Iberian Peninsula

The Encyclopedia of the Novel - Peter Melville Logan 2014

Iberian Peninsula

Joan Ramon Resina

Perhaps it is Mikhail BAKHTIN's definition of the novel as an internally dialogized form of discourse that most usefully helps to discriminate between forms of narrative with a view to tracing something like a genealogy of the novel in the Iberian Peninsula. Nearly every other criterion seems inadequate. For instance, Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra's famous insertion of literary criticism in the second part of Don Quixote (1605, 1615)—which Carlos Fuentes deemed the mark of the genre's modernity—hinges on self-reflexivity and thus on the distinction between REALISM and fantasy (see SCIENCE FICTION), but only retrospectively did literary histories associate this “realist” work with the emergence of a new genre called “novel.” Cervantes merely distinguished between good and bad books, qualifying his statements by employing contemporary criteria of style as well as plausibility. There is no point in sketching a précis of the history of the various Iberian literatures in the vernacular, which is something that only ignorance would attempt. Nor is it possible to outline long-term trends without great vagueness. The novel is a genre with many species and individuals. But, short of formulating a synthesis, it is possible, I believe, to recognize—in the various degrees of reality and fantasy, of object-directed and consciousness-directed discourse that make the long history of Iberian narrative—the novel's remarkable mastery of a universe of discourse, in short, its heteroglossia (Bakhtin's term for this genre's refraction of the author's intention through multiple voices). The basic form of this refraction, dialogism, anchors the narrative in someone else's discourse, breaking up the object into linguistically mediated points of view, which, when fully developed, give rise to a polyphony of voices (see NARRATIVE PERSPECTIVE). The incidence and importance of this feature is my primary guide in selecting from the mass of narrative in five languages some landmarks of Iberian fiction in an unabashedly subjective manner, hoping to provide one account of the vitality of the novel in the Iberian Peninsula.

Portuguese literature has its beginnings in the twelfth century with the Galician-Portuguese cantigas, a form of performative lyric poetry, while Castilian literature is commonly believed to originate in the EPIC Cantar de mio Cid (The Poem of the Cid), a poem of uncertain origins extant in a fourteenth-century copy of a previous manuscript signed by a certain Per Abbat—probably another copyist—in 1207. The first book-length fictional narrative in Castilian is the Livro del cavallero Zifar (Book of the Knight Zifar), first redacted during the first quarter of the fourteenth century, a work combining the structure of ROMANCE with embedded tales of very diverse origins and exempla, proverbs, and sententiae, a tradition that Cervantes reinserted into his tale of knight errantry through the overstated discourses of Don Quixote and the axioms of his oral culture counterpart, Sancho Panza.

The first novelistic text written in Iberian vernacular was Ramon Llull's Llivre d'Evast e d'Aloma e de Blaquerna (1283, Blanquerna) written in Catalan. It tells of the Christian family origins and career of Blaquerna, a hero of the faith who moves up through the various stages of institutional religion, undertaking a (from Llull's standpoint) much needed reform of Christianity, until reaching mystical perfection as a hermit. First as member of a monastery, where he becomes abbot and uses his position to reform the monastic orders, then as bishop, a role that allows him to structure a city according to Llull's own religious utopianism, and finally as Pope, using his supreme authority to reform Christianity and to plan the conversion of the unfaithful, Blaquerna goes through the world like a religious adventurer to fulfill a divine mission. At each stage of his pilgrimage he implements Llull's model of a perfect (theocratic) society, one that fulfills humanity's original purpose in loving, knowing, and praising God. Llull's novel is the “realist” alternative to his century's monastic response to medieval romance, La Queste del Saint Graal (1225, The Quest of the Holy Grail). Indeed, Blaquerna is a more “plausible” incarnation of the knight of perfect faith, who transforms Christianity by reforming its institutions and founding, rather than finding, the New Jerusalem as a theocentric city-state. In Llull's doctrine, contemplation of the divine is subject not to the search for an elusive holy grail but to techniques codified in the two works written by Blaquerna at his hermitage: the mystical Llibre d'Amic e Amat (The Book of the Lover and the Beloved) and the treatise Art de contemplació (The Art of Contemplation), a kind of self-help book avant la lettre. After Blaquerna Llull wrote Fèlix o Llibre de meravelles (1288—89, Felix, or the Book of Marvels), a novel that was widely read in Europe during the Middle Ages, as was his Llibre de l'Orde de cavalleria (1275—76, The Book of the Order of Chivalry), which William Caxton (1422—91) translated into English, making it favored reading among English knights of the Renaissance and probably known to William Shakespeare. Llull's teachings established an influential school of thought with links in Mallorca, Barcelona, Padua, Rome, and other locations in Italy, Germany, and Austria. His Ars Magna (also known as Ars Generalis), based on the idea of mathesis universalis or the ultimate rationality of the universe, influenced later thinkers, from Nicolas of Cusa (1401—64) and Giovanni Pico della Mirandola (1463—94) to Giordano Bruno (1548—1600) and Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz (1646—1716).

In the late fourteenth century, the Història de Jacob Xalabín (The Story of Jacob Xalabin), an anonymous Catalan work, combined amorous and political preoccupations with Orientalist themes that would become fashionable in the second half of the sixteenth century in the novela morisca (Moorish novel), the best-known example of which is Historia del abencerraje y la hermosa Jarifa (1565, The Abencerraje: or The Story of Abindarráez and the Beautiful Jarifa). A distinctive feature of Jacob Xalabín is the incorporation of historical characters in an early display of the technique that Roland Barthes associated with the reality effect in nineteenth-century fiction. The same control of fantasy by reality makes the Orient described in Jacob Xalabín identifiable as the real Ottoman Empire, which the author appears to have known directly. The medieval Catalan novel—of which another signal example is Curial e Güelfa (Curial and Guelfa), a fifteenth-century romance displaying an intricate use of materials and registers—culminates in Tirant lo Blanc (The White Knight: Tirant lo Blanc), penned by the Valencian writer Joanot Martorell around 1460 and published in 1490 with a conclusion attributed to Martí Joan de Galba. Tirant is one of the great European works of prose fiction, the best book in the world, in Cervantes's oft-quoted verdict. Featuring credible descriptions of the eastern Mediterranean at the time of the fall of Constantinople in 1453 and giving full scope to the body, Martorell undermined the idealism of the courtly romance and established a standard of fantasy tempered by the everyday. Tirant lo Blanc became a landmark for the rise of fiction governed by the principle of imitatio vitae or plausibility (see DECORUM). Through its humor and irreverence, its autobiographic component and its focus on the ordinary life of chivalric characters, it anticipates the tone of the modern novel.

