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National Identities

Vol. 10, No. 2, June 2008, 131147

Remember the Alcazar! The creation of nationalist myths in the Spanish

Civil War: The writings of Robert Brasillach
Paul Schue*

Northland College Ashland, Wisconsin, USA

This article analyses the process of the construction of nationalist myths in the
writings of French writer Robert Brasillach on the Spanish Civil War. Brasillach
consistently presented the war through romanticised images that he intended to
become nationalist myths. In particular, he built into his work a set of markers
pointing to medieval epic poetry, which he thought embodied the Spanish  and
French  national character. Brasillach envisioned a three-part process wherein
myths mobilise the masses and inspire an elite to carry out new acts of heroism,
which are then repackaged and presented, through commemoration, as new
mythic images. Finally, individuals integrate these mythic images with their own
memories, thus placing their lives within the national tradition.
Keywords: Brasillach, Robert; Je suis partout; nationalist myth; Spanish Civil War;
Alcazar of Toledo; Cadets of the Alcazar

Recasting war as national myth

In early July 1938, three French fascist reporters  Robert Brasillach, Pierre-Antoine
Cousteau and Maurice Bardeche  crossed the Franco-Spanish frontier to begin a
two-week tour of Francos Nationalist Spain. The Spanish Civil War had been raging
on the peninsula for two full years by then, and the official purpose of the visit was
to gather material for a special issue of the weekly newspaper Je suis partout, edited
by Brasillach. As it unfolded, however, the trip became something of a pilgrimage to
sites of Spanish heroism. The travelers trooped to the Alcazar of Toledo, the site of a
siege from July to September 1936, snapped photographs of each other before the
bombed-out medieval fortress and even sought out participants in the siege for
interviews. They then found their way to Madrids University City, where the
Nationalists and Republicans were engaged in a fierce building-by-building struggle,
and photographed themselves in the trenches just yards from the site of ongoing
This tour, which was as much an emotional declaration of allegiance to the
Nationalist cause as a journalistic expedition, points to the depth of the pull that the
Spanish Civil War exerted on French political sensibilities. The agonising spectacle of
the war forced French observers to stare into the abyss of social disintegration. The
French Front populaire had been elected in the same wave of popular enthusiasm that
had swept Spains Frente Popular into power a few months earlier, and so Francos
failed coup and the ensuing civil war, in Judith Keenes words, offered the example
to both Left and Right of what next awaited France (Keene, 2001, p. 139).


ISSN 1460-8944 print/ISSN 1469-9907 online

# 2008 Taylor & Francis
DOI: 10.1080/14608940801997200
132 P. Schue

At the same time, both sides saw the war as an opportunity. For the Left, the war
seemed the first step toward a workers revolution in Spain that might sweep the
French Popular Front government along in its triumphant wake. For the Right, the
war seemed to presage the triumph of fascism, or at least conservative nationalism,
over communism. The effect of this ideologically charged atmosphere was amplified
by the fact that there was no clear account in France of what was actually transpiring
on the peninsula. Each event had three or four mutually exclusive accounts, and in
place of a clear picture of events, political leaders, journalists and intellectuals drew
vast ideologically inspired canvases, portraits of political desire rather than reality.
Because of this context, Brasillach saw the tour as a crucial first step in a
complicated ideological endeavour. A rising star of the French extreme right, Robert
Brasillach was not only the editor of the fascist weekly newspaper Je suis partout, but
also a noted novelist, theatre and movie critic, poet and essayist.1 Since the Spanish
Civil War had begun, Brasillach had been consciously and openly recasting the
events of the conflict into a series of mythic, purified images of his fascist ideology 
images, he asserted, that caught the essence of Spain, and, by an extension peculiar
to Brasillach, France, as nations. His asserted goal was to create a fascist myth that
could compete with the powerful images of communist revolution being generated in
Soviet Russia.
Brasillach chose as the centrepiece for his new series of mythic images the siege of
the Alcazar of Toledo, and then set about writing, in as many literary forms as he
could, about the mythic heroism of the Spanish Nationalists. By the wars end, he
had written or co-written dozens of newspaper articles (including a special edition of
Je suis partout devoted to the Spanish Civil War under his editorial leadership); a
hagiographic account of the siege of the Alcazar entitled Les Cadets de lAlcazar
with Henri Massis (Massis & Brasillach, 1936); a history of the entire war, Lhistoire
de la guerre dEspagne with Maurice Bardeche (Brasillach & Bardeche, 1961); the
novel Les Sept couleurs (Brasillach, 1939), which culminates in Spain; and finally a
revised edition of Les Cadets de lAlcazar entitled Le Siege de lAlcazar (Massis &
Brasillach, 1939). In 1941 he added a memoir, Notre avant-guerre (Brasillach, 1961),
which included extensive accounts of his perceptions of the Spanish war and the
Brasillachs work in these various formats is quite diverse, but taken as a whole,
this corpus presents a coherent picture of ideological mythmaking, and it reveals, in
a strikingly condensed manner, the way that Brasillach understood the nation.
Brasillachs conception of the nationalist myth served several political functions,
including acting as a point of self-identification for the masses of the nation, as an
inspiration to future action by nationalists and finally as a means of constructing
an individual identity at the heart of the nation through the process of memory. In
each of these stages, Brasillachs vision of the myth was shaped, at least in part, by an
aesthetic conception of the uniqueness of the nation.

