Rodoreda, Mercè (i Gurgui)

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RODOREDA, Mercè (i Gurgui)

Nationality: Spanish (Catalan language). Born: Barcelona, 10 October 1909. Family: Married her uncle (separated); one son. Career: Journalist, Mirador, La Rambla, La Publicitat, and others; editor, Clarisme journal, Barcelona; secretary, Institució de les Lletres Catalanes, 1936-39; exiled in France, 1939-54; seamstress and translator, Geneva, Switzerland, from 1954. Awards: Premi Crexells, for novel, 1937; Victor Català prize, for stories, 1957. Died: 13 April 1983.


Short Stories

Aloma (novella). 1938; revised edition, 1969.

Vint-i-dos contes. 1958.

La meva Cristina i altres contes. 1967; as My Christina and Other Stories, 1984.

Semblava de seda i altres contes. 1978.

Viatges i flors. 1980.

Two Tales ("The Nursemaid" and "The Salamander"; bilingual edition), illustrated by Antonio Frasconi. 1983.


Sóc una dona honrada? 1932.

Del que hom no pot fugir. 1934.

Un dia en la vida d'un home. 1934.

Crim. 1936.

La plaça del Diamant. 1962; as The Pigeon Girl, 1967; as The Time of Doves, 1980.

El carrer de les Camèlies. 1966.

Jardí vora el mar. 1967.

Mirall trencat. 1974.

Obras completas, edited by Carme Arnau. 3 vols., 1976-84.

Quanta, quanta guerra. 1980.

La mort i la primavera. 1986.


Cartas a l'Anna Muria. 1985.



in Women Writers of Contemporary Spain, edited by Joan L. Brown, 1991.

Critical Studies:

"The Angle of Vision in the Novels of Rodoreda" by Mercé Clarascó, in Bulletin of Hispanic Studies 57, 1980; "A Woman's Voice" by Frances Wyers, in Kentucky Romance Quarterly 30, 1983; "Exile, Gender, and Rodoreda" by Geraldine Cleary Nichols, in Modern Language Notes 101, 1986; "Rodoreda's Subtle Greatness" by Randolph D. Pope, in Women Writers of Contemporary Spain, edited by Joan L. Brown, 1991; "Masks and Metamorphoses, Dreams and Illusions in Merce Rodoreda's Carnival " by Kathleen McNerney, in Catalan Review: International Journal of Catalan Culture, 1993 ; The Garden across the Border: Mercè Rodoreda's Fiction edited by Kathleen McNerney and Nancy Vosburg, 1994; "Too Disconnected/Too Bound Up: The Paradox of Identity in Merce Rodoreda's The Time of the Doves" by Kayann Short, in International Women's Writing: New Landscapes of Identity edited by Anne E. Brown and Marjanne E. Gooze, 1995.

* * *

Mercè Rodoreda, a native of Barcelona, became known in the 1930s as a member of the Catalan vanguard. Exiled following the Spanish Civil War (1936-39) to France and then Geneva, she continued to write in Catalan although it was outlawed under Franco. She has been recognized as one of the greatest Catalan writers, and the American translator of several of her works has deemed her the most important Mediterranean woman writer since Sappho. Rodoreda concentrated almost exclusively on fiction, and profound feminist insights imbue her stories, which range from the lyric and fantastic to the realistic and grotesque.

Aloma, written in 1937, is a realistic novelette set in prewar Barcelona that recreates the traumatic "rites of passage" of the gentle, quiet protagonist, seduced and abandoned, pregnant, in an exploitative, deceptive "man's world." Disillusionment in love is an experience common to the majority of Rodoreda's heroines, and Aloma's solitude is shared by numerous Rodoreda characters of both genders. Like Rodoreda's major long novels La Plaça del diamant (The Time of Doves—an exceptional translation) and El carrer de les Camèlies (Street of Camellias), this deceptively simple recreation of daily life, viewed from the perspective of a working-class woman, subtly foregrounds men's use of women as sex objects and the plight of women who have no viable alternatives to becoming accomplices to their own exploitation.