The last quarter of the fifteenth century saw the rise of the sentimental novel, the most popular of which was Juan de Flores's Historia de Grisel y Mirabella (ca. 1475—85, Story of Grisel and Mirabella), which ran to fifty-six editions in several languages and served as a language textbook in quatrilingual editions. Today, the best-known example of this subgenre is Diego de San Pedro's Cárcel de amor (1492, Prison of Love), a story that anticipates the romantic theme of erotic passion frustrated by class differences and ending in the suitor's death. The love story of Leriano and Laureola is said to parody Ovid's Ars Amatoria (1 BC) in that Leriano's attempts at seduction are of no avail against society's barriers.

In the middle of the sixteenth century, two works in Castilian modulated the tradition of the novella, creating distinct narrative modes that were to become large tributaries of the novel. One was idealizing, the other brashly desublimating. The Portuguese Jorge de Montemôr published Diana around 1559 (as Jorge de Montemayor), giving rise to the pastoral novel. Lazarillo de Tormes (The Life of Lazarillo de Tormes and of His Fortunes and Adversities) was published anonymously in 1554, immediately banned by the Spanish Crown, and included in the Index of Forbidden Books of the Spanish Inquisition (see PICARESQUE). But this short book, whose ferocious anticlericalism suggests Erasmian influence and was deemed by Américo Castro (1885—1972) to be the creation of a Jewish converso, was printed in Antwerp, then under Spanish rule. In this way it circulated through Europe, giving rise to a progeny of works in different languages variously known as rogue novel, roman picaresque, and Schelmenroman, and influencing authors such as Alain-René Lesage (1700—30, Gil Blas; The Adventures of Gil Blas of Santillane), Hans Jakob Christoff von Grimmelshausen (1668, Der Abenteuerliche Simplicissimus; Simplicius Simplicissimus), Daniel Defoe (1772, Moll Flanders), and Thomas Mann (1954, Bekenntnisse des Hochstaplers Felix Krull; Confessions of Felix Krull, Confidence Man). Also from this century is the first printed edition in Castilian of Amadís de Gaula (1508, Amadis of Gaul) by Garci Rodríguez de Montalvo, who claims to have edited the first three books of a manuscript circulating since the fourteenth century and to have added a fourth unpublished book and a continuation, Las sergas de Esplandián (The Labors of the Very Brave Knight Esplandián). The story comes from Portugal and is attributed to the troubadour Vasco de Lobeira (d. 1403) in a Portuguese chronicle of the fifteenth century, although it now appears that the chronicler confused this poet with the troubadour João Lobeira (ca. 1233—85), who would be responsible for setting the story of Amadís in prose. An eccentric but nonetheless enormously successful book from the last quarter of the sixteenth century is Fernão Mendes Pinto's Peregrinação (Travels), completed in 1578 and published posthumously in 1614, an autobiographical account of the author's travels in Africa and Asia, full of exaggeration and with a strain of the picaresque.

By any account, the major contribution of Iberian literature to the novel was Don Quixote. In his novel, Cervantes combined the various narrative strands of Iberian narrative into a great polyphony of voices and discourses surrounding the eminently dialogic intercourse between the two unforgettable protagonists. The Quixote displays (via negativa) an awareness of the practical hero of faith in Llull and weaves together strands from the Orientalist story, the picaresque, the pastoral, and the post-Arthurian chivalric novel, appropriating Martorell's commonsense dismissal of the otherworldly knight. Cervantes achieves this polyphonic effect by structuring the novel around a simple dialectic embodied in the would-be knight and the squire, representing the essential polarity of moral life: on the one hand the surge of impulse filling the forms of ideal representations, and on the other the dry empiricism that judges action by its measurable effects and insists on the ontological fixity of the object. In Cervantes's extended tale, literary fantasy and wishful hallucinations are checked by reality at every turn, but reality increasingly adopts the garb of fiction, a fiction organized by the inherited narrative modalities. The second part of this great work, published in 1615, ten years after the first part, introduces full-blown narrative self-reflexivity, becoming as a consequence of this the earliest example of metafiction.

This great “realist” tradition in early Iberian narrative tapers out with Cervantes and Mateo Alemán (1605, Guzmán de Alfarache; The Life of Guzmán de Alfarache), soon degenerating into Baroque verbalism and rhetorical flourish. It was no longer possible to pass for Christian resignation the bitter awareness of the corrupting effect of Castilian imperial values. The world, hollowed out by engaño (deception), could not be redeemed by gentle irony as in Cervantes; now universal deceit corroded the self-confidence of social insiders like Francisco Gómez de Quevedo y Villegas (1626, El Buscón; The Swindler). Still in the first half of the seventeenth century, María de Zayas y Sotomayor wrote stories about the plight of women who are caught in the game of sentimentality, the only discourse available to them socially and literarily. Her collection of novellas, Novelas Amorosas y Ejemplares (1637, The Enchantments of Love: Amorous and Exemplary Novels) and the sequel Desengaños amorosos (1647, The Disenchantments of Love), forgotten in the nineteenth century, were rediscovered in the late twentieth century by feminist critics, who reappraised the literary quality of her work.