Making a myth from the siege of the Alcazar of Toledo

The events leading up to the siege of the Alcazar of Toledo began on 18 July 1936,
the first full day of the Spanish Civil War. Upon hearing the news that several
generals of the Spanish army were attempting to overthrow the leftist Popular Front
government, Colonel Jose Moscardo, who had not been told of the planned coup,
National Identities 133

attempted to help the Nationalist cause by seizing the city of Toledo. Moscardo, the
aging commandant of the military physical education programme, hastily composed
a band of soldiers and police officers and claimed the town for the Nationalists.
However, when Republican militia reinforcements from Madrid arrived a few days
later, Moscardo retreated to the Alcazar, a medieval fortress that was then serving as
a military academy. There he awaited rescue, along with over 1,000 policemen, civil
guards and soldiers and about 800 civilians, including hostages and wives and
children of the civil guards. A rumour quickly circulated that the fortress was being
defended by the military schools teenage cadets, but it was later discovered only that
no more than nine cadets fought alongside Moscardos forces.2 During the siege, the
defenders of the Alcazar resisted a sizeable, but quite disorganized, Republican
militia force, and the siege ended on 27 September 1936, when a Nationalist army
retook Toledo on its way to besieging Madrid.
As it transpired, the siege of Alcazar became a cause celebre across Europe,
and daily reports of the sieges progress, along with graphic photographs graced
newspapers from Moscow to Milan.3 The siege of the Alcazar was transformed for
many into a sort of metaphor for the war itself, as the Republican militias literally
and figuratively besieged the fortress of medieval Catholic conservatism.4 The
Spanish Nationalists played more than a small part in this process, and, indeed,
actively encouraged the process of transforming the story of the Alcazar into a myth.
Paul Preston argues that Francos decision to divert Nationalist troops from
the march on Madrid to relieve Toledo was based entirely on political public
relations considerations. The move to relieve the fortress in fact set back the military
effort to take Madrid by two weeks, but helped cement Francos position in the
struggle to become the sole head of the Nationalist forces (Preston, 1994, p. 175).
After this, as Herbert Southworth (1964, pp. 5570) has shown, several aspects of the
siege were embellished and transformed into heroic feats to bolster the idea that the
Nationalists were fighting for high ideals and were willing to be martyrs for their
cause. Alberto Reig Tapia notes that this mythologising function was certainly
destined to serve as a factor of internal cohesion for the combatants, a function that
was especially necessary in a civil war:
Consequently, the necessity of political myths, capable of overestimating reality itself, of
giving it the appearance of being more noble, worthy, and valued than it actually is, of
sacralising our own acts and demonising those of our enemies, becomes particularly
imperative for our own conscience in the middle of the generalised slaughter among
compatriots that is a civil war. (Reig Tapia, 1999, pp. 152153)5

Reig Tapia points here to the central function the myth for the Spanish Nationalists,
which was to celebrate the nobility, chivalry and heroism of the Nationalist forces as
opposed to the ineffectiveness and baseness of the Republicans, and to fortify the
claims of the Nationalists to represent Spanish tradition and history.
Brasillach was himself a part of the process of Spanish Nationalist mythmaking.
Les Cadets de lAlcazar was one of the first complete narratives of the siege
published, and Herbert Southworth (1964, p. 60) calls it: One of the most widely
disseminated Francoist propaganda writings. However, Brasillachs project, while it
displayed definite similarities to Spanish Nationalist writings in its celebration of the
nobility of the Alcazars defenders and their connection to tradition, differed
134 P. Schue

significantly, because Brasillachs central preoccupations extended beyond the

celebration of the Nationalist political cause (and Franco as its leader) to the
elaboration of an ideal of nationalism that allowed for the transcendence of
the individual through that tradition.
Brasillach began to create his mythic images of the siege of the Alcazar almost
before the siege itself had ended. Within a month of the sieges end, Brasillach, in
collaboration with Henri Massis, published Les Cadets de lAlcazar, a hyperbolic
account of the siege (Massis & Brasillach, 1936). This first edition, written at the
same time as the siege itself, contained many factual errors, and a later 1939 edition
entitled Le Siege de lAlcazar offered many corrections and a moderately more
subdued rhetorical register (Massis & Brasillach, 1939). From his first words on the
Alcazar, Brasillach was conscious of the sieges potential as a political myth for
fascists in Spain, France and across Europe. Les Cadets de lAlcazar ends with the
following thoughts:
Without a vision, the people will perish, say the Holy Scriptures. There is no faith that
can do without images, and it is in vain that we assert our lack of heroes and myths.
Only Bolshevik Russia comprehends the virtue of images. From the mutineers of the
Potemkin to the Sailors of Kronstadt a whole series of images is paraded before the
masses in order to magnify its work and replenish its mystique.
To the heroes of this primitive humanity which only honours revolt and which
legitimates sacrifice by exalting instinct, is it not time to oppose other heroes, men who
know what it is for which they die, who know the value of what they are defending?
(Massis & Brasillach, 1936, p. 91; 1939, p. 84)
Brasillach and Massis were therefore consciously creating a myth around the
Alcazars defenders, and hoping that these heroes would attract those around them
to Europes fascist movements, just as Russian myths, embodied in Sergei
Eisensteins films, attracted the masses to the Soviet cause. Brasillach viewed Soviet
political myths as pernicious for their ideology, but he admired their ability to inspire
the masses with powerful images. He often cited Georges Sorels comment that:
Knowledge of what the myths contain in the way of details which will actually form
part of the history of the future is then of small importance; they are not astrological
almanacs . . . the myth must be judged as a means of acting in the present
(Brasillach, 1938b, p. 3; 1939, p. 199; Brasillach & Bardeche, 1961, p. 468; Sorel,
1961, p. 126).
More recently, Philippe Lacoue-Labarthe and Jean-Luc Nancy have developed a
more detailed and precise definition of myth based on Nazi propaganda, but it
complements Sorels and strikingly captures Brasillachs project. They argue that:
Myth is a fictioning in the strong, active sense of fashioning, or, as Plato says, of
plastic art: it is therefore a fictioning whose role is to propose, if not impose,
models or types . . . types in imitation of which an individual, or a city, or an entire
people, can grasp themselves (Lacoue-Labarthe & Nancy, 1990, p. 297; emphasis in
original). It was this active fashioning of both the people and the individual through
images that Brasillach was trying to effect. This myth was to function in Lacoue-
Labarthe and Nancys sense as a point of identification, and Brasillach realised,
following Sorel, that the fidelity of this myth to reality was immaterial as long as it
motivated people to join the movement and act.
National Identities 135