La meva Cristina i altres contes (My Christina and Other Stories) is Rodoreda's most significant, original, and gripping collection, with large doses of fantasy and lyricism found only in rare cases in her other story collections Vint-i-dos contes (Twenty-Two Tales) and Semblava de seda i altres contes (It Seemed Like Silk and Other Stories). My Christina has considerable thematic variety, while most stories collected in Vint-i-dos contes present male-female relationships where women often have the same problematic relationship with the world and the opposite sex as Aloma. A major difference is that the world portrayed is that of postwar Spain, and social concerns are more prominent. Notwithstanding thematic unity, narrative technique is deliberately varied; tone is markedly reflective. Rodoreda is too much of an artist to write "thesis" stories, and her characters' plight, while dramatic, is never melodramatic. Stories depict a married couple distanced by jealousy, a frustrated girl who fantasizes about killing the sickly cousin she once hoped to marry, domestic entrapment of both marriage partners because of the wife's illness, the problem of aging, a wife's planning suicide after learning of her husband's infidelity, and the decision of an impoverished young mother (whose child was born of rape) to drown the infant and then herself. The failure of marriage appears in half a dozen stories while eight treat the beginning of male-female relationships in terms foreshad-owing the ultimate impossibility of happiness. Despite the predominance of female characters, Rodoreda also portrays men, usually atypical, lonely, suffering souls. In this collection andSemblava de seda a few tales paint the plight of exiles, Spanish political refugees who fled on foot to France at the end of the war. Among the ten stories in the latter collection is one recreating the hallucinatory, pained, surrealistic delirium of a wounded young soldier, and another grim, sordid memoir of a concentration camp inmate who shared his bunk with a corpse for days to double his ration of soup. One tale, with the air of a personal memoir, evokes an exiled woman writer's visit to a doctor in Geneva. The title narrative (whose English version, "It Seemed Like Silk," is added to the stories translated in My Christina) presents the perspective of a woman who adopts a tomb in a foreign cemetery because "her" deceased is too far away to visit.

Loneliness, alienation, or estrangement are obsessive motifs in essentially all of Rodoreda's work. Nowhere are they clearer than in the 17 stories of My Christina. The title novelette, presented last, is an allegory of masculine exploitation of the feminine, not in a sexual or erotic context, but of woman's nurturance and care. Set outside real or historical time, this beautiful, powerfully symbolic tale presents the feminine principle (Christina) as sacrificial or expiatory, incapable of self-defense much less retaliation. A whale swallows a shipwrecked sailor (thereby saving him) and he names the whale Christina; he becomes increasingly parasitic, tearing away at her innards like a malignant tumor until, mortally weakened, she disgorges him onshore. Covered with pearl-like secretions, totally unaccustomed to fending for himself, he cannot cope in the outside world and belatedly laments his treatment of his benefactor. Other, briefer tales in this collection capture irrational dream states or nightmarish delusions, while a few, more realistic and matter-of-fact, depict the dreary, sordid world of the shantytown child or the pedestrian, trivial concerns of the live-in nursemaid. Solitary, extremely timid characters appear in three stories, with their reticence in each case preventing their establishing relationships that might alleviate their anguished loneliness. All social levels and ages appear, and narrative perspective varies from that of the small child to adolescent servant to titled aristocrat, and from an educated, intelligent viewpoint to perceptions of the mentally or emotionally disturbed. A linguistic tour-de-force, the collection displays Rodoreda's mastery of numerous and widely varied registers of discourse, including the adolescent servant who baby-talks to her young charge ("The Nursemaid") and the mentally retarded maidservant ("Therafina") who innocently lisps her history of exploitation and abuse. "A Flock of Lambs in All Colors" symbolically recreates the generation gap, the significance of illusion in a developing life distanced by parental authoritarianism. In "The Gentleman and the Moon," whose viewpoint is fantastic, a lonely senior citizen finds a way to climb the moon-beams, transcending his solitude. Marginal mentalities abound, including the psychotic family heir in "The Dolls' Room," who relates only to his doll collection, and the amateur fisherman in "The River and the Boat," a "fish out of water" among human-kind who is metamorphosed into a fish. All but two tales employ first-person narration or a variant such as the epistle ("A Letter," "The Dolls' Room") or one-sided dialogue ("The Nursemaid," "Love," "Therafina," "Memory of Caus"). These techniques allow Rodoreda to retain maximum objectivity without excluding irony and simultaneously increase impact through their directness.

—Janet Pérez

See the essay on "The Salamander."

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Rodoreda, Mercè (i Gurgui)

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