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Manuel de Pedrolo

Xavier García

Manuel de Pedrolo (l'Aranyó, 1918-Barcelona, 1990) was a clandestine member of a sequestered society. One of a long line of nobles, he was born within the walls of a castle belonging to his father's family in the harsh lands of Segarra. He was a solitary adolescent full of expectations, in a small provincial capital, during the period of the Republic and then a young soldier who went to war on the side of the vanquished. He was a writer of incorruptible principles throughout the Franco dictatorship and an isolated intellectual in a mean-spirited democracy that, for this writer, clearly glossed over collective freedoms. The critics' silence about his work meant that, in the last years of his life, Pedrolo nursed the idea that he was a failure. His wife, daughter and a good friend who arrived late were the only people present at his burial.

Nonetheless, he has been one of the most widely-read Catalan writers since the end of the Civil War and he has also left a considerable poetic legacy, several hundred newspaper articles that won him quite a number of enthusiasts, several first-rate plays, the most substantial body of novels in our literature with the corresponding number of readers and, besides all this, a radical view of creativity and the image of an author who committed his whole being to every line he wrote. From the start, he took on his failure: freed from everything in a writing-universe of internal rebel coherence this is not only a star chapter in contemporary Catalan literature but a resounding contribution to the history of our culture.

A Creative Totality

The only limits between Pedrolo and his work were imposed by his own imagination. Not even the strictest political or moral censorship intervened in his literary project, as is shown in the chronological discrepancy, thanks to the dictatorship, between the writing and publication dates of many of his works. For example, Un amor fora ciutat (Love Outside the City), a novel dealing with homosexuality from the perspective of psychoanalysis, was written in 1959 but could not be published until 1970 and, even then, he was taken to court for inciting public scandal. But Pedrolo is the author of an oeuvre more than of works. It is a significant totality that goes beyond schools or aesthetic movements, producing realist novels (Estrictament personal (Strictly Personal, 1954)), humorous works (Cops de bec a Pasadena, (Beak Blows in Pasadena, 1956)), symbolist works (Totes les bèsties de càrrega (All the Beasts of Burden, 1965)), textualist writing (Text/càncer (Text/Cancer, 1973)), science-fiction (Mecanoscrit del segon origen, 1973)), detective novels (Mossegar-se la cua (Biting Your Tail, 1967)), etc., while he also wrote theatre of the absurd (Homes i No (Men and No, 1957)), symbolist-tending poetry, visual poetry (Sobres (Leftovers, 1994)), etc. His works, some of them more successful than others, come together in an autonomous literary universe as part of a trajectory that has been unwavering in its ethical exigency.

Pedrolo has worked with all genres. In fact, he began like others, including William Faulkner whom he admired so much, writing and publishing poetry (Ésser en el món (Being in the World, 1949)), but it didn't take him long to realise that the abyss of art for art's sake lay between his poetry and his project. It was a conception that the poet believed to be the most valid in aesthetic terms but it was too far removed from his hierarchy of intellectual values. He stopped writing in this genre and began writing short stories and narrative, which he also abandoned after 1956, precisely the year that he won the Víctor Català Prize for his collection entitled Crèdits humans (Human Credits)). One of these stories, "Diàlegs d'un fugitiu" (Dialogues of a Fugitive), which was also published as Domicili provisional (Provisional Domicile, 1953), is the key for understanding his theatre because the work is totally in dialogue. If one wishes to insert the necessary stage-direction notes, then it is a play. In fact, shortly afterwards he wrote his first published play Els hereus de la cadira (Heirs of the Chair, 1954)). Continue reading...

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