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A relationship forged in ink that shaped Catalan literature

Renowned writers Joan Sales and Mercè Rodoreda enjoyed a strong link through their letters now in possession of the Rodoreda foundation

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12 November 2018 06:36 PM

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ACN | Barcelona

Catalan literature in the 20th century cannot not be properly understood without reading Joan Sales and Mercè Rodoreda. Two of Catalonia's better-known writers, Sales was also her editor, they produced compelling novels particularly influenced by the historical circumstances they lived through: a Civil War and exile, repression and censorship.

And today, to mark the 35th anniversary of Sales' death, his family donated to the Mercè Rodoreda foundation an impressive archive of documents and letters that help to better grasp their work, their relationship, and that of a whole generation of Catalan writers.  

Sales' 'Incerta Glòria' ('Uncertain Glory' in English) is a fascinating description of life behind-the-scenes during the war, with a certain burlesque tone that often focuses more on the personal and ideological contradictions of its characters than the actual war they suffered.

The novel, first published in 1956, and recently produced in English, was censored by the Spanish dictatorship and is considered a masterpiece of Catalan literature. Many of the documents proving that censorship are now available in the archive, as well as the changes in the novel that the author and editor made over time.

Another masterpiece is 'La Plaça del Diamant' ('Diamond Square' in English), by Mercè Rodoreda, and edited by Sales himself. The novel, one of the most translated in Catalan literature, is a striking and intimate description of the life of a young woman in Barcelona during the war and the fascist dictatorship that followed.

Sales wrote to Rodoreda in 1960 for an original copy of her first work, initially titled 'La Colometa', because a friend had recommend he publish it. That was their first letter. From there, they built a strong epistolary relationship that made them friends for the rest of their lives, and had passionate debates about literature and their work. Sales urged Rodoreda to change the book's name: he finally convinced her, and it came out as 'La Plaça del Diamant' in 1962.

The author's original letters, compiled in 2008 in a book published by Sales' granddaughter, editor Maria Bohigas, are part of the archive now donated to the Rodoreda Foundation. But not only that. The archive also includes letters from Sales to international publishers interested in Rodoreda's first work, or the contracts for the rights of her work. In English, the novel was initially published in the sixties with the title she originally wanted: 'The Pigeon Girl'. It's probably the most successful book produced by Sales' publisher, 'Club Editor', which still exists, and is now run by his granddaughter, Maria Bohigas.

The donated material also includes a lot of documents about 'Uncertain Glory' and the different "versions" of the novel. "The big novel by Joan Sales had different versions and a lot of censorship problems. We will now have the different versions in Catalan, Spanish, French…," said Josep Massot, from the Mercè Rodoreda Foundation. "If you read the first Catalan edition and the French one, they are so different!" he said, adding that while Sales had to suffer "terrible censorship" in Spain, he could "say whatever he felt like" in France.

Editor Maria Bohigas, Sales' granddaughter, said the documents show the effects on the authors' lives of "all the 20th century disasters," especially the Spanish Civil War. "It's impressive to see how many obstacles a war throws up: they needed to apply for a lot of permits and certificates to get on with their lives," she added. "It's Europe's history that we can see through many of these letters," Bohigas insisted.

The archives donated cover a period divided into three blocs: the first is about the Republic and the Spanish Civil War, and includes a lot of personal and family letters that help to grasp what life was like for Sales back then. The second period is that of exile, between 1939 and 1948, and includes originals in French of some of Sales' poems, which later became his book, 'Viatge d'un moribund'. And finally, a third period, from 1948 until the authors' death –they both died in 1983- where one can find the letters between Sales and Rodoreda, and a lot of other correspondence with people from the arts, publishing agents and translators.

 

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  • One of the letters from the Joan Sales archive (by ACN)

  • One of the letters from the Joan Sales archive (by ACN)