In the second half of the seventeenth century, Iberian narrative produced one eminent work, the allegorical novel El criticón (The Faultfinder), by the Jesuit priest Baltasar Gracián. Published in three parts in 1651, 1653, and 1657, it unfolds a disillusioned perspective on life, expounded by Critilo (the voice of reason) to Andrenio (the naive, natural man), in a conceptual recasting of Cervantes's dialogic pair of wayfarers searching for an Island for Sancho to govern. In Gracián's work, Cervantes's utopian island has become the Isle of Immortality, but the place, and above all the symbolic characters, also look forward to Defoe's reunion of civilized and natural man on an island blessed by a provident Calvinist divinity.

The novel's polyphonic quality had been declining since Cervantes and growing in abstraction until Gracián reduced it to an exchange of axioms and conceptual repartee between allegorical characters (see FIGURATIVE) moving around the world as on a revolving stage. In the nineteenth century, Walter Scott's international success inspired a Catalan journalist, Ramon López Soler, to tap into the Spanish past for a similarly romantic yield. His 1830 novel Los bandos de Castilla: o, El caballero del cisne (The Factions of Castile: or, the Knight of the Swan) inaugurated a twenty-year trend in fantastic historiography. In the second half of the century, serial novels or folletines depicting the plight of the urban working classes obtained great popularity through increasing literacy and the expansion of the press (see SERIALIZATION). The most successful of these works was María, la hija de un jornalero (1845—46, Mary, or a Day-laborer's Daughter), by the Catalan Wenceslao Ayguals de Izco. In Portugal, the historical novel was developed by Alexandre Herculano, beginning with O Bobo (1843, The Fool), a dramatic romance set in the time of Portugal's independence, and followed up with a number of works pervaded by Herculano's historical knowledge, especially in Eurico, o presbítero: Época Visigótica (1844, Eurico, the Priest), a novel written in the footsteps of Scott that takes the reader to the beginning of the Reconquest and the origins of the Christian kingdoms in the Iberian Peninsula. By far, the most successful (and prolific) romantic Portuguese writer was Camilo Castelo Branco, with over 260 books to his name. Among his most popular novels was Os Mistérios de Lisboa (1854, Mysteries of Lisbon), one of the many Iberian imitations of Eugène Sue's Les mystères de Paris (1842—43, The Mysteries of Paris). Others were Josep Nicasi Milà de la Roca's successful feuilleton, Los misterios de Barcelona (1844, Mysteries of Barcelona), Juan Martínez Villergas's Los misterios de Madrid (1844—45, Mysteries of Madrid), and Rafael del Castillo's Misterios catalanes o el obrero de Barcelona (1846, Catalan Mysteries, or the Barcelona Worker). Castelo Branco's most distinguished novels are O Romance de um Homem Rico (1861, The Love Story of a Rich Man), Amor de perdição (1862, Doomed Love), and A Brasileira de Prazins (1882, The Brazilian Woman from Prazins). But long-term critical success was reserved for relatively highbrow novels by professional writers. Four authors reached the apex of their literatures' respective canons: the Portuguese José Maria de Eça de Queiros, the Catalan Narcís Oller, and the Spaniards Benito Pérez Galdós and Clarín (pseud. of Leopoldo Alas). Galdós, the most prolific of the four, is often credited with the return to realism in Spanish fiction. But this is true only of his mature novels, for his early work is allegorical; for example Marianela (1878) thematizes the struggle between fantasy and positivism, or the clash between moral and empirical knowledge. Galdós's undisputed masterpiece is Fortunata y Jacinta (1887, Fortunata and Jacinta), a novel about a childless upper-class couple and a lower-class woman whose convoluted on-and-off affair with the voluble Juanito Santa Cruz, husband of Jacinta, will provide the latter with the child she craves. The plot takes the reader through many sectors and institutions of nineteenth-century Madrid and is a storehouse for the language of the city's popular classes.

Eça de Queiros introduced realism to Portuguese literature. His most popular novel, O Crime do Padre Amaro (1875, The Crime of Father Amaro), is the story of a provincial priest whose life is destroyed by the strictures of celibacy. In O Primo Basilio (1878, Cousin Bazilio), he studied the life of a middle-class Lisbon family, focusing on adultery, one of the most popular themes of the nineteenth-century novel. His most accomplished work might be Os Maias (1888, The Maias), in which he depicted in naturalist fashion the degeneration of an old family through incestuous relationships. By following the fate of the characters through several generations, Eça depicts the life of the upper class, as well as the country's political changes throughout most of the nineteenth century.

By general consent, Clarín's La Regenta (1884—85, The Regent's Wife) is the greatest Spanish novel of the nineteenth century. The action is located in Vetusta (a provincial city reminiscent of Oviedo) where the main character, Ana Ozores, marries a retired regional magistrate who, much older than she, is beyond physical passion. Suffering from lack of marital attention, Ana tries to sublimate her sexual deprivation through mysticism until she meets Álvaro Mesía, the local Don Juan who makes it a point of honor to seduce her. To complicate matters, the Cathedral's canon Don Fermín de Pas (Ana's confessor and self-appointed spiritual mentor) also falls in love with her and becomes Mesía's rival, sublimating his lust in the fight to possess Ana's will. Thus the rivalry between the two men reproduces the city's rift between the conservative high society, dominated by the ambitious, power-hungry, and repressed Don Fermín and the members of the liberal casino, where Mesía boasts his sexual exploits. At the center of the plot is Ana's “nervous condition,” and the polyphonic treatment of this “mystery” constitutes the finest technique of the novel. Hazarding various “theories” about her malady, characters compete to define and treat Ana's malady, making of her body and mind a political arena for the struggle between secularizing forces led by the medical profession and the Catholic reaction that supervened toward the end of the century. A copious array of secondary characters portrayed with ruthless irony thicken the plot, making this novel a Spanish counterpart to Gustave Flaubert's Madame Bovary (1857).

