Chacel, Rosa 1898–1994

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Chacel, Rosa 1898–1994

(Rosa Clotilde Cecilia María del Carmen Chacel)

PERSONAL: Surname is pronounced "cha-thell"; born June 3, 1898, in Valladolid, Spain; died of heart and lung failure, 1994, in Madrid, Spain; married Timoteo Pérez Rubio (a painter); children: Carlos. Education: Studied sculpture at Escuela Superior de Bellas Artes, 1915–18.

CAREER: Novelist and poet.

AWARDS, HONORS: Guggenheim fellowship, 1959–61; Fondación March fellowship, 1973; Premio de la Crítica, 1976, for Barrio de Maravillas, 1977, for La sinrazón; appointed poet laureate of Madrid, Spain, 1980; Premio Nacional de las Letras Españolas, 1988; Spanish Gold Medal for Fine Arts, 1994.


Estación: ida y vuelta, Ediciones Ulises (Madrid, Spain), 1930, reprinted, CVS Ediciones (Madrid, Spain), 1974.

A la orilla de un pozo, Ediciones Héroe (Madrid, Spain), 1936, reprinted, Pre-Textos (Valencia, Spain), 1985.

Teresa, Ediciones Nuevo Romance (Buenos Aires, Argentina), 1941, revised edition, Aguilar (Madrid, Spain), 1963.

Memorias de Leticia Valle, Emecé (Buenos Aires, Argentina), 1945, revised edition, Lumen (Barcelona, Spain), 1971, translated by Carol Maier as Memoirs of Leticia Valle, University of Nebraska Press (Lincoln, NE), 1994.

Sobre el piélago, Ediciones Imán (Buenos Aires, Argentina), 1952, reprinted, Torremozas (Madrid, Spain), 1992.

Poesía de la circunstancia. Cómo y por qué de la novela, Universidad Nacional del Sur (Bahía Blanca, Argentina), 1958.

La sinrazón, Editorial Losada (Buenos Aires, Argentina), 1960.

Ofrenda a una virgen loca, Universidad Veracruzana (Jalapa, Veracruz, Mexico), 1961.

La confesión, EDHASA (Barcelona, Spain), 1971.

Icada, Nevda, Diada (includes Sobre el piélago and Ofrenda a una virgen loca), Seix Barral (Barcelona, Spain), 1971.

Saturnal, Seix Barral (Barcelona, Spain), 1972.

Desde el amanecer: Autobiografía de mis primeros diez años, Revista de Occidente (Madrid, Spain), 1972, revised edition, Bruguera (Barcelona, Spain), 1981.

Barrio de Maravillas, Seix Barral (Barcelona, Spain), 1976, revised edition, Bruguera (Barcelona, Spain), 1980, translated by D.A. Démers as The Maravillas District, University of Nebraska Press (Lincoln, NE), 1992.

Versos prohibidos, Caballo Griego para la Poesía (Madrid, Spain), 1978.

(With husband, Timoteo Pérez Rubio) Timoteo Pérez y sus retratos del jardin, Cátedra (Madrid, Spain), 1980.

Los títulos, EDHASA (Barcelona, Spain), 1981.

Novelas antes de tiempo, Bruguera (Barcelona, Spain), 1981.

Alcancía: ida, vuelta, two volumes, Seix Barral (Barcelona, Spain), 1982.

Acrópolis, Seix Barral (Barcelona, Spain), 1984.

Rebañaduras: colección de artículos de Rosa Chacel, Junta de Castilla y León, Consejería de Educación y Cultura (Salamanca, Spain), 1986.

Memoria, narrativa y poética de las presencias: poesías, relatos, novellas y ensayos, Editorial Anthropos (Barcelona, Spain), 1988.

Ciencias naturales, Seix Barral (Barcelona, Spain), 1988.

Balaam y otros cuentos, Montena (Madrid, Spain), 1989.

Obra completa, two volumes, Centro de Creación y Estudios Jorge Guillén (Valladolid, Spain), 1989.

Ensayo y poesía, Centro de Creación y Estudios Jorge Guillén (Valladolid, Spain), 1989.

La lectura es secreto, Ediciones Júcar (Madrid, Spain), 1989.

Poesía: 1931–1991, edited by Antoni Marí, Tusquets (Barcelona, Spain), 1992.