Across Brasillachs writings on the Alcazar, it becomes apparent that he

envisioned his political myth as being part of a larger three-stage cycle of political
mobilisation. The first stage was the presentation of a myth to the masses in order to
move them to identify with, and act on, the ideology of extreme nationalism and
fascism. The second stage was for this political myth to inspire other heroic actions
on the part of an elite few who fought for the movement. Brasillach argued that the
soldiers of the Alcazar were inspired by previous visions of heroism, such as the
myths of El Cid, and they were moved to heroic action. The third and final stage, as
Brasillach presented it, was to craft these new heroic actions into new mythic images.
In this final stage, Brasillach focused on memory as the site for mythic creations. It
was in memory, Brasillach argued, that acts of heroism were transformed
aesthetically so that they embodied the nations aesthetic character and serve as
new ideological myths. Thus the act of fashioning a memory completed the cycle,
and the newly minted heroic images could be presented to the masses as a new
ideological myth.

The mythmaking process

The foundation of Brasillachs myth of the Alcazar was that the defenders were
motivated above all by the chivalric ideal represented in the medieval epic, the Poema
de mio Cid, or in Corneilles classic French play, Le Cid. Brasillach was enchanted
with the medieval ideal of chivalry, with a heavy emphasis on the ideas of scorn for
death, concern for honourable and correct combat, personal heroism and self-
sacrifice for a romantic ideal. The precise nature of Brasillachs conception of
chivalry owed a great deal to Charles Peguy. On the eve of the First World War,
Peguy wrote an eloquent and impassioned defence of the ideal of chivalry, saying:
[T]he battle comes before the victory, and even death is nothing compared to the correct
[form of] combat. It is a well-known system, the most antique, and as foreign as can be
to the modern world. It is not only a system of loyalty, it is a system of heroism, and it is
the system of honour. (Peguy, 1961, p. 1421)

Peguy adds that this is the code of honour of El Cid, Horace, Cinna and Polyeucte.6
This code explicitly places the form of combat above the victory itself, and denigrates
those who would use any trick, ruse or weapon to win. Although this ideal seemed to
perish with Peguy in first months of the First World War, it found a new life in
Brasillachs prose, for Peguys ideals permeate Les Cadets de lAlcazar.
Throughout their account, Brasillach and Massis insisted on the link between the
Alcazars defenders and Spains glorious traditions of chivalry, in particular, El Cid:
What is this Alcazar where, from the Visigoths to Charles V, from the Caliphs to Isabelle
the Catholic, from Alfonso VI to Philip II, from El Cid, who was its first governor, to
the Cadets, who have made it even more illustrious still, all the history and all of the
grandeur of Spain have been written in succession? (Massis & Brasillach, 1936, pp. 1112;
1939, p. 7)
Luc Rasson (1987, p. 570) describes this linkage by noting,
The Alcazar is above all, for Brasillach and Massis, a symbol, and the narration of the
siege is punctuated by events that are the stages of a symbolic trajectory. What is
136 P. Schue

valorised is, moreover, not the immediate stakes of the combat, but the connection that
links the narrated facts to a transcendent dimension, which is, in this case, a Tradition.
A key part of this tradition, this chivalric attitude, which connected the defenders
of the Alcazar to El Cid, was the embrace of combat as a joyous moment, a moment
of elation. Quoting Peguy, Massis and Brasillach said that the hope of the Alcazars
defenders was,
like a flame impossible to extinguish . . . before the breath of death. . . . It was not the
least virtue of the officers and Cadets of Alcazar to have managed to support a sense of
hope, and to have introduced joy. For there was joy in the Alcazar of Toledo  there were
even parties and songs. (Massis & Brasillach, 1936, pp. 3435; 1939, p. 25)7

This led to this law of our moral universe  that heroism be in accord with joy
(Massis & Brasillach, 1936, p. 38; 1939, p. 31).
Massis and Brasillach also highlighted the parallel between the modern soldier
and the chivalric knight through the confrontation of the ideals of chivalry with
technologically advanced weaponry. When the Republicans tried to burn down the
Alcazar with a gasoline-spraying fire truck, Massis and Brasillach told of a suicide
raid to repulse the attack, and commented that:
We are here in modern war, where chemistry plays its part, where men unceasingly create
new ways to kill. But we are also in the eternal war of Spain, that of the Reconquista and
of Rodrigue [El Cid], where the battle is primarily a single combat, where the scorn for
death and honour remain on the forefront. (Massis & Brasillach, 1936, p. 73; 1939,
p. 65; emphasis in original)

Brasillach repeatedly insisted on the juxtaposition of chivalry, on the one hand,

and technology and science, on the other, and he added nationalistic characterisa-
tions of the technician and the chivalric warrior. In his novel, Les Sept couleurs, the
energetic German Siegfried Kast embodies the technicians mentality. Kast first
studies war in the French Foreign Legion, then in Spain, where he meets the chivalric
hero of the novel, the Frenchman Francois, who thinks:
He must have come here, quite consciously, to study the Spanish war, to see what worked
and what didnt, to take notes for the present and future. He must have been an engineer,
or some such thing, but he was one of this new type of professional soldier [soldat de
metier], the type most people think have disappeared: the man who runs wherever there
is war, who hears the call of war, and who engages on whichever side he prefers. A
mercenary of the religious wars. (Brasillach, 1939, pp. 208209; emphasis in original)