Oller's La febre d'or (1890—92, Gold Fever) marked the grand return of Catalan narrative after centuries of decline. Tracing the rise and fall of a Barcelona financier in the heady years of the restoration of the monarchy after the brief republican experiment, Oller masterfully describes the economic forces behind Barcelona's expansion in the decades leading up to the Universal Exposition of 1888. The dynamic, forward-looking city immersed in industrial development and in the cultural Renaixença is a far cry from Clarín's sluggish Vetusta or the Lisbon of Eça de Queiros, but also from the Madrid of Galdós, peopled by antiquated aristocrats, shady conspirators, a bureaucratic bourgeoisie, and an unskilled and often abused working class. Oller's contribution to the rebirth of Catalan literature was, in a century of poets fumbling in medieval texts for vocabulary, to craft a prose style that was supple enough to reproduce urban dialogue and sufficiently precise to describe modern activities such as stock-trading, banking operations, Parisian café-chantants, or horse racing. Oller broke a path, which other writers followed during the so-called modernista period, a pell-mell style combining symbolist and Northern European influences (see MODERNIS). Within this current and in the presses of L'Avenç, the modernista journal par excellence, Víctor Català (pseud. of Caterina Albert) published Solitud (1905, Solitude), one of the great novels of the century. The plot pits Mila, a woman from the lowlands, against the mountain, which acquires a symbolic dimension through the nearly cosmic clash between the shepherd Gaietà and an evil creature named Ànima (soul, or spirit). The sprightly and loving Mila finds a stern opponent in Sant Ponç, the Catholic saint whose image presides over the chapel in the hermitage where she lives with her listless husband. Ànima rapes her in the chapel after she is knocked unconscious while trying to find protection behind the altar. After this defeat by the evil force of the mountain, Mila, like an Ibsen character, takes her destiny in her own hands and, turning her back on her husband and the hermitage devoted to the hostile saint, begins the descent toward the industrial cities on the plain.

In the Spanish language, the foremost female novelist of the nineteenth century was the Galician Emilia Pardo Bazán, author of two novels deemed at the time to represent the inception of NATURALISM in Spain. In Los pazos de Ulloa (1886, The House of Ulloa) and La madre naturaleza (1887, Mother Nature), Pardo Bazán emplots family dramas in a backward Galician region, where traditional patriarchal relations continue to define property and political influence. As in so much nineteenth-century literature, the rural setting furnishes the empirical evidence that human life is embedded in nature, incest functioning as a—for the time—provocative metaphor for the overwhelming capacity of instinct to short-circuit moral and cultural illusions. Pardo Bazán wrote a collection of critical articles addressing the problem of literary realism and naturalism, which she called, not without affectation, La cuestión palpitante (1883, The Burning Issue). Émile Zola commented with irony that the book was so passionate that it did not seem written by a lady, and he was surprised that its author could be at once naturalist and militantly Catholic, a combination that could be explained if Pardo's naturalism was, as he had heard, merely formal.

At the turn of the century, a number of Spanish writers, including Miguel de Unamuno and José Martínez Ruiz (Azorín) were grouped by critics into the “Generation of '98.” Several of these authors wrote novels, but the Basque Pío Baroja best represented the genre. In 1902 he wrote Camino de perfección (The Path to Perfection), a novel in which, under the influence of Arthur Schopenhauer (1788—1860), the author casts a disillusioned look on the various social classes in Spain's capital and sends the protagonist on a trip to the Mediterranean coast in search of the vitality and will to action that he cannot experience in Madrid's deadly environment. Baroja wrote about the misery of the arrabales (outskirts) of Madrid in his trilogy La lucha por la vida (1904, Struggle for Life), consisting of La busca (The Quest), Mala hierba (Weeds), and Aurora roja (Red Dawn). Between 1913 and 1928 he wrote a long series of fourteen novels and eight volumes of short stories entitled Memorias de un hombre de acción (Memoirs of a Man of Action). In El árbol de la ciencia (1911, The Tree of Knowledge), an autobiographical novel, he came closest to expressing his disenchanted views on society and human beings. The author's alter ego, the doctor Andrés Hurtado, learns that society is a ferociously Darwinian environment and life an illusion from which the superior man should strive to awaken.

In the second decade of the century, the Asturian writer Ramón Pérez de Ayala published Belarmino y Apolonio (1921, Belarmino and Apolonio), a small gem in the category of the “novel of ideas”(see PHILOSOPHICAL). Told with elegant humor and intelligent irony, the story narrates the “intellectual” rivalry between two shoemakers who stand for the Dionysian and Apollonian principles. Behind their categorical differences the author depicts the conflict between the mystical or intuitive (meaning-governed) and the rhetorical or conventional (form-governed) approaches to language.

Earlier, one of the most original writers of the century, the Galician Ramón María del Valle-Inclán, wrote a cycle of symbolist novels, the Sonatas (1902—5), in which sensuality and dramatic effect predominate over plot. He then turned to the historical novel in a series of books on the third Carlist war, narrated in an aestheticizing if melancholy manner but with a documented grasp of the extended conflict that cleaved nineteenth-century Spanish society: Los cruzados de la Causa (1908, Crusades for the Cause), El resplandor de la hoguera (1909, The Brightness of the Bonfire), and Gerifaltes de antaño (1909, Hawks from Old Times). His best-known novel, however, is Tirano Banderas (1926, The Tyrant), a fictional chronicle about the fall of the military dictator of an imaginary Latin American country on the Pacific Ocean (see DICTATORSHIP). Written with full mastery of expressionist techniques, this novel remains the most accomplished critique of a regime that once seemed endemic to Hispanic countries. In his last narrative cycle, the “Ruedo Ibérico,” Valle-Inclán again returned to historical subject matter with a trilogy comprising La corte de los milagros (1927, The Court of Miracles), ¡Viva mi dueño! (1928, Long Live my Owner!), and the unfinished Baza de espadas (1932, Suit of Swords). The trilogy is set in the final years of the reign of Queen Isabel II, a period he re-creates in his mature style, full of spoof and derision.

