Christopher Gray, Oxford Times
It was a curious circumstance that I needed to travel to Gibraltar and its first literary festival last weekend to hear a story local to Oxfordshire, and specifically to Faringdon. Its teller was William Chislett, a Madrid-based journalist well-known for his work in Spain and Mexico. If his name sounds familiar to my readers in Oxfordshire, this is possibly because his father, also William Chislett, was an authoritative writer on Oxford’s cultural scene over many years as the Oxford Mail’s chief music critic.
The story concerned Arturo Barea, best known as author of the autobiographical trilogy translated as The Forging of a Rebel. Obliged to leave Spain after difficulties with the Communist party, he later settled in England as a BBC broadcaster and writer.
Chislett told his audience: “He lived for ten years in Middle Lodge, a house he rented from the second Lord Faringdon on the edge of Buscot Park, near Oxford. The lord was a socialist who converted his Rolls-Royce into an ambulance and joined a British field hospital in Aragon in the Civil War. He was one of the gilded youths depicted by Evelyn Waugh in Brideshead Revisited. Basque refugee children, who were shipped out of Spain in 1937 after the German bombing of Guernica, also lived on Faringdon’s estate.”
Barea died in 1957, aged 61, and has a commemorative stone in Faringdon cemetery. Next to it are the graves of the parents of his Austrian wife, Ilsa.
In August of this year, a plaque in Barea’s memory was put up outside The Volunteer pub in Faringdon, where he spent many convivial hours. This was the brainchild of Chislett and a group of admirers that included the Spanish novelists Javier Marías and Antonio Muñoz Molina.