Artículos, Centro de Estudios Literarios (Valladolid, Spain), 1993.

De mar a mar: Epistolario Rosa Chacel-Ana María Moix, Ediciones Península (Barcelona, Spain), 1998.

Alcancía: estación termini, Junta de Castilla y León (Spain), 1998.


Renato Poggioli, Teoría del arte vanguardia, Revista de Occidente (Madrid, Spain), 1964.

Albert Camus, La peste, EDHASA (Barcelona, Spain), 1977.

Jean Racine, Tragedias, Alfaguara (Madrid, Spain), 1983.

Walmir Ayala, Museo de Cámara, Xanela (Madrid, Spain), 1986.

Contributor to periodicals, including Anthropos, Nación, and Sur.

ADAPTATIONS: Memorias de Leticia Valle was adapted as a film by Intimista, 1979.

SIDELIGHTS: Spanish author Rosa Chacel practiced various literary forms throughout her life: novels, poetry, essays, short stories, autobiography, and memoir. She wrote for nearly sixty years, publishing her last novel at the age of ninety. Chacel was a member of the Generation of 1927, a group that believed content and style were of equal importance. Chacel was born in Valladolid on June 3, 1898. She was a physically frail child and was educated at home by her mother, who was a schoolteacher. During her childhood years, Chacel exhibited a remarkable talent for Greek sculpture; her skill surpassed that of many older students. In 1908 she moved to Madrid with her parents. The family lived in the Barrio de Maravillas, a name Chacel would later choose as the title of an autobiographical novel.

Between 1915 and 1918 Chacel studied sculpture at the Escuela Superior de Bellas Artes in San Fernando. She forged many important friendships during those years, including one with her future husband, Timoteo Pérez Rubio. Due to poor health, Chacel was unable to continue her artistic studies, but she quickly became interested in the field of literary endeavor. She visited the places where the Spanish intellectuals tended to gather: the Ateneo, the Bolillería, and the Granja del Henar. Through these visits Chacel became acquainted with the critic and philosopher José Ortega y Gasset, as well as with Ramón Gómez de la Serna. Both men encouraged her writing and, along with Juan Ramón Jiménez and Miguel de Unamuno, became strong influences in Chacel's writing style.

After Chacel's marriage to Pérez Rubio, both accepted teaching positions at the Academia de España in Rome. The couple lived there between 1922 and 1927 and occasionally traveled to other European countries. During a visit to Paris, Chacel became acquainted with André Breton's much-discussed work Manifeste du surréalisme. Soon thereafter, Chacel introduced surrealistic elements into her own work.

Chacel and Pérez Rubio returned to Spain in 1927. Three years later her first novel, Estación: ida y vuelta, was published. The title of Chacel's novel has a double meaning: the phrase "ida y vuelta" signifies a round trip, while "estación" means both season and station. The novel provides a singularly detailed account of an unhappy love affair. In this work the reader can discover a unique style and ideas that would develop and mature throughout Chacel's lifetime.

In 1936, shortly before the beginning of the Spanish Civil War (1936–39), Chacel published A la orilla de un pozo, her first poetry collection. The work is composed of sonnets dedicated to well-known critics and writers, including Pablo Neruda, Nikos Kazantzakis, Rafael Alberti, and María Teresa León. In the Dictionary of Literary Biography, Dona M. Kercher mentioned that these poems "emphasize the playful and oneiric aspects of language." She also wrote that Chacel's poetry demonstrates "a strict adherence to a formal, classical style of poetry." Writing in World Literature Today, Catherine G. Bellver described Chacel's poetic work as "intellectual, cultured, and impersonal." Bellver considered Chacel's poetry to be an example of the Generation of 1927's "goals of experimentation and innovation." The critic praised Chacel's use of surrealism, classical meter, and a vocabulary that "creates a world of movement, brilliance, fire, and vigor."

After the civil war began, Chacel and her son, Carlos, moved to France. Pérez Rubio, however, remained behind for several months. As an artist, he was concerned with the preservation of the Prado Museum's art collection in Madrid. He therefore acted as a coordinator of the Republican government's plan to protect the collection from the bombings by Franco's troops. Following the success of his endeavor, Pérez Rubio rejoined his family in France. They then lived in Greece for a short period and finally immigrated to Rio de Janeiro, where Pérez Rubio had contacts in artistic circles. Chacel, however, was not content simply to live in Rio, so she divided her time between that Brazilian city and Buenos Aires, Argentina, which was the home of her close friend Norah Borges.