Also from 1932, but focused on the present, is Josep Maria de Sagarra's Vida privada (Private Life), a novel about the decomposing aristocracy in 1920s and early 1930s Barcelona. Training his critical lens on the upper and lower districts of the city, the author traces a subtle correspondence between the moral hollowness of Barcelona's haute bourgeoisie and its nonchalance with respect to the political turbulence of those years.

The Civil War (1936—39) dispersed some Spanish authors who went into exile, and it had a devastating effect on Catalan literature. Most of the writers in this language suffered exile and those that remained in Spain were effectively silenced by the prohibition of their language, the loss of professional opportunities, and the isolation from their audiences and from future generations that would no longer be educated in their own language.

In Spain, on the side of the new official culture, the novel was slow in surmounting the epic self-celebration of the victors and the denigration of the losers. In the 1940s, a former Francoist combatant and falangist, Camilo José Cela, published La familia de Pascual Duarte (1942, The Family of Pascual Duarte), a work about a man thoroughly alienated from conventional morality and prey to the most primitive instincts, who commits a number of crimes and is sentenced to death for the murder of a landlord in his native region of Extremadura. The novel has been compared to Albert Camus's L'Étranger (1942, The Outsider), due to Pascual's insensitivity toward the suffering of others, but Cela's alleged challenge to morality is made acceptable by the hint that Pascual's criminal career (reported by himself in a letter reminiscent of Lazarillo de Tormes's autobiographical account) is the retrospective explanation for the revolutionary mobs that overran the landed states in Extremadura at the beginning of the Civil War, and thus for the mass executions that were taking place in the 1940s without the legal formalities depicted in the novel. Cela's best-known work is La colmena (1951, The Hive), a large mural of mid-century Madrid in which more than 300 characters appear, invoked by the meandering of the focal protagonist, Martín Marco, who is indeed the subjective frame through which a conventional and conformist society appears. The novel owes a great deal to Baroja's disenchanted look at the capital in La busca, but it appears to be aware of James Joyce's huge canvas of Dublin. Cela was awarded the Nobel Prize for literature in 1989, the only one awarded to a Spanish novelist to date.

Although hardly noticed when it was published in 1956, Bearn, by the Mallorcan Llorenç Villalonga, is the best novel in Spanish from the middle of the century. Completed in 1954, three years before the Italian Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa published his famous Il Gatopardo (1957, The Leopard), which Villalonga translated into Catalan, Bearn also tells a story of decadence of the landed aristocracy on a Mediterranean island (Mallorca, in this instance). Villalonga had already written with considerable mordacity about the decay of insular aristocracy in Mort de dama (1931, Death of a Lady), the first of his fifteen novels, most of them written in Catalan. But after the Civil War (during which he had a brief infatuation with fascism) and WWII, he was able to cast a kindly evocative gaze on a world that would be no more. Thick with Proustian overtones, Bearn is the memory of the lost paradise of youth in a mythic district of Mallorca modeled on Binissalem, a town in the center of the island.

In 1956 another great novel went unnoticed, the first edition of Joan Sales's Incerta glòria (Uncertain Glory), one of the best Catalan novels ever written and the best on the Spanish Civil War in any language. It was the first in Spain to deal overtly with the war from the standpoint of the losers. The novel, however, grew extensively in French translation (1962), changing with every edition until the fourth and definitive one, from which the last part would be severed in the fifth edition to form an independent story, El vent de la nit (Night Wind). Altogether, Sales devoted twenty years to perfecting his masterwork, which combines the epistolary form in the first two sections with the memoir in the last two. By altering point of view and narrative tense among a few complexly portrayed characters, Sales created a credible fresco of the war as a limit experience. The central character is the mysterious Soleràs (a play on “solitude”), the lucid hero who triumphs over the absurd by pitting his will against cosmic blindness and choosing defeat and death over the cheap morality of the winners, which he could have shared. Because of his extravagance, which is the expression of his authenticity, and his rejection of delusory comforts, he has been compared to a Dostoyevskian hero. He is, in any case, a tragic hero in the classic sense of the word, one who lives to the full the “uncertain glory of an April day,” Shakespeare's metaphor for the passing of youth in Two Gentlemen of Verona and the verse from which the novel takes its title. But besides a Shakespearean reference, the title is also an allusion to 14 April 1931, the day when Francesc Macià proclaimed the Catalan republic in Barcelona, arousing fervent hopes for the recuperation of political freedom within a new federal system. Incerta glòria narrates without concessions to either republican legend or Francoist myth the dashing of those hopes, first by the revolution and then, tragically and definitively, by the recurrence of primordial violence in the Civil War.

The passing glory of 14 April was also recalled by Mercè Rodoreda in La plaça del Diamant (1962, The Time of the Doves), where the focal character, Natàlia, remembers it on account of the fresh air, “an air that fled and all the others that came after were never like the air of that day that cut my life in two, because it was in April and with the flowers still budding that my small headaches started to become big headaches.” Rodoreda was the twentieth century's finest female writer in the Iberian Peninsula, and Plaça del Diamant a superb novel, among the best of all time. From a “naively” subjective point of view, reminiscent of Henry James (1897, What Maisie Knew) and William Faulkner (1930, As I Lay Dying), Rodoreda's protagonist narrates her life from youth to old age, discovering in the ordinary life of a working-class woman the initiatory path leading to wisdom in conformity with the cosmic balance of nature. In the process, Natàlia serves as a mirror for the collective experience of Catalan society, from the years of popular cohesion and celebration (late 1920s—mid-1930s) to the disastrous years of physical obliteration (1940s—early 1950s) to the 1960s, when it became possible to nurture hope for renewal and to trust to the healing forces of life.