Germans are the technicians of war, while the French are the soldiers of honour. Yet
this is not an absolute value, for Francois himself is very much a man of science,
working for an airplane manufacturer in Paris before departing for Spain (Brasillach,
1939, pp. 159, 160). It is Francois chivalric demeanor that redeems this mundane
technicality, and even underlines how chivalry is not ignorant of technology and
science, but rather simply above it. And nationality is no absolute sign of chivalry
either, for while Spanish Nationalists fight with honour, communists, of whatever
nation, do not. Kast, who is in fact a Nazi, is likened to the mercenary pilots of the
red side, with their bonuses and [life] insurance (Brasillach, 1939, p. 208). In
creating this image of a few courageous warriors motivated and guided by a chivalric
ideal, Brasillach was in fact creating the image of a new aristocracy who embodied
National Identities 137

the ideals of a nation and led the rest of the nation by their very skill, courage and
personal ability. For Massis and Brasillach, the cadets of Alcazar were of the same
race as that knight (chevalier) that the Arabs named their Cid, which is to say, their
master (Massis & Brasillach, 1936, p. 92; 1939, p. 85).
Overall, this chivalric account of the Alcazar siege seems to be a perfect Sorelian
myth, aimed first and foremost at being a unifying force for the political movement
of fascism in Spain, and beyond it, in Europe. However, Massis and Brasillachs
myth departs from Sorels in one crucial aspect: Sorels myths, like his myth of a
general strike, are plans for present or future action, while Brasillachs images have
no call for, or vision of, definite action; they are simply exemplary, static identities.8
The emphasis that Brasillach placed on these images, their value in his eyes, lay not
in any content or goal of the actions of the mythic heroes, but rather solely in the form
of their actions. It did not matter what the defenders of the Alcazar were fighting for,
or what their Republican opponents wanted to accomplish in Spain. What mattered
was that the actions of the defenders of the Alcazar displayed the proper chivalry in
form and spirit. This tendency toward the formal rather than the functional also
makes Brasillachs myths much more akin to Lacoue-Labarthes and Nancys
definition than to Sorels. Sorel was not concerned with the form of the myth as long
as it had the function of uniting and therefore strengthening the working class in its
struggle for liberation. Brasillach, on the other hand, was not concerned with the end
goal of the struggle as long as it was formally correct, and the mythic images he
suggested were always primarily aesthetic products, concerned with form alone.
In fact, Brasillachs myth was not even about the future, for a constant strain of
thought running through his entire corpus was the importance of memory. The
highest form of heroic spirituality for Brasillach was found in the sweet, mythic and
tragic remembrance of, rather than actually living through, the event. David Carroll
(1995, p. 122) comments that, the literary-fascist aestheticization of politics revealed
itself in this way to be not just nostalgic, but catastrophic . . . memory being the only
place the plenitude of its spirituality could be experienced fully. Massis and
Brasillach ended Le Siege de lAlcazar by calling, not for action or for victory, but for
a mythic image of heroism that would outlast Francos movement, or even fascism in
Europe. When surveying fascism in Europe in a newspaper article in 1938, Brasillach
(1938c, p. 3; 1939, p. 149; 1961, pp. 243244) commented: I do not know if, as
Mussolini said, the twentieth century will be the century of fascism, but I know
that nothing will prevent this fascist joy from having existed, and having held minds
by sentiment and reason.

The imagined and redefined nation

For Brasillach, this past-perfect image was the essence of the nation and of
Occidental civilisation itself. Like all fascists, Brasillach was intensely nationalistic,
but his ideal of the nation was not racial; it was cultural. Drawing on Charles
Maurras and Maurice Barres, Brasillach conceived of the nation as a cultural unit
with a shared common language, literature and form of expression. However, in this
light, Brasillachs embrace of Spanish heroic imagery, in particular the siege of the
Alcazar or the Reconquista, becomes potentially problematic for the simple reason
that it is Spanish and not French. This was overcome by Brasillachs vision of
Spanish and French cultures as being closely intertwined: El Cid seems to be as
138 P. Schue

much a French hero as one of Castille, because [f]ew peoples are so closely linked to
France by a past this violent, holy and glorious (Brasillach, 1938a, p. 3). The
chivalric form of Spanish heroism made it aesthetically similar to Frances own
glorious tradition, and this made Spain a model for emulation in Frances present.
From this perceived kinship, Brasillach gradually moved to a position of cultural
supernationalism, wherein Latin European civilisation was seen as a cultural
constellation. William Tucker (1975, pp. 120121) contends that in the late 1930s
Brasillach began to move away from a strictly French nationalism in favour of a
more universal Occidental civilisation. Brasillachs writings of the late 1930s point to
an Occidental civilisation that included France and Spain, and perhaps even Italy.
From this perspective, Massis and Brasillach (1936, p. 92; 1939, p. 85) claimed that
the Cadets of Alcazar do not fight solely for Spain: they defend the Catholic
Occident.9 While Brasillachs Latin supernationalism was perhaps unique on the
French Right, he was certainly tapping into an established undercurrent of French
nationalist organisations of various sorts. The Action francaise and the Franciste
movement, for instance, evidenced fraternal affections for Italy and Spain in the
1930s (Winock, 1993, pp. 174175; Weber, 1962, pp. 276294, 379385).
Because of the emphasis Brasillach placed on the aesthetic tradition of this
Catholic Occident, the form that he initially chose for his Alcazar myth becomes
important. Les Cadets de lAlcazar and later, to a slightly lesser degree, Le Siege de
lAlcazar are both written in a highly charged, even melodramatic style, and as
Robert Soucy (1992, p. 314) has commented, they sound at times more like a
hagiography than journalism. In fact, this emotional and religious effusion was not
quite an attempt at hagiography, but rather an allusion to the crusade epic, the
chanson de geste. This is not to say that Massis and Brasillach were attempting to
write a medieval epic poem. Instead, they chose a rhetorical style and a series of
symbols that would evoke or allude to this form of expression that they considered to
be essentially Occidental.
An example of this is the heavy emphasis Massis and Brasillach placed on the
religious motivations of the defenders of the Alcazar, who built a small chapel. And
in the shadows of this primitive chapel, where the women are unceasingly at prayer,
the defenders of Alcazar come, one by one, to kneel before the Invisible presence of
Her from whom they expect deliverance (Massis & Brasillach, 1936, p. 32; 1939,
p. 23). A second example of this comes later: When one asks the besieged why they
did not try to burn the corpses, they respond: We are Catholic (Massis &
Brasillach, 1936, p. 34; 1939, p. 25). By all accounts, many of the defenders of the
Alcazar were in reality buoyed in their struggle by an intense religious faith, but
Massis and Brasillachs celebration of this faith is an ideological sleight of hand.
They frequently shift the emphasis away from religious devotion in and of itself,
toward religious devotion as a component of the crusade, the Spanish Reconquista.
They empty Catholicism of its religious significance by focusing only on the actions,
not their meaning. This allows them to retain only the formal aspects of the ideal to
which these new crusaders are devoted, so that Massis and Brasillach could then link
previous religious crusades to the modern, secular confrontation between fascism
and communism:
Two times, against the Moor and against the Turk, at Granada and Lepanto, Spain has
saved Occidental civilisation against a peril from the Orient. It is a different peril today
National Identities 139

