Jordi Malé (UOC consultant)
Barcelona, 1893 - 1959. Poet, narrator, literary critic, translator and academic
"More than once", Goethe told Eckermann, "they have not wanted to see me as I am and they have averted their eyes from anything that might show me in my true light." On a different occasion he declared, "My works can never become popular".
It is not at all improbable that Carles Riba felt these words as his own. He was certainly not a Goethe, but equally certainly he would not have done anything to avoid resembling him. Even in his youth he was regarded as an obscure, hermetic, cerebral and intellectualist writer and these adjectives were not lacking in a touch of disparagement. This prejudice has conditioned the reception of almost all his work and has meant that he was frequently not seen, as Goethe put it, "in his true light", in addition to being condemned to an unremitting lack of popular acclaim. Riba complained of this more than once. One of the consequences, when it comes to evaluating his literary activity, has been that his oeuvre has come to be considered as a homogeneous block in which each book can be pigeonholed - and dispensed with - using one set of labels. Nonetheless, among Catalan authors, Riba's lifelong literary evolution was one of the richest and most varied of all.
The Early Period: until 1922Born in 1893, Riba, like all his literary generation, was shaped by his reading of Glosari (Glossary), the daily column of Eugeni d'Ors. The adjective "noucentista" [referring to an early 20th-century urban-based cultural movement of political scope, inspired by Eugeni d'Ors in reaction to the "excesses" of Modernism - translator] is thus perfectly applicable to him, although two aspects of this must be clearly distinguished.
First, Riba went through a period in the second decade of the century that was fully "noucentista" in the sense of being heavily influenced by d'Ors. The sway of Xènius [the pseudonym used by Eugeni d'Ors] is evident, for example, in Riba's collected articles of literary criticism (Escolis i altres articles (Scholia and Other Articles, 1921) and the first articles in the collection entitled Els marges (1927), where he strove to construct his own style of literary thought, borrowing concepts and terms from different Romantic critics, symbolists, et cetera, and in particular the ideas of the noucentista writer Pantarca. Unfortunately, he had not yet been able to escape from the influence of the mannerism and rhetorical emphasis that were so characteristic of Eugeni d'Ors' writing and which, in these early articles, partially undermined his effectiveness as a critic.
Again, when he ventured into the world of fiction, for example in Les aventures d'en Perot Marrasquí (The Adventures of Perot Marrasquí) a book for children written in the second decade of the century and published in 1924, he achieved a more successful style, which, although it remained literary, also had a colloquial and unaffected tone. This was not the case, however, with the book L'ingenu amor (Ingenuous Love), consisting of stories not specifically for children about love and sacrifice, etcetera, which were also written between 1910 and 1920 and published in 1924. This time, his deliberately literary aim was to move slightly towards noucentista artificiality. However, it was with his translations of prose works in this period (stories of Edgar Allan Poe and the Brothers Grimm, some of Plutarch's Parallel Lives, Xenofont's The Ten Thousand and Gogol's The Inspector General, etc.) that the clearest hints appeared of the possibilities of what Riba's prose would later become (for example in the stories for children in the collection Sis Joans (Six Johns, 1928)).
Riba's poetry of the years between 1910 and 1920, which appeared in Primer llibre d'Estances (First Book of Stanzas, 1919), may also be described as "noucentista" in a certain d'Ors-evoking sense since his rigorous formal construction and the constant presence of learned references (Homer, medieval Catalan and Italian poets, French symbolists, etc.) reveal in this work his desire to engage in an exercise of high culture. Yet it would be mistaken to imagine that it was only that. These early poems clearly and especially reveal an introspective urge to engage in deep analysis of moral life, for which Riba stood out with regard to the predominant realism that characterised the work of the Catalan poets of his time (with the exception of J.M. López-Picó). Continue reading...