Upon her arrival in Argentina, Chacel was finally able to publish two new novels. She had written the books, Teresa and Memorias de Leticia Valle, before leaving Spain, but she was unable to publish them there because of the political situation. Teresa, a novel originally commissioned in 1930 by Ortega y Gasset, was finally published in 1941. It is the fictional biography of the mistress of Spain's revolutionary romantic poet, José Espronceda. Through the story of Teresa Mancha, a woman who defied the strict moral tenets of the nineteenth century, Chacel explores themes of alienation and exile.

Chacel's third novel, Memorias de Leticia Valle, consists of diary entries written by Leticia, a precocious eleven-year-old girl. Leticia is born in Valladolid, but she moves to an isolated village with her aunt and her father, a man embittered by his wife's death and his battle experiences in Africa. The village landscape is dominated by the presence of a fifteenth-century castle that has been converted into the national archive. Leticia befriends the archivist's wife, Dońa Luisa, who is a talented pianist. The young girl initially takes piano lessons from Doña Luisa, but she later decides to study history with the archivist, Don Daniel. This intellectual relationship creates tension between the married couple and culminates in Leticia's seduction. The diary is Leticia's description of the events leading up to that moment. In a New York Times Book Review, Kathryn Davis commented that Leticia is "a convincingly strong heroine," a child that "engages our sympathies precisely because she refuses the role of victim, instead striving to acknowledge the degree of her complicity." A Publishers Weekly critic called the book "powerful and disturbing," and stated that although the narrative is often dense, it "is always lucid." A Kirkus Reviews contributor described the novel as "a close read, but ultimately rich and rewarding."

Throughout the next twenty-eight years, Chacel spent most of her time in South America. She would not publish another novel until 1960, focusing instead on other genres. She wrote articles for La Nación, Buenos Aires's daily newspaper, and contributed essays, poetry, reviews, and short stories to Sur, a literary magazine. Chacel also wrote Spanish translations of a wide array of books, and translated the poetry of T.S. Eliot, Stéphane Mallarmé, and Rainer Maria Rilke into her native language. She also published two collections of short stories, Sobre el piélago and Ofrenda a una virgen loca.

Chacel was awarded a Guggenheim fellowship in 1959 and subsequently spent two years in New York City. She used that time to lecture, travel, and write, though she was unhappy during the visit and her writing was less focused. In 1960 she published La sinrazón, her first novel to appear since Memorias de Leticia Valle. She worked for ten years on the book, which Kercher described as "her masterwork in fiction." La sinrazón, like the preceding novel, takes the form of a diary. The protagonist of this book is Santiago Hernández, a man who questions the meaning of his life. According to a writer for The Bloomsbury Guide to Women's Literature, La sinrazón "skillfully explores inner psychology" in its diary format.

In 1961 the Guggenheim Foundation provided Chacel with the funds to travel to Europe, and in particular, Spain. The writer spent the next two years in her na-tive country, a time that, according to Kercher, proved "a bitter disappointment" to her. Kercher explained that Chacel discovered that her earlier novels were no longer in print; the books, which were "philosophically dense," were not compatible with the social-realistic novels popular during the early 1960s. In 1963 Chacel returned to Brazil, feeling that she stood "at a critical crossroads" in both her artistic and personal lives.

Ten years later, at the age of seventy-five, Chacel returned to Spain and established a separate household from her husband. Her travel was funded by the Fondación March, which had granted her a fellowship for her plans to write a new autobiographical work. The result of her labor was the novel Barrio de Maravillas. The book was published in 1976 and received high praise from literary critics; in fact, Chacel was awarded the Premio de la Crítica in that same year for the work.

