April 10, 2021

"You ask me to write a novel and that's fatter than making a fence …" | Culture

"You ask me to write a novel and that's fatter than making a fence ..." | Culture


Juan Benet he always kept a foot in one of the dams he built in Spain and another in the flow of his literature. Until his death in 1993, aged 65, he perfected that duality without rest: engineer of roads, channels and ports, as well as a writer. Mathematics, plane, calculation, square and square with word, literary structure, pen, notes and books. Of its more than 30 works, these next months will enter the National Library (BNE) 29 manuscripts, articles, 2,000 letters, 21 agendas, 4,000 photographs and a library with volumes noted and underlined by him as a map on which to trace influences and styles for one of the fundamental figures in the twentieth century narrative.

Since his death, his four children have wanted his work and the documents that help to understand it remain in the National Library. Soon, once it has formalized its purchase by the Ministry of Culture, which will be encrypted at 320,000 euros: "It is the best place, we have always considered it that way," says his son Ramón. He says it as soon as he saw a large part of it come out in boxes. Some from the house of Zarzalejo, in the Community of Madrid and others in his and those of his three brothers. "It's been hard to say goodbye to all of this, but it's the best decision."

Letter from Juan Benet to his girlfriend Nuria in 1951.
Letter from Juan Benet to his girlfriend Nuria in 1951.

It has not been easy. But since three years ago, José María Lasalle, former Secretary of State with the PP, untied the negotiations so that Culture acquired the legacy, everything has gone on the right track. Today, Ana Santos Aramburo, director of the BNE, celebrates that she will stop at the institution in the absence of fully closing the agreement. Also pending of its cataloging and detailed study between the equipment of the National Library and the people in charge of the general sub-directorate of the protection of the historical patrimony, in charge of making the purchase: "Until now we have only been able to examine something the books, that have already arrived to our headquarters. In them we find very special dedications and own annotations that will help us to better understand their influences and their formation, "he says.

The papers, images and manuscripts compose a rigorous source for biographers and scholars of his figure next to the generation to which he belonged. The work is kept typed by Benet faithful to the two epochs of which he came to speak with his irony and a specific aesthetic sense very own. He distinguished between two, according to the typewriters he used: "Novels and essays from the Halda and Facit stages. The first comprises more or less A winter trip (1972) and the rest, from then on, with fundamental titles such as Saul before Samuel, In the gloom or Rusty lances"Says Ramón.

The cleanliness, the care and the order defined it: "He was very meticulous, he seemed conscious of the value that he treasured. He kept all the drafts I use. They vary in number, according to the work. Of You will return to Region he made three, of You will never get anywhere, instead, we have one. " Each with corrections and deletions or relevant changes, bound by himself and numbered, such as articles: "Total literary production, including novels, essays and journalistic work, amounts to about 700 texts," says Ramón Benet.

The agendas also represent a compass in their environment. "We conserved 21 between the years 1957 and 1991". These documents are not a mere list of appointments and commitments. They are a hybrid that can serve as a daily, with numerous meetings and assessments of them. They clarify many clues about his life, his career and his relationships, ranging from the literary world – the entire generation of 50 and later – to artistic, his facet of engineer and architects or bullfighting, with close friends, such as the Dominguin brothers . Also the photographs, portraits and snapshots of a sharp personality, elegant and festive, very given to climb the hill dressed or to pull faces in their many celebrations.

Agenda of Juan Benet in November 1971.
Agenda of Juan Benet in November 1971.

But the social Benet complements the intimate one. Especially in the letters. One of the jewels of the legacy is the correspondence he had with his first wife, Nuria Jordana, mother of four children and died in 1974. "My parents were first cousins. She went into exile with my grandparents, who were very close to the Catalan and the republican world, and there they began to write. It was a custom that they maintained all their lives, because the 800 letters arrive practically until her death, "says Ramón. The tragedy occurred when Nuria could not handle her ghosts and committed suicide after years of schizophrenia. "That shattered my father and us too."

The letters represent the cyclothymic cartography of a relationship. From the enthusiasm of the first years to the coldness of the simple final indications, in which he alludes to domestic issues and expenses. But in the beginning they show that Nuria Jordana was a real boost to her literary career: "You ask me for a novel, no less. I do not know if you realize that making a novel is much fatter than a career. But I'm going to do it and good … ", Benet writes to his then girlfriend in 1951.

She does it together with a drawing, between idyllic and pure humoristic viñetista in which he portrays himself before the typewriter with her vigilant, giving him encouragement. Evidence and clues about one of the trajectories that changed in the literary panorama in the 20th century and mounted a current that still many of his disciples drink in the XXI.

Hierro, Zamacois and León Felipe: the enriched twentieth century

Along with the legacy of Juan Benet, the National Library has received this year 2018 important donations from authors of the 20th century. Specifically of figures close to him in the generation of 50, as José Hierro or earlier as León Felipe and Eduardo Zamacois.

Iron have arrived 3,500 documents while the pieces of Zamacois and Leon Felipe go to swell a fundamental section in which the National Library wants to focus: that of exile. Right in 2019, 80 years have passed since the beginning of the diaspora, with a waste of talent, work and documentation that has damaged the heritage of Spain for decades.

Within this context, the reception of the more than 1,300 letters donated by the family of the poet Rafael Morales Casas also joins. He maintained a lively correspondence with his peers inside and outside of Spain, especially with Dámaso Alonso, Blas de Otero or Antonio Buero Vallejo. But in total, this has been a year of good harvest for the BNE. In total there were 183,050 pieces received in donation (128,763 more than in the previous year) and have reached an approximate valuation of 845,000 euros (290,000 euros more than in 2017). It has deposited 26,872 issues of periodicals, 2,147 titles of monographs, 27,678 letters and various papers, 169 manuscripts, 1,299 scores, 29,839 prints and drawings, 1,831 photographs or 424 sound documents.

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