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The output of fiction written in Catalan

per Ramon Pla i Arxé
The output of fiction written in Catalan during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries was conditioned and encouraged by two basic factors: the need to have a colloquial language of literary merit – an essential yet difficult requirement in a culture whose language had no rules of grammar until 1913 and was not taught in schools – and a belief in the importance of fiction in order for Catalan to be part of the large market for readers of novels.
The cultural Renaixença of the nineteenth century began with poetry but gradually came to include fiction, which followed the trends of European fiction and was widely acclaimed by readers.

The historical novel dealing with Catalonia’s independent past – L’orfeneta de Menargues (1862) – and the contemporary genre paintings and novels created the conditions for a realist, naturalist type of fiction. The leading exponent of this realism was Narcís Oller – Zola wrote the prologue of his La papallona (1882) – who was preceded or accompanied by other novelists such as Marià Vayreda, Dolors Monserdà and Josep Pin i Soler. The crisis in Positivism and the change of aesthetic direction at the turn of the century – with the arrival of Modernisme (Catalan art nouveau) – brought with it an enrichment of the realist model (Raimon Casellas, Víctor Català and Prudenci Bertrana) and at the same time occasional examples of poetic prose (Santiago Rusiñol).

In 1906, the consolidation of Catalan culture and the pressure for autonomy created the context for Noucentisme, a cultural movement that discredited the realist novel and encouraged a very elaborate prose that became the literary canon. La ben plantada (1911) by Eugeni d’Ors is a prime example. Nevertheless, realist novels continued to be published (Pous i Pagès, Puig i Ferreter, Miquel Llor and Sebastià Juan i Arbó). They contained a more elegant, expressive language (Ruyra), a predominance of psychological analysis (Carles Soldevila) and a refined distancing (Jordana and Trabal), often with a more modern narrative technique. This high standard was represented by very different authors who wrote works of exceptional quality (Carner, Sagarra, the excellent Josep Pla and the young Salvador Espriu). Other authors, however, who emerged during this period had to write much of their work in exile after the Civil War (1936-1939) – the vast majority of Catalan authors were anti-Franco – as for example Mercè Rodoreda, Amat-Piniella, Aurora Bertrana, Pere Calders, Xavier Benguerel and Avel•lí Artís.

The dictatorship (1939-1978) initially left Catalan society in a defenceless position and prohibited Catalan as a language of the arts. A slow process of recovery of the language impelled by the political and cultural resistance – publishing houses, literary awards, periodicals, etc. – was eventually consolidated but did not extend to the influx of people from other parts of Spain. The leading authors from the years of the Republic became the indisputable models for the many new writers who began writing in Catalan (Pedrolo, Perucho and, later on, Espinàs, Capmany, Porcel, Saladrigas, Moix, Roig, Teixidor). A parallel phenomenon – the same publishers, the same cultural space and the same market – occurred in the region of Valencia and in the Balearic Islands (Llorenç Villalonga in particular, as well as Janer i Manila, M. Antònia Oliver and Gabriel Mesquida).

The arrival of democracy (1978) brought with it legislation that made Catalan the principal vehicle of education, thus increasing the potential number of readers and strengthening the role of the publishers, who – rather than the critics or the universities – were more influential in determining the canons of fiction. In general there was no predominant aesthetic, and the number of authors – including, significantly, those in the Valencia region – and of readers multiplied.

Traduït per Joanna Martinez

Isabel Banal: Llapis trobats, sèrie iniciada el 1999.

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