Catalan literature is the name conventionally used to refer to literature written in the Catalan language. The focus of this article is not just the literature of Catalonia, but literature written in Catalan from anywhere, so that it includes writers from the Valencian Community, Balearic Islands and other territories where Catalan or its variants are spoken.
The Catalan literary tradition is extensive, starting in the early Middle Ages. A Romantic revivalist movement of the 19th century, Renaixença, classified Catalan literature in periods. The centuries long chapter known as Decadència that followed the golden age of Valencian literature, was perceived as extremely poor and lacking literary works of quality. Further attempts to explain why this happened (see History of Catalonia) have motivated new critical studies of the period, and nowadays a revalorisation of this early modern age is taking place. Catalan literature reemerged in the 19th and early 20th centuries, to experience troubled times from the start of the Spanish Civil War on. Many intellectuals were forced into exile and Catalan culture was repressed. However, this repression began to temper after the end of World War II. Many measures were introduced soon to protect and promote the Catalan language, such as the creation of official contests to award the best literary works in Catalan.
Catalan, a Romance language, evolved from Vulgar Latin in the Middle Ages, when it became a separate language from Latin. Literary use of the Catalan language is generally said to have started with the religious text known as Homilies d'Organyà, written either in late 11th or early 12th century, though the earlier Cançó de Santa Fe, from 1054–76, may be Catalan or Occitan. Another early Catalan poem is the mid-13th century Augats, seyós qui credets Déu lo Payre, a planctus Mariae (lament of Mary).
Ramon Llull (13th century), one of the major medieval writers in the Catalan language is not only saluted for starting a Catalan literary tradition clearly separated from the Occitan-speaking world of the time, but also credited with enriching the language with his coining of a large number of words, and his philosophy. See Llibre de Meravelles (including the famed Llibre de les bèsties) and Blanquerna (including Llibre d'Amic e Amat) for more details on his works.
Les quatre grans cròniques
These four major literary works are chronicles written between the 13th and 14th centuries narrating the deeds of the monarchs and leading figures of the Crown of Aragon. They are the following:
- Crònica de Jaume I, also known as "The book of deeds" (see External links)
- Crònica de Bernat Desclot, also known as "Book of the king, Peter of Aragon".
- Crònica de Ramon Muntaner
- Crònica de Pere el Cerimoniós
The first widespread vernacular writing in any Romance language was the lyric poetry of the troubadours, who composed in Occitan. Since Occitan and Catalan are often indistinguishable before the 14th century, it is not surprising that many Catalans composed in the Occitan poetic koiné. The first Catalan troubadour (trobadors) may be Berenguier de Palazol, active around 1150, who wrote only cançons (love songs in the courtly tradition). Guerau III de Cabrera and Guillem de Berguedà, active in the generation after, were noted exponents of the ensenhamen and sirventes genres respectively. During this early period Occitan literature was patronised by the rulers of Catalonia—not surprisingly considering their wide involvement in Occitanian politics and as Counts of Provence. Alfonso II patronised many composers, not just from Catalonia, and even wrote Occitan poetry himself. The tradition of royal troubadours continued with his descendants Peter III James II of Aragon, the anonymous known only as "Lo bord del rei d'Arago", and Frederick II of Sicily. The most prolific Catalan troubadour during the ascendancy of Occitan as language of literature, was Cerverí de Girona, who left behind more than one hundred works. He was the most prolific troubadour of any nationality.
In the early 13th century, Raimon Vidal, from Besalú, composed his poetic grammar, the Razos de trobar ("Purposes of Composition"). This was the earliest and perhaps most influential Occitan lyric treatise. The troubadour lyric followed the Catalans to Sicily later in the century, where Jaufre de Foixa composed a Regles de trobar ("Rules for Composing") modelled on Vidal's earlier work. A third Catalan treatise on the language of the troubadours and composing lyric poetry, the Mirall de trobar ("Mirror of Composition"), was written by a Majorcan, Berenguer d'Anoia.
The first golden age of Catalan literature is from half 14th century to 15th century. The language is consolidated and clearly differenciated, even in lyrical poetry, from Occitan language. The prose is widely cultivated, with influences from Italian humanism. Authors as the humanist Bernat Metge the preacher Vincent Ferrer, Francesc Eiximenis or Anselm Turmeda write works now considered as classical models of Catalan prose. The narrative and the fiction are shown in novels as Història de Jacob Xalabín, Paris i Viana or the chivalric roman Curial i Güelfa. In the 15th century the main centre of literary production is Valencia: the lyric poetry has outstanding Petrarchian poets: Jordi de Sant Jordi or Ausiàs Marc, or the elaborate poetry and prose of Joan Roís de Corella. In fiction could be outlined Jaume Roig's Espill or Tirant lo Blanc.
Tirant lo Blanc
The early modern period (late 15th-18th centuries), while extremely productive for Castilian writers of the Siglo de Oro, has been termed La Decadència, the "decadent" period in Catalan literature because of a general falling into disuse of the vernacular language in cultural contexts and lack of patronage among the nobility, even in lands of the Aragonese Empire, which led to a cultural void. The Catalan-language decadence accompanied the Catalan commercial influence in the Spanish Empire, in which the use of Spanish language was essential, and overall neglect for the Crown of Aragon's institutions after the dynastic union of Castile and Aragon that resulted from the marriage of Ferdinand II of Aragon and Isabella I of Castile, a union finalized in 1474. This is, however, a Romantic view made popular by writers and thinkers of the national awakening period known as Renaixença, in the 19th century. This presumed state of decadence is being contested with the appearance of recent cultural and literary studies showing there were indeed works of note in the period.