that Spain faces, an Orient more subtle, and perhaps more dominating. In the crusade
against bolshevism, she claims the honour of the first danger, and the first victory.
(Massis & Brasillach, 1936, p. 92; 1939, p. 85)
Massis and Brasillach evoked past examples of Spanish heroism not to awaken
religious fervour, but to emphasise the Occidental chivalric tradition, and the epic
crusade form was particularly well suited for this purpose because it is the form in
which past examples of Spanish or Occidental heroism had been cast. The frequent
allusions to the Reconquista, Rodrigue and El Cid were not references to the actual
Spanish Reconquista, but instead were references to the Poema de Mio Cid, or more
probably, Corneilles El Cid. In later versions of this account, such as that which
appeared in Lhistoire de la guerre dEspagne, Brasillach excised the scenes of
religious practice entirely, but left both the references to the Reconquista and the
overheated rhetorical flourishes in place, thus eliminating the religious content and
leaving only the rhetorical form suitable for a national history. In the end, the epic
form, the chanson de geste, was the true content of Brasillachs heroic myth of
Here again, Massis and Brasillach were following Charles Maurras and the
Action francaise. Maurras was an agnostic, but he argued that because Catholicism
was such an integral part of Frances character and history, it should be used by
modern nationalists as a unifying force in the nation. Brasillach and Massis were
using the image of the religious crusade not to glorify Catholicism, but to create a
mythic image of the French and Spanish nations, and beyond them, of Occidental
Thus the foundation of Brasillachs mythmaking enterprise was the creation of a
narrative of heroism, which, by its very form, signaled that it was part of the
unquestionable tradition of the nation or of the Occident. Because this form
expressed the cultural essence of the nation, it guaranteed the nationalist truth of
the tale, regardless of factual accuracy. Indeed, as Luc Rasson (1991, p. 147) has
argued in regard to Brasillachs memoir: The resurrection of the past, such as that
accomplished in Notre avant-guerre, transforms the contingency of particular facts
into a symbol. In effect, Brasillach created a self-perpetuating rhetorical code of
national truth and he could then fashion an endless series of heroic images, each
with the authority of a national tradition guaranteeing its truth, transforming it into
a nationalist symbol. Brasillachs used this mythic shorthand in all of his other
writings on the war.

The malleability and reproducibility of narrative images

Brasillach reiterated the Alcazar myth in everything else that he wrote on the war,
and he used the form of this Alcazar narrative to structure other accounts of
heroism. This process becomes visible in the overlap between Le Siege de lAlcazar
and Lhistoire de la guerre dEspagne. The latter book contains a 30-page chapter on
the siege of Alcazar, and of these, all but approximately two pages of material are
taken directly from Le Siege de lAlcazar. In order to make this work, Brasillach and
Bardeche made some changes in the text to create at least superficially an historical,
rather than an epic, text. Often this required the replacement of exclamation marks
140 P. Schue

with periods, or the excision of passion-laden rhetorical questions. It also meant that
many scenes involving intense emotion or acts of religious devotion were eliminated.
In spite of these changes, much of the epic tone remained in the historical work.
In fact, because of Brasillachs emphasis on the form of the heroic myth, it is clear
that he was reluctant to alter either the chivalric nature of his descriptions of the
actions of the defenders of Alcazar, or the overall rhetorical form of the account. As
a result, Brasillachs historical account was an unstable marriage of two rhetorical
forms: one passionate, epic and emotionally charged, the other at least superficially
dispassionate, removed and journalistic. In the end, the latter form was undermined
by the former.
This tension in the discursive form of Lhistoire de la guerre dEspagne is also
evident in its structure. Lhistoire de la guerre dEspagne is a complete history of the
war, from July 1936 through April 1939, but internally it is rather uneven in its style
and presentation. There are five or six episodes that capture Brasillachs imagination
and dominate the story: Calvo de Sotelos last speech in the Spanish Cortes, followed
by his murder; the siege of the Alcazar of Toledo; the single-handed capture of
Seville by General Queipo de Llano; the siege of Oviedo; the siege of Santa Maria de
la Cabeza; and life in the trenches around Madrids University City. These tales
are all accounts of heroism, scorn for death, chivalry and so on. All are told in
intricate detail, with much personal observation, and a great deal more emotion and
drama than the rest of the account of the war. In short, these six episodes lose any
resemblance to an objective historical tone, and fall back into something quite close
to the epic tone of Le Siege de lAlcazar. The result of this stylistic unevenness is that
these six key episodes are set in dramatic relief against the backdrop of the rest of the
This effect is further highlighted by the authors analysis of the war. The siege of
Alcazar was referred to as the very symbol of the war, and Brasillach and Bardeche
filled the last several pages of the history with a meditation on personal
comportment and its significance. In so doing, they returned to the epic style of
the heroic segments of the work:
Throughout the planet, men were feeling [ressentaient] the siege of Toledo, the siege of
Oviedo, the battle of Teruel, Guadalajara, Madrid and Valencia, as their own war, as
their own victories, as their own defeats. . . . In the smoke of the shells under the fiery sky
criss-crossed by fighter-planes, Russian against Italian, ideological contradictions were
being resolved, in this old land of acts of faith and of conquerors, by suffering, by blood,
by death. Spain was giving its consecration and its definitive nobility to the war of ideas.
(Brasillach & Bardeche, 1961, p. 468; Brasillach, 1938b, p. 3; 1961, pp. 206207)
This passage is immediately followed by yet another iteration of Sorels ideal of the
myth (as quoted above). Brasillach and Bardeche later added, but the beauty
of the greatest instants of this war (Toledo, Oviedo, la Cabeza), the exact sense of
discipline, the national exaltation, made of this struggling Spain, even for those who
cherished it already, a sort of new revelation (Brasillach & Bardeche, 1961, p. 470).
The overall effect of this highlighting of heroic instants is a subversion of the
ostensibly objective historical discourse of the rest of the book, and the casting of
these episodes as the truth of the text. The epic tone that Brasillach used for the
instants of heroism guarantees the authenticity of these passages in terms of the
national heritage, while the authenticity of the objective prose of the rest of the book
National Identities 141

