Catalan Identity in the 20th Century Novel: A Sociological Study

Catalan Identity in the 20th Century Novel: A Sociological Study

Adolf Piquer Vidal
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-7998-6614-5.ch011
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The 20th century is definitely the consolidation of Catalan literary movements in which Catalan identity plays a fundamental role. Modernism and avant-garde movements prompted a renewal of literary genres. The Spanish Civil War (1936-1939) was a point of conflict that led to the exile of most writers in Catalan. However, they continued publishing their works in Catalan. That´s the case of La Plaça del Diamant by Mercé Rodoreda and Cròniques de la veritat oculta by Pere Calders. That process of exile came to an end between 1962 to 1975 (death of Franco). Terenci Moix, Montserrat Roig, and others belonged to a generation called “generació literària dels setanta.” Most of them were born in Spanish postwar, educated in Francoism, concerned to recover the Catalan national identity, democratic politics, and social liberation of women and gay people.
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Introduction: Romanticism To Modernisme

The Catalan linguist Joan Veny (2019, p.15) refers in one of his studies to the importance that certain songs had in his youth whose authorship was not known. In the fourth decade of the twentieth century, the poetry of Jacint Verdaguer had formed part of the collective mindset since the previous century, although the name of the poet had become dissolved in the thick grey fog of the dictatorship of General Franco due to the prohibition of the official use of the Catalan language, the persecution of the Catalan writers who were forced into exile and of the previous censorship of the writings that appeared at the time.

In fact, Jacint Verdaguer signifies for the Catalan literary identity what other referents of European Romanticism mean for their respective languages. Verdaguer unites, in the 19th century, the essential characteristics of the resurgence of Catalan literature, of the movement called Renaixença. The romantic patriotism as like that Herder revitalized in Germany focused on the relationship between similar individuals (Patten, 2010, p.661). The sense of identity had just laid the foundations of the historical linguistic and narrative type, in certain cases even ethnic, in the construction of the Catalan national ideology (Bamberg, De Fina & Schiffrin, 2007, p.2-8).

The shared language, on the one hand, and the medieval links of historiography (Montoliu, 1959) and of troubadour poetry (Milà i Fontanals, 1861 & 1865) suggest points of contact during the 19th century where the cultural part of the Renaixença rests, not overlooking the bourgeoning of an economy based on industrialization that fostered the emergence of a bourgeoisie for whom cultural life became important.

Thus, the second half of the nineteenth century lays the foundation for cultural turmoil, the revival of Catalan as a literary language, penetration of the historical novel model (Bergnes de las Casas published Scott’s Ivanhoe), of the realistic and naturalistic novel (Narcís Oller established relationships with E. Zola), and the desire to build a national cultural model. Verdaguer in poetry, Àngel Guimerà in the theater and Narcís Oller in the narrative are the flagship writers of Catalan society in the shift from one century to another. The commitment to Catalan as a literary language led to the first scuffles and controversies between Catalan writers and Spanish writers. Thus, the changing thought of Miguel de Unamuno, left proclamations both for and against (Unamuno, 1907) highbrow use of Catalan. Pérez Galdós, for example, would be one of the most loathsome cases to novels in Catalan.

And this is understood that Catalan does not have its own construction. The syntax is Castilian and only the voices vary. […] there is no choice but to resort to Catalanised Spanish, as the dialect lacks resources for everything that is ideological (Pérez Galdós in Oller, 1948, p.749)

On the contrary, the writer Juan Valera sent this to Oller:

I believe that in the long run, or perhaps sooner, if you continue writing a lot and well in Catalan, the texts will be sold and read in Catalan throughout Spain, without the need for translations, as you undoubtedly read us in Catalonia, without translating, and as we must also read the Portuguese and be read by the Portuguese (1948, p.657).

The opposing wave against the standardization of Catalan amongst certain Spanish writers also led to rejecting the presence of newspapers and magazines. The magazine La Renaixensa. Diari de Catalunya (1881-1897), alongside L’avens (1881-1893) helped decisively in the presence of a revitalizing Catalan literary movement that was particularly noted in the second publication due to its links with Modernisme.

It is precisely the modernist cultural movement of Catalonia that is committed to a total renewal of aesthetics and confronts the romantic. The emerging literary figures of the moment: Joan Maragall, Santiago Rusiñol, Raimon Casellas,... provide a Europeanist and regenerationist view of relations between Spain and Catalonia; especially following the colonial war of Cuba in 1898 that pitched Spain against the United States of America.

The idea that Spain needed modernity and that Catalonia could contribute to it rooted strongly in Modernisme, while bolstering political claims related to the volition of safeguarding Catalan identity. The federal republicanism of figures such as Valentí Almirall, embodied in Lo catalanisme (1886), the Foc Nou group of Jaume Brossa and Pere Coromines, contributed to calling into question the Spanish centralist monarchy while at the same time backing drastic changes in artistic forms.

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