Rodoreda intended Plaça del Diamant to be a short story written to provide diversion from the intense writing of Mirall trencat (1974, A Broken Mirror), on which she spent ten years. Mirall trencat, the most complex of Rodoreda's novels, recounts the story of three generations of an upper-class Barcelona family, the Valldaura-Farriols, in their luxurious mansion. The novel, written in a deceptively realist style, incorporates symbolic and GOTHIC elements, as well as Freudian intuitions (see PSYCHOANALYTIC) and a fine sense of humor balanced with the sense of personal and historical tragedy, all held together by the elegance of Rodoreda's poetic intuition. Like Plaça del Diamant but in a more ambitious polyphony of characters from all walks of life, Mirall trencat narrates the degradation of the golden age of Catalan society in the first quarter of the twentieth century and its destruction by the Spanish Civil War. As in much of her work, the lush gardens symbolize the lost paradise, a place of beauty and mystery in which a human flaw corrupts the possible happiness and leads to expulsion. Rodoreda's later novels became increasingly symbolic as she left realist description behind to concentrate on an emblematic and grotesque narrative drawing from surrealism, psychoanalysis, and the occult. From this last period of her life are Quanta, quanta guerra...(1980, So Much War), a war novel in which “battle, that which people call a battle, there is none,” and the posthumous La mort i la primavera (1993, Death in Spring), a bizarre, dreamlike story about a village where people celebrate extraordinary rituals concerning the transmission of esoteric knowledge. In both works, Rodoreda explored surreal landscapes that appear to be stages in the learning of the hermetic meanings of death.

The year 1962 was significant not only for the Catalan novel, but also for its Spanish counterpart. If Rodoreda revealed her acquaintance with stream-of-consciousness narration (see PSYCHOLOGICAL) in La plaça del Diamant, Joyce's influence was more ostensible in Luis Martín-Santos's only novel, Tiempo de silencio (1962, Time of Silence), which is often considered a turning point in Spanish fiction. Breaking with the social realism that prevailed in the 1950s, Martín-Santos deployed techniques such as the interior monologue (or dialogue) and free indirect speech (see DISCOURSE) to X-ray the hypocrisy underpinning the social workings of Spanish society epitomized by its capital city. In Madrid science is reduced to rehashing research done elsewhere and scientific inquiry is a pretense whose real function is to sustain the social hierarchy. Under these circumstances, a man with genuine scientific vocation is bound to become a victim of his own candor and to be expelled from the system to the outer darkness of the province.

Although there is nothing inherently progressive or critical in experimentation, the connection between formal inventiveness and the critique of the Francoist capital in Tiempo de silencio became the trademark of literary quality in the 1960s and early 1970s. In these decades the self-exiled Juan Goytisolo published his Álvaro Mendiola trilogy, consisting of Señas de identidad (1966, Marks of Identity), Reivindicación del conde don Julián (1970, Count Julian), and Juan sin Tierra (1975, Juan the Landless). With these works, Goytisolo emerged as the harshest critic of the Spanish literary tradition, to which he nonetheless belongs. The literary “scrutiny” undertaken by his main character in the Tangier library at the beginning of Reivindicación echoes the priest's and barber's scrutiny of Don Quixote's library, only this time the sentence is not to execution by fire but by derision (Álvaro squashes dead insects between the pages of the condemned volumes) and it falls on the nationalist authors of the Generation of '98, iconic figures of Francoist culture.

In 1979, the Portuguese novelist António Lobo Antunes published the first of his nineteen novels to date—Memória de Elefante (Elephant Memory), in which he told the story of his separation from his wife and daughter. It is the story of a personality damaged by the colonial war in Africa, with the result that guilt feelings block desire and affection and paralyze his will. Instead of driving his car to his wife's apartment, the key to which he keeps like an amulet, the protagonist prefers to drag himself through the city and re-create time and again his melancholy object of desire in self-pitying conversation with whoever will listen to his plight. In As Naus (1988, The Return of the Caravels), Lobo Antunes draws a magnificent palimpsest of Portugal's colonialism, superimposing the dissolution of Portuguese colonial power in Africa in the 1970s onto the cultural origins of the Portuguese Empire, and the human debris of decolonization onto the early world navigators, who move amid the Empire's flotsam and jetsam in present-day Lisbon. In a radical departure from diachronic realism, Lobo Antunes creates kaleidoscopic states of consciousness in which point of view moves between external perception and inner reflexivity, and history is foreshortened through a flexible concept of time, in which protension (expectation) and retention (memory) shift directions in the subjects' consciousness, giving rise to an extended present from which they cannot break free.

By far the best-known Portuguese novelist of modern times is José Saramago, winner of the Nobel Prize for literature in 1998. Critics often consider O Ano da Morte de Ricardo Reis (1984, The Year of the Death of Ricardo Reis) his most accomplished work. Turning one of the heteronyms of the poet Fernando Pessoa (1888—1935) into the main character of his novel, Saramago describes events in the year after the death of the great poet, who is survived by his poetic alter ego. Reis, a detached and estranged doctor arriving from Brazil, leads a limbo existence for one year, carrying on a dull love affair with a chambermaid, dreaming of an impossible love with a young handicapped girl, and carrying on conversations with the ghost of Pessoa, whom he finally follows to the cemetery. The blurring of the difference between life and death is consistent with the in-betweenness of Reis's life in his last year. Alongside his provisional day-to-day routines, he learns in the newspapers about political events, such as the rise of Nazism in Germany, the advent of the Spanish Republic, and the incidents that will lead to the Civil War. In his Lisbon hotel, Reis witnesses, without comprehending its meaning, the flood of wealthy Spanish “refugees” fleeing a Republican regime they have come to fear.