is relegated to a secondary form of authority. The key to this process is the use of
epic passages from some of Brasillachs writings for use in others.
However, this is not the only case of borrowing in Brasillachs oeuvre, and a
similar process occurs across all of his writings. The Documents section of the novel
Les Sept couleurs is mostly quotations of Brasillachs other works, and passages from
his periodical and newspaper articles appear in his memoirs.10 Heroic episodes like
the trench fighting around the University City in Madrid appear in no less than three
places (Brasillach, 1961, pp. 222225; 1939, pp. 213216; Brasillach & Bardeche,
1961, pp. 371373).
Alice Kaplan (1986, p. 45) has argued that Brasillachs recycling of his own work
shows a consciousness of the commodification of his writing. She also argues, like
Walter Benjamin before her, that one aspect of modern technology that attracts
fascists is the ability to compensate for the lost aura in art and modern life through
totalisation. Reproduction in the modern medium of cinema allows for the ubiquity
of images  in particular of war. This ubiquity creates a certain faux-authenticity
through the ritual of reproduction:
War no longer instills the victor with prestige because of the land or booty gained but
because the fight itself, the weapons and bombs, creates a spectacle that is then recorded
on film and broadcast throughout the world. It is now the reproduction of war, instead
of war itself, that is shot through with ritualistic value. Fascism recuperates modern
mans lost rituals with the help of the very factor that has threatened them in the first
place: technology. (Kaplan, 1986, pp. 2930)
Kaplan and Benjamin are referring primarily to film, and it is Eisensteins films
that Brasillach continually cites as his models for political myths. Indeed, in a 1936
newspaper column in Je suis partout, Brasillach presented a richly visual and
cinematic description of the siege of the Alcazar as a review of a movie entitled Les
Cadets de Tolede. Halfway through the article, Brasillach (1936) admitted that the
movie did not yet exist, but he hoped someone would make it. However, he was not a
filmmaker; he was a writer, so he used his writing in the same fashion. By
reproducing the print account of the cadets of Alcazar or the soldiers in the trenches
of Madrid, Brasillach is reproducing his own images of war, his own myths in print.
These myths are simply static images of heroism or snippets of heroic narratives that
are continually evoked, recited, reiterated, repeated. Thus a sort of literary rosary of
heroic images was endlessly reproduced in Brasillachs work. Reading any part of his
work then became an assertion of the omnipresence of the traditional discourse of
chivalric heroism and joy in combat, and Brasillachs myth could reinforce through
ubiquity the sense of aura that has been lost through technology.

From projection to transcendence: Subjective heroism

Each of the functions of myth outlined above was aimed at a large audience, and
Massis and Brasillach, in their discussion of myth at the end of Le Siege de lAlcazar,
explicitly stated that the myths they admired, those of Soviet propaganda in Russia,
were aimed at les masses or le peuple. This was carried further in their reflection on
Sorel and his calls for a myth to create an identity around which the masses could
cohere. However, in light of Brasillachs endless assertions that chivalric heroes are a
breed apart  be they the new fascist man, the saints of a national tradition, or the
142 P. Schue

hidalguia of Spain  it is clear that Brasillach divided the world into the masses who
follow, and the heroic few act on their own. This begs the question of how these
images of Spanish Civil War heroism were to be treated and interpreted by these elite
In fact, Brasillach envisioned the act of heroism  chivalric valour, scornful of
death and filled with a profound sense of joy in self-assertion and mastery  as one
that could lead the hero to fully and somewhat mystically inscribe himself within the
national, or Occidental tradition. This process of heroism simultaneously inter-
nalised the cultural tradition of the nation and projected it outward to the people,
the masses. By acting fearlessly and chivalrously, the hero not only defied death and
seized control of his own destiny, but also allowed the masses to engage in their
tradition as well, to see it embodied. This is precisely what Brasillach said that the
besieged at the Alcazar did:
The entire history of Spain is thus inscribed in a suite of violently contrasted images the
colour of blood and gold. The resistance of the Cadets of Alcazar is the last and one of
the most beautiful: it incarnates the Spanish soul in a powerful symbol that, from this
point onward, has transfigured its battles. (Massis & Brasillach, 1936, p. 3; 1939, p. ix)
Those who could heroically ascend to the level of their national tradition and
internalise it, formed the elite of their nation. By this, Brasillach meant primarily a
cultural or traditional bond between heroes past and present, a fraternity of heroes
bound together by the aesthetic unity of myth.
In a few brief and exceptional moments, such as the siege of the Alcazar, this
moment of joyful embodiment of a national tradition came naturally, and it was this
that led Brasillach to describe the men who experienced this joy as being born to act
in such a manner. However, as mentioned above, these heroic events had to conform
to a standard aesthetic, a heroic form that guaranteed their legitimacy. It was the
form of this heroism, a form that Brasillach borrowed from the crusade epic, which
established its claim to truth and legitimated the inclusion of the hero in question
into this larger fraternity of heroism. Yet how was the heroic act made to conform
completely to this aesthetic of heroism? For Brasillach, this occurred through
memory. Each event, as it was commemorated, was reshaped so that it would
conform to the aesthetic tradition of the nation, or the Occident. If Le Siege de
lAlcazar was the key to Brasillachs mobilising myth for the masses, his novel Les
Sept couleurs offered the key to his vision of the interpretation of heroic action
through memory.
Les Sept couleurs is the story of a love triangle between three French young
people: Patrice, Catherine and Francois. Patrice and Catherine have a brief affair in
Paris in 1927, which ends when Patrice leaves for ten years of travels in Italy, the
Foreign Legion in Morocco and finally Nuremberg. In the meantime, Francois and
Catherine have married and live in Paris, although their marriage is not serene. In
1936, Patrice reappears in Paris to ask Catherine to return with him to Germany. She
voices many misgivings about the worth of Francois, and the solidity of their
marriage, but in the end, she refuses to leave her husband. However, Francois thinks
that she has left with Patrice, and in his anguish he departs immediately for Spain to
fight for Franco. Several months later, Catherine hears that Francois has been
injured in the war. The novel ends with her riding the train to the border to collect
him and bring him home to Paris. The story is presented in seven different literary
National Identities 143

