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Mercè Rodoreda, The Fruits of Exile

Mercè Ibarz

The novels of Rodoreda are the great novels of modern Catalan literature. As is the case with the works of all the writers of her generation, the novels of Rodoreda show the effects of the Spanish Civil War - a war that broke lives, loves, and families, and that led to uprooting (in the form of exile for many), profound unhappiness, and destruction. Often, nonetheless, her writing allows us to catch a glimpse of hope at the end in such symbolic elements as flowers and jewels. Her work is also a reflection on the female condition and love.

The works of Mercè Rodoreda (Barcelona 1908 - Romanyà de la Selva, 1983) traverse the main areas of that modern Western literature that becomes contemporary through the experience of war and, more particularly, of exile. The experience of exile stretches the limits of literary realism, which are in no way sufficient for reading Rodoreda or sharing the memory of the world from which her books and characters speak. Born together with the cinema, as she liked to say to so many of her contemporaries (Pere Quart, Rafael Alberti), Rodoreda was a self-taught writer whose literary education was obtained through popular and patriotic verse, the emblematic works of Verdaguer and Ruyra, the literature of book-stalls, and later on, through journalism, by means of which she would come to know the Catalan literary elites of the nineteen-thirties. Nonetheless, it was during the Spanish Civil War (Aloma, her first valuable novel, was completed in 1938), and above all after the experience of the Second World War and the exile, that she succeeded in giving form to her project, which can be considered as one of the most ambitious in the Catalan literature of the twentieth century and as part of the cultural heritage of contemporary Europe. It is the result of experience and experiment, or in other words, the result of fragmentation.

From popular culture and the broadening and modelling of the literary possibilities of a language without a modern narrative tradition, from the minor or modish novels (the first four that she published) to the construction of a coherent, complex, all-but-complacent and progressively abstract and mythical fresco of the everyday lives of the twentieth century, assaulted by war and by the tenebrae of love - a fresco of mosaics in which her short stories, along with her posthumous novel La mort i la primavera (Death and the Spring), stand out besides her better known books - the works of Mercè Rodoreda should be read, in the words of her friend and mentor in expatriation, Josep Carner, as the most delicate, the most "flavoursome" fruit that her exile has bequeathed to us.

The girl from Sant Gervasi

When Mercè Rodoreda was born on 10th October 1908, Sant Gervasi de Cassoles was a quarter that had been annexed only fifteen years before to the capital (an unruly Barcelona in which anarchists and big-business gangsters were embroiled in a struggle for control of the streets. At that time, Gaudí had half-completed what today is known as the Güell Park (one of the future scenarios of La plaça del Diamant) (The Time of the Doves), the riots of The Tragic Week were just around the corner (1909); and, broadly speaking, cultural life witnessed the battle between the Modernist project, which would shortly be defeated, and the return to order that would take the polyhedral form of Noucentisme. It was an intense cultural debate that would involve the various layers of Catalan society and that in the years to come would assume a new form both along the pathways that would lead to self-government and through the struggles for social transformation: the most radical ones, those of the popular classes (anarchism, the formation of cultural circles or atheneums, the emergence of self-taught people) and those aiming at the modernisation of the mass media society (newspapers, journals, radio, cinema, the Dictionary by Fabra, novels, publishing-houses, the graphic arts, and photography). Continue reading...

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