Gerald Brenan


Edward Fitzgerald Brenan was born in Malta, the son of an English army officer.

His early childhood was spent in India and South Africa before he continued his formal education in England. Brenan initially attended Radley College and then the Military Academy at Sandhurst. Independently, he studied art, poetry, and philosophy with the help of John Hope-Johnstone. Brenan travelled with Hope-Johnstone through France, Italy, and Dalmatia when he was 18, on a planned but ultimately unfinished trip to China, before joining the Army in 1914. He saw action in France, reaching the rank of captain

Brenan was awarded the Military Cross and the Croix de Guerre in 1918.

The following year Hope-Johnstone and his fellow officer and friend, Ralph Partridge, introduced him to the fabled Bloomsbury group. Through Partridge, Brenan met Lytton Strachey and Dora Carrington.

Disillusioned with life in England, he set out for Spain in the autumn of 1919 and lived in the primitive village of Yegen, more-or-less continuously until 1934, as depicted in his book South From Granada. Partridge and Carrington, recently married, along with Strachey, visited him in 1920, and Carrington's fondness for Brenan is thought to have started on this trip. She carried on an extensive correspondence with Brenan and in 1922 they had a brief affair, which was rapidly discovered by Partridge. There was a year of silence between the three, before reconciliation took place and the often-stormy friendship continued for the remainder of their lives. Another visitor in Yegen was Virginia Woolf. Towards the end of the 1920s, Brenan had a relationship with his teenage maid Juliana, which resulted in a daughter, Helena (christened Elena).

Brenan returned to England in 1930 where he met the American poetess Gamel Woolsey, marrying her in Rome in 1931. At he time, he was working on poetry and starting several novels. In 1934 the Brenans left Yegen to live in Churriana and two years later hastily departed spain via Gibraltar, seven weeks after the Civil War started.

Unable to return to Spain until 1953, they spent the intervening years in Aldbourne and Brenan expressed his feelings of exile from Spain by completing three major works on Spanish life and literature, including The Spanish Labyrinth: An Account of the Social and Political Background of the Spanish Civil War (1943) and The Face of Spain (1950). On his return to Spain he began a series of autobiographical works, including South from Granada (1957), A Life of One's Own, and A Personal Record.

From 1953 the Brenans lived in their house in Churriana (Malaga), La Reina de los Angeles.

Gamel died of cancer in 1968, leaving Brenan heartbroken. In 1969 he moved to a smaller house in Alhaurin el Grande. He was awarded the Order of Commander of the British Empire in 1982.  In 1984, after a brief stint in an English nursing home, he was declared a living monument of Spain and was supported by the municipality of Alhaurin el Grande until his death in January 1987.

Brenan left his body to medical science (telling a friend this would avoid funeral charges) where it remained untouched at Málaga University until he was buried in the English Cemetery in Malaga next to Gamel Woolsey in 2001.

La Reina de los Angeles was opened as a cultural centre, Casa Gerald Brenan, in November 2014.

A Spanish film version was made of South from Granada, Al Sur de Granada (2003).

Timeline of Brenan's life

1894 born in Malta – son of English army officer, mother Irish? “Gerald was a precocious, imaginative little boy, and devoted to his mother, who stimulated his love of books and his interest in history, travel, and especially botany.”

1912-1913 walks 1,560 miles to Bosnia on trip to China with John Hope-Johnstone

1913-14 in Germany preparing to join India Police Service

1914-18 serves in British Army in France in World War One, awarded military honours

1919 John Hope-Johnstone and Ralph Partridge introduce Brenan to Bloomsbury Group. Moves to Spain, arriving in Malaga

1920-34 rents house in Yegen, studies for missed University years

1920 Lytton Strachey, Partridge and Dora Carrington visit him (Ralph and Dora marry in May 1921, and live in a menage a trois with Strachey)

1922 Brenan and Carrington have brief affair

late 1920s relationship with teenage maid Juliana

1930 meets Gamel Woolsey in the UK

1931 marries Gamel in Rome, then lives in Wiltshire, stays at Ralph’s house in Ham

1931 daughter Miranda Helen born to maid (christened Elena)

1932 Strachey dies, Dora kills herself

1934 Brenans leave Yegen for Churriana then Gibraltar

(1936-9 Spanish Civil War)

1935 Brenan buys La Reina de los Angeles in Churriana, they leave Spain for the UK

1943 The Spanish Labyrinth published

1951 The Face of Spain published

1953 return to Spain, live at Reina de los Angeles: visited by Hemingway, Bertrand Russell et al

1957 South from Granada published

1968 Gamel dies, buried in English cemetery in Malaga

1969 Brenan moves to Alhaurin El Grande with assistant Lynda Nicholson (mother of Carlos Pranger, editor and executor of his legacy)

1982 awarded CBE

1984 Declared living monument of Spain, moved to nursing home in UK (aged 90), then brought back to Alhaurin

1987 dies in Spain aged 93, body left to Malaga University.

2001 buried in English Cemetry Malaga.

BOOKS by Gerald Brennan


Between 1920 and 1934, Gerald Brenan lived in the remote Spanish village of Yegen and "South from Granada" depicts his time there, vividly evoking the essence of his rural surroundings and the Spanish way of life before the Civil War. Here he portrays the landscapes, festivals and folk-lore of the Sierra Nevada, the rivalries, romances and courtship rituals, village customs, superstitions and characters. Fascinating details emerge, from cheap brothels to archaeological remains, along with visits from Brenan's friends from the Bloomsbury group - Lytton Strachey and Virginia Woolf among them. Knowledgeable, elegant and sympathetic, this is a rich account of Spain's vanished past.

More books by Gerald Brenan
Living in Andalucia