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Josep Pla

Cristina Badosa

Josep Pla was born in Palafrugell in 1897, the son of a family of small landowners. The opus of Pla is immense, and is all in prose. Pla is one of the greatest writers in the Catalan language. Influenced by the work of Montaigne, Pascal, Leopardi, and Stendhal, Pla offers in his own a brilliant testimony of his time. Pla was at heart an extremely lucid journalist who had travelled far and often. For him, travelling was not an exercise in tourism, but a discovery of life - a discovery that he subsequently transformed into literature. A declared anti-romantic, Pla shuns affected and artificial language. More than a novelist, he is a great raconteur who uses precise and incisive words. The work of Pla is also the major ally of the writer himself in the projection of a fictional persona, the selfsame Josep Pla.

The literary dimension of Josep Pla should be assessed on the basis of two qualities that have been essential in the modernisation of the Catalan language and in popularising the historical and cultural traditions of the country. His style combines touches of vernacular, expressive simplicity and creativity in his metaphors and similes. As a result, he has contributed towards the standardisation of Catalan literary language, going beyond the Modernist and noucentista styles to create a form of writing that is at once creative and close to the everyday idiom, thus facilitating continuity after the period of cultural repression during the Franco dictatorship.

“Pla’s work speaks to those who appreciate his travels on foot because there is something to be admired about writers like him, and Rimbaud and Robert Walser, for example, who wore out their shoes in the process.”

Again, his - very personal - recovery of collective memory has enabled divulgation of Catalonia's immediate past in an attractive, humorous and also ironic fashion.

Josep Pla's literary contribution has, nonetheless, undergone a process of creation and consolidation that is closely linked with his own autobiographical and political circumstances. In 1921, after a report he wrote about Madrid, he revealed the essential points of a project that he would not fulfil until after the Civil War. His intention of bringing together all his work in a vast publication of memoirs attained some structural dimension after the publication in 1925 of Coses vistes (Things Seen). However, it was not until 1928, after a frustrated attempt at a novel, Relacions (Relations), which was finally resolved in the form of a collection of stories, that Pla set about organising his disperse body of work into the memoirs of a narrative "I" that pulled together the different genres he had cultivated until then: travel writing, portraits, stories, and notes on gastronomy and customs.

Yet, his initial wish remained reduced to a simple outline of intentions when his political activity obliged him to abandon the project once again. The end of the Primo de Rivera dictatorship awoke in him a sense of political responsibility, and he contributed towards stirring up the debate through the press. From his party, the Lliga Regionalista, and from increasingly radical positions, Pla managed to influence public opinion with his constant criticisms of the Republic and leftists, which happened to coincide with the destabilising aims of the right-wing Catholic organisation CEDA [Confederación Española de Derechas Autónomas - Spanish Confederation of the Autonomous Right -translator]. The Civil War saw him engaged in espionage, working for Franco. It was not until after the Civil War that Pla returned again to the task of constructing the massive memoirs of his time and country, which would start taking shape with the first edition of the Obra completa (Complete Works). His construction of the narrative "I" would give a universal dimension, quality and structural backbone to the testimony, which, as he had imagined in 1921, would enable him to bring together an oeuvre that was too disperse. In this sense, El quadern gris (The Grey Notebook) is the nucleus of this huge and diverse mosaic, and one of the most universal works of Catalan narrative prose. Continue reading...

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