Barrio de Maravillas—translated into English as The Maravillas District—is the story of the friendship between two young girls: thirteen-year-old Elena, the daughter of two musicians, and eleven-year-old Isabel, the daughter of an unmarried seamstress. According to Janet Jones Hampton in Belles Lettres, the novel is a narrative "of self-discovery as they become aware of politics, their own artistic talents, and the first stirrings of love." By the end of the tale, the two girls determine to apply to an elite art academy. A young man has warned them that they will need to "face the conflict between gender and vocation," according to a Kirkus Reviews critic, but Elena and Isabel decide that, if necessary, they will struggle with that point. In the Review of Contemporary Fiction, Lynda Hoffman-Jeep noted that "Chacel appliqués … painting, music, poetry, and myth upon her narrative … [to] evaluate the relationships between the girls' personal and professional identities as artists." Hoffman-Jeep later compared the novel's density to a cup of "Spanish hot chocolate"; she did not find the book easy to read, "but the power and excitement of the prose can be addicting." A reviewer for Publishers Weekly declared that this novel "will enchant lovers of beautiful and complex prose." Hampton commented about "the introspective quality of Chacel's writing," in which "action is subordinate to reflection," and felt that the characters' inner and outer worlds are fully described. In her preface to the English translation of Barrio de Maravillas, Susan Kirkpatrick wrote, "Chacel's writing is dense and labyrinthine, but at the same time it is open-ended and dynamic, shaping a narrative design that ends with a query instead of a conclusion."

In 1977 Chacel received her second Premio de la Crítica for the Spanish publication of her novel La sinrazón. Kercher commented that Chacel suddenly became "a cultural star of the new Spain." She was inundated with requests for magazine and television interviews. She continued to write poetry and published work in new literary journals, and was appointed poet laureate of Madrid in 1980.

Following the success of Barrio de Maravillas, Chacel proceeded to write two related novels, Acrópolis and Ciencias naturales, which, along with the first, would form a trilogy. Acrópolis, published in 1984, continues the story of Elena and Isabel, following their lives in the years between 1914 and 1931. Those years were also important for Chacel's own artistic development. In Kercher's words, they were "the formative years for her intellectual generation." The cycle is completed in Ciencias naturales, which appeared in 1988, when Chacel was ninety years old. The novel begins with a journey; Kercher explained that "the leitmotiv for [this] journey of exile is the total darkness of night on the open sea."

Chacel had a productive literary career that spanned most of her ninety-six years. Six years before her death, the Spanish government presented her with the Premio Nacional de las Letras Españolas, described by Kercher as a prestigious award given in recognition of "the totality of Rosa Chacel's literary production and … her worldwide reputation."



Chacel, Rosa, Desde el amanecer: Autobiografía de mis primeros diez años, Revista de Occidente (Madrid, Spain), 1972, revised edition, Bruguera (Barcelona, Spain), 1981.

Dictionary of Literary Biography, Volume 134: Twentieth-Century Spanish Poets, Thomson Gale (Detroit, MI), 1994.

Pieropan, María Domenica, A Translation and Interpretation of Rosa Chacel's Sonnets: A la orilla de un pozo: At the Edge of a Well, Edwin Mellen Press (Lewiston, NY), 2001.


Belles Lettres, spring, 1993, Janet Jones Hampton, "Voices from Pre-Franco Spain," review of The Maravillas District, p. 7.

Booklist, February 1, 1977, Earle M. Gladden, review of Barrio de Maravillas, p. 797.

Hispania, September, 1993, Antonio Martínez Herrarte, review of Poesía: 1931–1991, pp. 472-473.

Hispanic Review, summer, 1992, Joan Ramon Resina, review of La lectura es secreto, pp. 379-382.

Kirkus Reviews, November 15, 1992, review of The Maravillas District, p. 1391; January 1, 1994, review of Memoirs of Leticia Valle, p. 4.

New York Times Book Review, March 13, 1994, Kathryn Davis, "'This Disease They Call Childhood,'" review of Memoirs of Leticia Valle, p. 8.

Publishers Weekly, December 7, 1992, review of The Maravillas District, p. 58; February 7, 1994, review of Memoirs of Leticia Valle, p. 84.

Review of Contemporary Fiction, fall, 1993, Lynda Hoffman-Jeep, review of The Maravillas District, pp. 232.

World Literature Today, winter, 1987, Catherine G. Bellver, review of A la orilla de un pozo, pp. 76-77; spring, 1993, Catherine G. Bellver, review of Poesía: 1931–1991, p. 338.



New York Times, August 2, 1994, p. D18.

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Chacel, Rosa 1898–1994

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