fortún sounds like yet another upper-middle class woman writing children stories. That is the main image of her for a long time. The picture changed when a new Celia book was released, posthumously, in 1987. Under the title of Celia y la Revolución, the book follows Celia during the Spanish Civil War.

The previous book, Celia, madrecita (Celia, the Little Mother) was published in 1939, the year the war finished and Franco’s regime started. The book ends with the sentence “¡Mañana es 18 de Julio!” (“Tomorrow is July 18th!”), which refers to the day the war begun. This reference was taken for a sign of enthusiasm by Franco’s regime, and that way her books were never censored. However, Celia y la Revolución was written in 1943 and it shows a different side of Celia, and also of Elena Fortún. The book begins with Celia’s beloved grandfather –a cultivated, progressive man- being executed by the francoist side after he was caught distributing weapons among the people in Ávila –a small city that fell under Franco’s side when the war started- to defend the town against the fascists. After that, Celia goes to Madrid, which was in the republican side. Her father quickly joins the Republican Army and she is left alone in a city shaken by the bombings.

In Celia y la Revolución, Elena Fortún narrates the horrors of the war: the hunger, the pain of not knowing if your loved ones are alive or not, the fear. Celia takes the reader to the buses full of republican soldiers, to the empty markets, to the military hospitals. At the end of the book, she leaves to country to France, where her father is supposed to meet her.

After Celia y la Revolución was released, unknown facts about Elena Fortún were discovered. She strongly supported the Second Spanish Republic, a regime she thought was meant to eradicate analphabetism in Spain and to improve the social situation of women. She also challenged the status quo in her personal life, maintaining a same-sex romantic relationship with the writer Matilde Ras that finished when she had to leave the country with her husband.

The francoist regime never suspected that those apparently harmless infantile books hid a republican voice.

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