In Todos os nomes (1997, All the Names), Saramago has pursued his meditation on the relation between naming and death. In this novel an employee of the civil registry in Lisbon collects newspaper articles about public figures, for which he then creates dossiers using the information contained in the registry's files. One day he comes across the card of an anonymous woman and is gripped by a zeal to fill out the details of her life, thus endowing it with reality. As obsessive a character as Joseph K in Franz Kafka's Der Prozeß (1925, The Trial), Saramago's protagonist, also named José, strives to bridge the gap between official and natural reality. From his room, which opens directly into the civil registry, much as K's workplace abuts on the facilities of the Law, he conducts dangerous nightly expeditions into the labyrinth of stacked-up files, in the depths of which he is at risk of losing himself forever, just as he is on the point of losing his way in the Lisbon cemetery, where he discovers the arbitrariness on which our official selves are based.

The most recent trend in Iberian fiction has been the so-called novel of memory. A unique case in this category is Joaquim Amat-Piniella's K.L. Reich (1963), a Catalan novel about the Nazi camps written in 1945 but unpublished until 1963—in Catalan and in Spanish translation—after considerable purging by government censorship, which forbade its publication for seventeen years. The novel, written soon after the liberation of Mauthausen concentration camp, where Amat-Piniella was an inmate between 1941 and 1945, anticipates much of the literature of the Holocaust and is motivated, like most of this literature, by an existential commitment to the victims, on the assumption that their fate will, in some way, be vindicated through witnessing. Because of its purpose and subject matter, the narration is strictly realistic, but it draws on sophisticated techniques such as the simultaneity of actions, the use of visual imagery consistent with the importance of cinematography in the period before the war, and a supple combination of authorial reflection and effective dialogue, with ample use of free indirect speech (see NARRATIVE TECHNIQUE). “Nazism tried to physically annihilate its enemies and, in case it failed to do so completely, it prepared the atmosphere to annihilate them morally forever” (45). The full, unexpurgated original text was finally published in 2005.

Jorge Semprún also wrote about the extermination camps from experience. Educated in France and with a brilliant literary career in French, it was in this language that he wrote his novels about Buchenwald—Le Grand Voyage (1963, The Long Voyage) and Quel beau dimanche (1980, What a Beautiful Sunday!)—to which he later added an extraordinary autobiographical essay on the camp, L'écriture ou la vie (1994, Literature or Life). Memory discourse and trauma theory emerged in the second half of the twentieth century in close association to the Holocaust, but in the Iberian context, the Spanish Civil War (and for Portugal the 1964—71 colonial wars in Angola and Mozambique) elicited an extensive literature about the fascist regime that came of the war.

On the subject of the Civil War and in Spanish, Juan Benet's first novel, Volverás a Región (1967, Return to Región), remains the most original. Creating, like Faulkner, a mythical space in the north of the Iberian Peninsula, Benet describes the maneuvers of the two armies in a topography that becomes the source and symbolic representation of primordial violence. Associated with an elusive being, El Numa, the devastating forces that engulf the characters and ruin their lives arise in a time that, although ambiguously referring to historical events, appears to be cyclical, a time not of eternal beginnings but rather of recurrent doom.

Two Catalan authors writing in Castilian have explored the difficult extrication of historical truth from the distortions perpetrated on life under the Francoist regime. In his first international success and still his best novel, Si te dicen que caí (1973, The Fallen), Juan Marsé re-created life in postwar Barcelona from the viewpoint of marginal children who try to evade a harsh social reality by making up yarns, which they infuse with their own desires. Even so, their fantasies are not entirely devoid of reality. For instance, their erotic imagination shares in the city's contemporary fascination with Carmen Broto, a sex symbol and high-class prostitute whose brutal murder in 1949 forms the background to this novel. Marsé revisited the Barcelona of the 1940s in subsequent novels. In Un día volveré (1982, One Day I Will Return), Ronda del Guinardó (1984, Watch of the Guinardó), and El embrujo de Shanghai (1993, Shanghai Nights), memory is once again the product of socialized fears and desires, deluded children's conflation of their parents with Hollywood heroes.

Manuel Vázquez Montalbán became internationally known for his long series of DETECTIVE fiction featuring Barcelona private eye Pepe Carvalho. The popularity of this series allowed the author to communicate his views on a wide array of social and political issues to a wide readership. But it was in Galíndez (1990), a novel on the disappearance and death of Jesús de Galíndez Suárez, a historical Basque politician who was kidnapped from Columbia University and murdered at the behest of the Dominican dictator Rafael Leónidas Trujillo, that Vázquez Montalbán achieved a tour-de-force blending of historical research, the conventions of the thriller, a critique of U.S. “imperialism” and, among Spanish writers, an uncommon assessment of the continuities between the Franco dictatorship (1939—75) and the post-Francoist socialist dispensation in the allusion to the maintenance of state terrorism and, above all, in voluntary amnesia elevated to the status of policy.

The theme of remembrance has been explored with great sensibility by the Mallorcan Baltasar Porcel in Les primaveres i les tardors (1986, Springs and Autumns), a polyphonic novel that inaugurates a narrative cycle centered in his native Andratx. Seated around a table for dinner on Christmas Eve, multiple members and several generations of one family exchange stories and memories, weaving together experience, imagination, and desires, in a flow of evocation that thickens until it has the ontological density of reality. In Portugal, Lídia Jorge has contributed to the novel of memory with O vale da paixão (1998, The Painter of Birds), a work that depicts three decades of Portuguese life through the eyes of a woman who, growing up during the Estado Novo, takes stock of the profound changes of this period, during which Portugal tried to perpetuate its overseas empire, sapping its national cohesion in the process.

