Gerald Brenan, British Author; In Spain at 92

Times Staff Writer

Anglo-Irish writer Gerald Brenan, an intimate of the shockingly brilliant Bloomsbury group, whose books on Spain won him the love of his adopted countrymen, died Monday of heart failure. He was 92.

“He died peacefully, like an image which slowly fades away,” Dr. Francisco Burgos told reporters in Malaga, Spain, near Brenan’s village home of Alhaurin el Grande.

Brenan had been in delicate health since 1982 when he broke his hip.


“I do nothing. I do not write and cannot read. I no longer want to live,” Brenan said over Spanish radio last April on his 92nd birthday.

Brenan spent the last years of his life in the hillside village in the care of three nurses provided by the town council.

The elderly author became a cause celebre in 1984 when he left Spain, saying that he could receive better care in an old people’s home near London. His departure triggered such a national controversy that government officials quickly brought about his return and arranged for his care.

Quit Britain in 1919

Although he lived most of his life in Spain (Brenan settled there in 1919 to escape what he called the oppressive atmosphere of Britain), he was a friend, admirer and one of the last associates of the Bloomsbury group of British authors and writers that included Virginia and Leonard Woolf, Roger Fry, Lytton Strachey and Bertrand Russell. (Bloomsbury was a Bohemian section of London.)

Brenan wrote on Spanish culture, literature, history and folklore. American historian Gabriel Jackson ranked him as “one of the most extraordinary and admirable figures of 20th-Century Spanish culture,” while British historian Raymond Carr called him “the most distinguished and perceptive writer on Spain.”

He was best known for “The Spanish Labyrinth,” a study of the violent divisions that led to the 1936-39 Spanish Civil War.

Banned in Spain under dictator Gen. Francisco Franco when it appeared in 1943, the book is now considered a classic work on contemporary Spanish history.

‘He Understood Us’

“He understood us better than we understood ourselves,” said Francisco Gimenez, mayor of Alhaurin el Grande.

Brenan’s other works include “The Literature of the Spanish People,” published in 1951, and “South From Granada,” a travel book that appeared in 1957.

In his autobiographies, “A Life of One’s Own” and “Personal Record,” he recalled the days of his youth with the unconventional, occult-oriented and sexually permissive Bloomsbury literary group:

“Wherever Virginia (Woolf) goes she undoes a knot like a Lapland witch and lets out a war: an old well-practiced war whose tactics have been polished up by many previous encounters.

“If it is not the Older Generation vs. the Younger, it is Writers vs. Painters or even Men vs. Women. It is these well-worn topics that produce the most brilliant and fantastic conversation in England.”

After an affair with Dora Carrington, a member of the Bloomsbury group who killed herself after Strachey’s death, Brenan married Elizabeth Gamel Woolsey, an American poet. She died in 1968.