forms: a narrative of Patrices and Catherines affair; a series of letters between

Catherine and Patrice while he is in Italy; a journal of Patrices time in Morocco and
Nuremberg; a series of aphorisms on youth, aging and fascism; a series of dialogues
between Patrice, Catherine and Francois; Francois scrapbook from Spain; and
finally, Catherines internal monologue on the train.
In Les Sept couleurs, Francois is presented in Spain only through a scrapbook
that he has created. The clippings in this scrapbook consist of quotes from Mussolini
and Sorel, the lyrics to fascist songs and a lengthy series of writings from Brasillachs
newspaper articles, from Notre avant-guerre, from his history of the Spanish Civil
War and from Le Siege de lAlcazar. The crucial fact of this section is not its
contents, however, but the form itself. Brasillach prefaced the section by saying:
Francois Courtet has kept from his youth the taste for creating scrapbooks
[dossiers]. . . . He is content to clip from newspapers or books that which interests
him, add notes taken on the backs of envelopes and letters, and then to stuff it all into a
folder with a few photographs. . . . It is thus by the chance of events and reading that he
has created for himself a sort of dossier of the war in Spain. . . . But the whole, no doubt,
appears to him to capture the colour of this time in his life. (Brasillach, 1939, p. 191)

By thus collecting all of his own writings on Spain, and then intermingling them
with fictional documents from Francois life and adventures in Spain, Brasillach was
suggesting that Francois most potent act was not to do anything in particular in
Spain, for his actions there are not described in any detail, and not even to have acted
nobly, although we are told that he did that. Rather, by creating his scrapbook,
Francois has shaped his memory of his own life and ensured that it is presented as
displaying the aesthetic form that truly nationalist heroism takes, the form that
places Francois heroism in the same tradition as El Cids. The juxtaposition of
Falangist songs, Mussolinis writings and Brasillachs personal observations on the
war synthesises Francois own identity as a participant in Spains history, or rather,
in the Occidents history, of which Spain is part. Thus the doctor sending him home
can say in a letter (in the scrapbook), that: It pleases me to tell her [Catherine], that
her husband was a courageous legionnaire for our [Spains] Holy Cause, and that we
thank him for having represented French chivalry beside the Spanish hidalguia
(Brasillach, 1939, p. 224).
Yet this process by which Francois creates his own heroic memory is simply a
smaller version of what Brasillach was doing in the novel. By placing this scrapbook
into the centre of the novel, he was creating a literary interpretation for his own
memories of the war. In so doing, he created a perfect, seamless whole from his own
memories of youth (which appear frequently in both his own memoirs, and as
Patrices and Catherines activities in Paris), his own experience of the war in Spain
(including touring the trenches of Madrids University City and visiting Toledo), and
his understanding of the larger causes of fascism and the Spanish Civil War. In a
sense, Brasillach was using Francois to organise his own identity around Spanish
Civil War heroism.
It was thus through the medium of literature that Brasillach the artist recreated
the process of Francois the hero, the process of transcending ones own isolation
through glorious commitment and the fashioning of memory that integrates ones
own life into that of the nation. Francois, the hero in Spain, by the very nature of his
heroic acts, coupled with his own fashioning of these acts to make them aesthetically
144 P. Schue

consonant with Spanish tradition, has made himself worthy of his, and Spains,
national traditions. Not only has Francois, like the Cadets of Alcazar, represented
the best spirit of the Occidents holy chivalric tradition and thereby integrated
himself into the national tradition, he has also managed to capture that brief
moment of elation in memory and thereby transformed it from reality to myth, to
sweet, idealised recollection. What is more, Brasillach, through Francois mediation,
has done the same thing. Luc Rasson points to a similar process in Brasillachs
memoir, Notre avant-guerre, which uses the first person plural as a mechanism to
allow Brasillach to stand in for his entire generation, and place himself at the heart
of it. Rasson quotes Brasillach as saying that I would like that one could read it as a
history more vast than my own, just as I desire to hold myself in what I have seen,
and then notes that Brasillach is asking the reader to take part in his own search for
an idealised personal path that would embody the nation:
The collectivity is attained (a history more vast than my own . . .) and the we becomes
licit in the instant that the reader accepts placing himself in the perspective of a search
for the past, of the fragile resurrection of a lost past. A double task is thus incumbent
upon the reader if he understands how to conform to the contract for reading thus
proposed: on one hand, the complaisance to read the text in a fictional register, and on
the other, had a certain receptivity in regard to a time irremediably lost. It is only with
these conditions that the sense of communion, of a plural can be realised. (Rasson,
1991, p. 141; emphasis in original)