Among the Spanish authors who have written brilliantly on the subject of MEMORY as modulated by time and subjectivity (fear and desire), the early work of Antonio Muñoz Molina deserves special mention. Muñoz Molina achieved his best work in the 1980s, with a finely wrought narrative in which he questioned official history and the possibility of eluding the traps of desire and vested interest while following material clues like an Ariadne's thread in the labyrinth of memory. His first novel, Beatus Ille (1985) remains, next to El jinete polaco (1991, The Polish Rider), one of the most interesting Spanish novels in the memory subgenre, as the author manages to incorporate elements of mystery derived from film noir into the process whereby a young man returns to the haunted places of the past only to find time suspended in mirrors and photographs (see PHOTOGRAPHY). In this context, to attempt to know is to repeat a fate, beckoned by the ambiguity of images that dissolve the difference between reality and phantom.

Javier Marías's 1992 novel Corazón tan blanco (A Heart So White) is about the involuntary memory of words that find their way into consciousness and trigger their long-delayed effect in unexpectedly dangerous ways. Corazón is also about the link between memory and moral responsibility, since through memory, as the protagonist's father explains, one's precarious identity is established. We are who we are to the extent that we claim ownership of certain memories and, in doing so, accept the burden of the past. In 2002—7 Marías published the first installment of his trilogy Tu rostro mañana (You Will Betray Me Tomorrow). In this long work Marías returns to his enduring concern with the narrator's responsibility, as any story told becomes unmoored from the original intention and, drifting out of control, can be illicitly appropriated into an alien, self-serving context.

After the death of Francisco Franco (1892—1975), the Galician and Basque languages resumed earlier attempts to develop a modern literature, and each produced narrators of considerable stature. In 1998 the Galician Manuel Rivas garnered fame with a short novel, O lapis do carpinteiro (The Carpenter's Pencil), an original narrative about the relation of dependence between a fascist policeman and the republican intellectual he hates and tries to destroy out of jealousy. Told with skill and economy, the story of Dr. Daniel da Barca and civil guard Herbal incorporates a significant number of characters through narrative slides that switch narrative voice, point of view, time, and setting without warning, as if drawn with the eponymous pencil, which functions as a metaphor for the transmission of memory.

With Obabakoak (1988), a collection of linked short stories, Bernardo Atxaga (pseud. of Joseba Irazu Garmendia) became internationally known. In his novels Gizona bere bakardadean (1993, The Lone Man) and Zeru horiek (1996, The Lone Woman), he undertakes an impressive study of the terrorist's psychology. Through a savvy use of mystery-novel suspense (the police circle closes in around a cell of terrorists in hiding), Atxaga's Gizona subtly traces the social mechanisms of loyalty and betrayal. In Zeru horiek Atxaga tells the return of an ETA Basque separatist convict to Euzkadi (the Basque Country), and the abuse to which she is subjected on the bus by plainclothes policemen who pressure her to become a police informant. The novel was a daring attempt to denounce the situation of former terrorists for whom there is no social reintegration after serving long prison sentences. Atxaga's most recent novel, Soinujolearen semea (2003, The Accordionist's Son), is a beautiful reflection on memory, friendship, and betrayal, a story about divided loyalties in a community that is split by class, politics, and history, but which, in its long existence, is as firm and enduring as the California sequoias admired by the protagonist.

At the 2007 Frankfurt Book Fair, the revelation to German publishers was Jaume Cabré's Les veus del Pamano (2004, 2004, Voices of the Pamano River). The author of ten novels to date, in addition to scriptwriting for television and cinema, Cabré achieved a narrative feat with his novel about a village in the eastern Pyrenees, the region where the maquis were active in the 1940s preparing the population for an allied invasion of Spain that never took place. The protagonist is a village teacher, officially a Falangist and an accomplice of the brutal authorities, but secretly a resistance fighter who loses his life in the struggle to overthrow the tyranny. Oriol Fontelles is also the lover of the village boss, a wealthy woman who, being the cause of his death, defies God and concocts the myth of a miracle, buying for him, by dint of lavish gifts to the Opus Dei, the Vatican's decree of beatification. Sixty years after the events, a schoolteacher's effort to bring to light the hidden truth of history meets with the same violent suppression that gave rise to the myth. Neither witnesses nor material traces remain, and history emerges as a murky record of a past made of counterfeit proof and spurious material evidence, a socially effective yarn scripted by power, ambition, and corrupted dreams.

SEE ALSO: Censorship, Comparativism, Mythology, National Literature.


1. Arnau, C. (1979), Introducció a la narrativa de Mercè Rodoreda.

2. Arnau, C. (2003), Compromís i escriptura.

3. Badia, L. (1988), De Bernat Metge a Joan Roís de Corella.

4. Badia, L. (1991), Teoria i pràctica de la literatura en Ramon Llull.

5. Barletta, V. (2010), Death in Babylon.

6. Beltrán, R. (2006), Tirant lo Blanc de Joanot Martorell.

7. Close, A. (2000), Cervantes and the Comic Mind of his Age.

8. Coleman, A. (1980), Eça de Queirós and European Realism.

9. Cuñado, I. (2004), Espectro de la herencia.

10. Dunn, P. (1993), Spanish Picaresque Fiction.

11. Gómez Redondo, F. (1999), Historia de la prosa medieval castellana, vols. I—II

12. Herzberger, D.K. (1995), Narrating the Past.

13. Olaziregi, M.-J. (2005), Waking the Hedgehog, trans. A. Gabantxo.

14. Martins, S. and A. de Paula Martins (2006), In Dialogue with Saramago.

15. Resina, J.R. (1997), El cadaver en la cocina.

16. Resina, J.R. (2006), “The Short, Happy Life of the Novel in Spain,” in Novel, History, Geography and Culture, ed. F. Moretti, vol. 1.

17. Ribbans, G. (1993), History and Fiction in Galdós's Narratives.

18. Seixo, M.A. (2002), Os romances de António Lobo Antunes.