The Spanish Labyrinth is divided into three parts that are subdivided into different chapters. The first one deals with the period between 1874 and 1931, from the Restoration to the Dictatorship of Primo de Rivera. In the second part, which is the largest, it deals with the situation of the working class in the different Spanish regions and of the political groups that defended it.The final section deals with the Republic until the outbreak of the Civil War.
The book does not conform to the traditional form of historical narrative when the author manifests his support for the Republic, openly criticizes the Church, and presents anarchism as an idealistic movement. In addition, it is recreated in other aspects such as the forging of a Spanish character, regions with their human characteristics, climate and geographical features. These aspects are considered heterodox by specialized historical criticism .
Brenan develops a style of his own where the writer in the first person is addressed to the reader: "I will speak first of the most visible aspect" . He relates his investigations, anecdotes and personal experiences in a pleasant way. Brenan asks questions and answers possible answers, interpellates, makes comparisons, draws conclusions and combines the present tense of the narrative with the past and the future.
Brenan became an element of worship for representing freedom of thought. The Spanish Labyrinth was banned in Spain, and many Spaniards had to buy it clandestinely. They assumed the challenge of acquiring a proscribed work as Amancio Prada relates:
"I first heard of Gerald Brenan in 1968, Enrique Baron, who was then professor of Economics at the School of Agrarian Business Management in Valladolid, where I was studying. A few days before leaving for Paris, to expand studies at the Sorbonne, Baron recommended that I buy there, edited by Ruedo Ibérico in Paris (1962), one of the best books written on the Spanish Civil War, The Spanish Labyrinth by Gerald Brenan. I remember that when I returned to Spain on vacation the following summer, on the border of Irún, the police took that book from me."
The Spanish labyrinth has been subversive in many respects and has given way to a new saga of Anglo-Saxon historians who have followed in the footsteps of the Hispanist: Raymond Carr, Gabriel Jackson, Hugh Thomas, Paul Preston, etc.
In the 1993 edition with a prologue by Raymond Carr : "A revelation for my generation." He adds: "What is remarkable about Brenan's story is the cleansing that has allowed him to overcome the test of time."
Gabriel Jackson recognizes the academic use of this work :
"For twenty-five years I have used The Labyrinth in my university classes and have always recommended to my students that they read the footnotes in order to appreciate the depth of Brenan's thought, and I also warned them to take into account the romantic element, almost anarchist, of the same. But due to the fact that they had read much less history than their teacher, I wanted to imply that The Labyrinth has the exceptional value of entertaining with a historical account, a coherent and personal interpretation. "
Hugh Thomas, in the foreword to the 1976 edition, adds an anecdote from his visit to Spain in the winter of 1955-1956: "I went to Spain on vacation, reading The Spanish Labyrinth, a brilliant book that for many English has served as an initiation into the history of modern Spain. "
The work has been a source for researchers who have continued the work begun by Brenan and has reflections that we see today, tensions that in Spain of the XXI century we still suffer: "... the main political problem has therefore always been how to strike a balance between an effective central government and the needs of local autonomy. If too much force is applied at the center, the provinces revolt and proclaim their independence: if too little, they withdraw into themselves and practice passive resistance. At the best of times Spain is a difficult country to govern"
- Díaz López, J.A. (1987). Gerald Brenan hispanista angloandaluz. Granada: Editorial BLN, 42.
- Brenan, G. (1978). El laberinto español. Barcelona: Ibérica de Ediciones y Publicaciones, 42.
- Prada, A. (1985). «Gerald Brenan», en: Al sur del laberinto. Málaga: Litoral, 143.
- Brenan, G. (1993). The Spanish labyrinth. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, Foreword.
- Jackson, G. (1985). «Homenaje a Gerald Brenan», en: Al sur del laberinto. Málaga: Litoral, 136.
- Brenan, G. (1976). The Spanish labyrinth. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, Foreword.
- Brenan, G. (1990). The Spanish labyrinth. Cambridge: Canto, x.