Ferran de Pol: Writing and Life (1911-1995)
Josep-Vicent Garcia i Raffi
The writer and lawyer Lluís Ferran de Pol died on 19 October. We are thus bereft of an excellent narrator and a crusading soldier for Catalonia and the Catalan-language territories. He was born in Arenys de Mar in 1911, was a literary autodidact and, at an early age, began to write for local magazines and newspapers, a journalistic undertaking that he was never to abandon. He wrote for the Arenys de Mar publications Oreig (1932) –which was directed by his friend Josep M. Miquel i Vergés– and Salobre (1935), mainly reviews, prose pieces and a few translations. He established a small cultural and literary group with the artist and bibliophile Francesc Arnau and the sculptor Joan Barrera, who introduced him into the world of art, an apprenticeship that would be very useful for his later work in Mexico. His first published story was "Els hereus de Xanta" (Xanta’s Heirs, 1934), which was awarded the Joan Colom Prize for Fiction at the Tenth Jocs Florals of the Arenys de Mar Athenaeum, a literary competition presided over by Joaquim Ruyra and Carles Riba.
He graduated in Law and, while he was studying for a public-sector examination with a view to becoming a notary, the Civil War broke out in 1936. He was an instructor of the people’s army of the Republic and was sent to the Aragon Front to join the Republican army. He fought on several different fronts, including the Battle of the Ebro, where he was wounded. However, he never forsook literature and his story Tríptic (el sàtir-el frare-la donzella) (Triptych (The Satyr-The Monk-The Maiden)) won the Narcís Oller Prize of the Generalitat (Government) of Catalonia for the best story written in Catalan in 1937. Like other prose pieces of his early writings, it was not published until 1964. In these early works one sees the stylistic bases of the good fiction writer he later became, together with his use of the myth. In 1938 his translation of E. T. A. Hoffman’s Der goldne Topf (The Golden Pot) appeared with the title L'olla d'or while, at the same time, he was making notes for a study of Catalan chivalrous literature. From his early youth he was a passionate, deeply-admiring reader of the Catalan classics which, along with the Bible, he kept re-reading.
The Mexican Period
When the Civil War ended he was interned for six months in the concentration camp of Saint-Cyprien in Roussillon. Thanks to the good offices of the British Committee for Refugees from Spain, he was able to go to Mexico where he lived for ten years. No sooner had he arrived than, thanks to the generous spirit of the government of Lázaro Cárdenas, he was able to start writing for the newspaper El Nacional where, in the years 1939 and 1940, he published a series of articles about the end of the Civil War and his internment in the concentration camp. He worked as a journalist for eight years, writing about literature, art –and was also director of a monographic page on art– and culture on a weekly basis. It is particularly interesting to read his articles and reviews concerning the pre-Columbian cultures which had such a great influence in his work. His pieces for El Nacional shaped his expository style. They are informative articles, didactic in their clarity, and they contributed towards the cultural transformation that Mexico was undergoing in the decade of the 1940s. For Ferran de Pol, journalism –and he said this on more than one occasion– was a permanent school of writing, even when it was in the Spanish language.
While he was working as a journalist and studying for an Arts degree, Ferran de Pol was also one of the founders of two Catalan-American reviews: Full Català and Quaderns de l'Exili. The former appeared in 1941 with Josep Carner as its director. Its contents were fundamentally cultural, although when Joan Sales joined the staff they shifted more into the realms of political and national reflection. Ideological and personal differences saw the publication’s demise the following year. Nevertheless, the seed of a new publication was planted. Quaderns de l'Exili (1943-1947), a group review with Joan Sales among its founders, would soon become one of most active and significant publications of this ilk. In a six-point programme, it upheld the national unity of the Catalan-language territories; the possible intervention of a Catalan combat unit in the Second World War to fight against European fascism; and the consideration of nationalism as a sense of equality among all compatriots. The magazine contributed new ideas, perhaps the most innovative among the exiles, on the “National Disaster of 1939”, the role of intellectuals and Catalan culture. This publication or, better said, the reflections of the group, profoundly marked Ferran de Pol’s thinking and he was to remain faithful to these ideas over the years.