If we apply Rassons reasoning to Les Sept couleurs, the very patchwork form of the
novel lends itself to the sort of political identity creation that Brasillach saw as
essential his own sense of self, to nationalism, and also, beyond it, to fascism.
Finally, Francois image of heroism is made explicitly masculine. Francois is a
failure in his marriage, and Catherine is disappointed in him before he goes to Spain.
Once he has done so, Catherines thoughts about him (in her internal monologue)
turn immediately to his virility and she wants to submit herself to him, sexually and
socially. She asks what she has done to deserve such a glorious counterpart, such a
glorious compensation, me so minimal, me without importance, me poor and
stripped of everything (Brasillach, 1939, p. 229). She also dwells on his sexual
prowess, on his domination of her, in stark contrast to her unconsummated love for
Patrice (Brasillach, 1939, pp. 2334). She asks herself why she has refused thus far to
have children, and it is implied that she will now have them directly. Brasillach thus
reveals that even masculinity is mediated by the tradition of the nation, and it is only
when Francois has integrated himself into the nations tradition of heroism that he is
worthy of being called a man, and of having his wife.
It is here, of course, that we can fully comprehend how the functions of myth and
of personal transcendence were closely related in Brasillachs mind, for they formed
an endless three-part cycle. The mythic image of heroism from the nations past
offered a means of identification for the people, and by creating a unifying image, it
literally created the nation as a cultural, aesthetic unit. Then a chosen few from the
nation, realising their own identities through mythic imaginings, found a means of
acting heroic themselves and achieved the transcendent moment of joy and scorn for
death worthy of the tradition of the nation. This action was then formalised and
encapsulated in a mythic image, a sweet memory fashioned by either the hero himself
or by a writer like Brasillach. For indeed, the act of processing ones own actions, or
National Identities 145

fully realizing their sentimental and psychological power, was also the act of creating
a heroic image, one suitable to be taken by the nation, the people, as a mythic image.
Thus the circle was completed, and the cycle could begin again.
It is now clear that Brasillachs ideology of the heroic myth was in many ways
solipsistic, for the individual subject was constructing the nation, through myth,
around himself. The individual was to reach personal transcendence through the
nation, by construing a nation that revolved around the individuals own conceptions
of his own heroism. In the process, the traditions and history of the nation are made
to end teleologically in this individuals actions. In this manner, the heroic individual,
in creating a mythic image of himself, transcended both the existing nation and the
entire past of the nation as well.
It is also now clear that Brasillachs project differed from that of his Spanish
Nationalist mythmaking counterparts in a crucial aspect, for while both Brasillach
and the Spanish Nationalists were creating an sensationalised account of the siege of
the Alcazar in order to make it conform to an idealised set of values, and an idealised
vision of Spanish tradition and history, Brasillach was doing this for individualistic
as well as nationalist ends, while the Nationalists were doing so for political ends, to
support the legitimacy of Francos regime. Alberto Reig Tapia (1999, p. 159) points
out that [u]nity, the submission of all to a superior body, is the main ideological
component of the self-declared nationalist camp, but Brasillachs project was in
some ways the converse of this, the subsumption of the whole of a nations traditions
by the individual.
Somewhat surprisingly, today Brasillach himself has become a political myth. He
was executed by the Gaullists after the Second World War for collaboration with the
Nazis. Yet today he is a popular underground figure for neo-fascists and others on
the French extreme right. Through the very process of political mythmaking that
Brasillach espoused, they have transformed his life and career into a sweet, mythic
memory that embodies the French nation as they understand it. In their eyes,
Brasillach died joyfully and at an early age for his convictions. As Alice Kaplan
(2000, p. 231) explains: In Brasillach . . . the extreme right has found a figure for
their future: an imaginary hero, forever young, killed by the Republic he hated.
Brasillach has himself become one of the myths he strove so hard to fashion during
the Spanish Civil War.

1. Brasillach became the editor-in-chief of Je suis partout in 1937, but the previous editor,
Pierre Gaxotte, remained the effective head in terms of the papers ideological direction
(Brassie, 1987, pp. 179180). The special edition of Je suis partout appeared on 15 July
2. The school was on vacation in July when the siege began, so very few cadets were present.
In Les Cadets de lAlcazar, Brasillach and Massis do not give a number for the cadets, but
in 1939, in Le Siege de lAlcazar, they give the number as six, and Brasillach and Maurice
Bardeche (1961, p. 152), in Lhistoire de la guerre dEspagne, note that there were only
eight cadets in Alcazar. Later historians have supported this low figure. Some mention a
handful, while others offer figures of between six and nine (Eby, 1965, p. 22; Jackson,
1965, p. 271; Southworth, 1964, p. 60; Reig Tapia, 1999, p. 155; Herreros, 1995, p. 22;
Beevor, 2001, p. 66). The one exception to this is Hugh Thomas (1961, p. 157), who gives
the almost certainly erroneous number of 190, and does not offer a source for this figure.
146 P. Schue

3. For a discussion of journalists who wrote about the Alcazar story, and in many ways
perpetuated the Francoist myths that grew up around it, see Southworth (1964, pp. 53
54). For a more complete treatment of the factual falsification of reality in the Francoist
myth of the Alcazar, see Herreros (1995).
4. Judith Keene (2001, p. 44, fn. 38) points out in a footnote that it is possible the story of the
Alcazar circulated more widely and was considered more important outside of Spain.
5. Unless otherwise noted, all translations from Spanish or French are my own.
6. Each of the seven sections of Brasillachs novel Les Sept couleurs begins with an epigraph
from Corneilles Polyeucte. For a discussion of the significance of Brasillachs use of
Polyeucte in particular, see Rasson (1991, pp. 114119).
7. The 1939 version changes the phrase For there was joy (Car il y a eu de la joie) in the
last sentence into For they had fun (Car on sest amuse). However, it keeps the word
joy in the second-to-last sentence.
8. The defence of the fortress of the Alcazar could be said to be a plan of action, but
Brasillachs emphasis is always much more an aesthetic vision, a certain bearing and
attitude or outlook. This is emphasised in Les Sept couleurs, wherein Francois is rarely
shown doing anything at all in Spain.
9. In the 1939 version, Assieges is substituted for Cadets.
10. For a discussion of Brasillachs use and reuse of his account of the 1937 Nuremberg party
rally (Brasillach, 1937), see Rasson (1991, pp. 11932).

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