The first Romantics in Catalonia and the Balearic Islands chose Spanish as their language, and wouldn't resort to using the Catalan language until a national awakening movement, kickstarted by Romantic nationalism, appeared. The foundation of the basis of the movement is most often credited to Bonaventura Carles Aribau with his Oda a la Pàtria. Renaixença or "rebirth". Literary Renaixença shares with European Romanticism most of its traits, but created a style of its own through its admiration of the Middle Ages and its will to embellish the language and the need to create a new common standard. Realism and naturalism deeply influenced later authors. Their most important adherents were indeed Jacint Verdaguer, who penned Catalonia's national epic, and Àngel Guimerà, whose plays were translated and performed around Europe.
Literary Catalan modernisme was the natural follow-up of Renaixença, still showing Romantic traits and influences while focusing on dark themes, such as violence or the dark side of life and nature. As for poetry, it closely followed the style of Parnassians and Symbolists. The movement was subdivided into authors in whose work prevailed darker decadentist themes, classed under the name Bohèmia Negra, and those whose career embraced Aestheticism, known as participants of Bohèmia Daurada or Bohèmia Rosa. Santiago Rusiñol, Joan Maragall and Joan Puig i Ferreter were some of its most influential adherents.
The cultural and political movement known as Noucentisme appeared in the early 20th century, a time of great economic growth in Catalonia, as a mostly conservative reaction against Modernisme and the Avantgarde, both in art and thought. Its Classicism was framed as a "return to beauty." The love of elaborated form, along with its much sought perfection of language, was accused by modernistes of being excessively affected and artificial. Poetry was its preferred genre, as evidenced by Josep Carner or Carles Riba's masterpieces.
Dictatorship, exile and political transition
After what seemed to be a period of hope and rapid growth, the Spanish Civil War and Francisco Franco's regime (starting in 1939) forced many Catalan leftist intellectuals into exile, as many of them faced political persecution.
During the initial years of the dictatorship the use of Catalan in the media became frowned upon. Publishing in Catalan never ceased completely, though, even though only a few notable authors like Salvador Espriu did publish in this language in the first years of the Franco dictatorship. Those initial political restrictions on publishing in Catalan relaxed over time. By the 1950s publishing in Catalan was no longer extraordinary; by the 1960s it had become possible without restrictions other than the ideological ones which applied to all of Spain.
Some literary awards in Catalan had been established as early as 1947 (Premi Joanot Martorell). Also by the end of the 1940s well known authors such as Josep Maria de Sagarra were publishing again in Catalan (among others, El prestigi dels morts, 1946, L'Hereu i la forastera, 1949). Many other literary awards followed, like the Premi Carles de la Riba (1950), the Victor Català (1953) or the Lletra d'Or (1956). Since 1951, the most remarkable literary contest in Catalonia at the time (the Premio Ciudad de Barcelona) accepted originals in Catalan.
In 1962, Mercè Rodoreda published The Time of the Doves, possibly the book which paved the way of modern Catalan literature, since it could enjoy wider recognition due to the new media and the spreading of literacy in this language. In 1963, Spain won an international song contest with a piece sung in Catalan.
Later on that decade Josep Pla published what has been considered the masterpiece of the contemporary literature in Catalan, the seminal El Quadern Gris (1966). The Catalan cultural association Òmnium Cultural, which had been established in 1961, could begin its work in favour of Catalan literature by 1967 onwards. Salvador Espriu, who had published most of his works in Catalan, was a candidate for the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1971.
After the transition to democracy (1975–1978) and the restoration of the Catalan regional government Generalitat (1980), literary life and the editorial market have returned to normality and literary production in Catalan is being bolstered with a number of language policies intended to protect Catalan culture. Besides the aforementioned authors, other relevant 20th-century writers of the Francoist and democracy periods include Joan Brossa, Agustí Bartra, Manuel de Pedrolo, Pere Calders or Quim Monzó, Jesús Moncada or, in 21th century, Jaume Cabré or Albert Sánchez Piñol. The number of twenty-first century women writers increases like Dolors Miquel or Núria Perpinyà.
Lists of Catalan-language writers and poets
- Comas, Antoni. La decadència. Sant Cugat del Vallès: A. Romero, 1986.
- Elliott, J. H. Imperial Spain 1469-1716. London: Penguin, 2002.
- Riquer, Martí de. Història de la literatura catalana. 6 vols. Barcelona: Editorial Ariel, 1980.
- Rossich, Albert. "És valid avui el concepte de decadència de la cultura catalana de l'època moderna? Es pot identificar decadència amb castellanizació?" Manuscrits 15 (1997), 127-34.
- Terry, Arthur. A Companion to Catalan Literature. Woodbridge, Suffolk, U.K. / Rochester, N.Y.: Tamesis, 2003.
- Jad Hatem, Le temps dans la poésie catalane contemporaine, Paris, Éd. du Cygne, 2011
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Catalan language literature.|
- Catalan Poetry Selection (800 poems, 176 poets, 42 bios, 37 English versions)
- LletrA, Catalan Literature Online (Open University of Catalonia)
- Catalan literature at the British Library website
- Relazioni fra la cultura catalana e quella italiana