Philobiblon: Personal ads in a civil war

Sunday, November 07, 2004

Personal ads in a civil war

A final note on Barbara Tuchman. I was unfair to say she only did highbrow journalism. She also wrote "real", on the ground, articles, including a piece for The Nation on Madrid in the Civil War (November 6, 1937), "What Madrid reads".
She writes: "If the war has permeated 90 percent of the newsprint, some pages still remain untouched by it. In one of the new weeklies, between two articles on "The Magnificent Discipline of the Republican Army" and "The New Workers' Institute of Valencia," appears a fiction serial entitled "Marion: Neither Maid, Wife, nor Widow." Marion is pure anachronism. She hails taxis and wears evening dresses, two things that might belong to the Stone Age, so vanished are they from the Madrid of today.
"Even the daily papers leave a corner open to matters outside the war. The siege of Gijon, the speeches of Dr Negrin in Geneva, the problems of evacuation and food, the machinations of the 'Fifth Column', the disputes of the CNT and the UGT occupy the news and editorial columns. But you can still turn to the back page of El Liberal and find an agony column overflowing with ardor. 'Single lady, serious, would like to become acquainted with a gentleman of position and education.' 'Gentleman, 38, cultivated, well-employed, would like to become acquainted, object matrimony, with lady 30 to 35, not tall, good-natured.'
"This is the quality of Madrid. A year of siege and shells has shattered the surface of life, but underneath the old wheels are still turning. Life conforms to civil war where it must and clings to the old ways where it can.'" (p. 103)
You don't find male war-correspondents noticing things like that - at least not unless the newsdesk forces it out of them.
More on Tuchman here, including source details, and here.

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