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Carmen Laforet, that ‘strange girl’ who paved the way for the writers of the 40s and 50s: the definitive exhibition

In Nothingthe debut work of Carmen Laforet, the most translated work of contemporary Spanish literature, Andrea, the protagonist, says: “Perhaps the meaning of life for a woman consists of being discovered like this, looked at in such a way that she herself feels radiant with light.” , in fully living one’s own enjoyment of feelings and sensations, one’s own despair and joy.”

Image of the writer Carmen Laforet, in January 1945.

This statement could be squeaky today. among militant feminism. What is it about basing a woman’s power on another’s gaze from which her own fulfillment emanates? However, Laforet, born just a century ago (September 6, 1921), opened doors with her pen to all those post-war ‘strange girls’ who, like her, aspired to write, crossing unimaginable barriers with her vocation in the midst of Franco’s regime.

The thing about ‘strange girls’ was said by Carmen Martín Gaite, for whom the revolution that entailed Nothing (1944), in the narrative of the time, paved the way for those young writers who found in Laforet a new model foreign to the figure of the domestic woman prevailing in the Women’s Section of Falange: that of exemplary mothers and wives.

Agustín Cerezales says that his mother “had never felt the slightest attraction to religious life, but the aforementioned experience marked a before and after.” Her husband was a practicing Catholic, and an admirer of figures such as Simone Weil and Edith Stein, whom she would have heard of in the circle of the philosopher Xavier Zubiri.

In that same summer of 1951 he had met Lilí Álvarez, whose feminist Catholicism surprised him and undoubtedly made him rethink the question on a theoretical level, just as happens, in different circumstances, to the protagonist of The new woman. In this sense, one could speak of a positive feminist rebellion.

Carmen Laforet with her husband, the journalist and literary critic Manuel Cerezales. Next to it, manuscript of ‘Nada’.

In short distances

Expansive at short distances and withdrawn in public, Carmen Laforet showed little attachment to literary circles or “warlike kingdoms.” Little inclined to social life, she made friendship a primordial experience, cultivating a dense intimate garden of varied, intelligent and fun friendships that did not falter in distance or over the years.

The Canary Islands, Barcelona, ​​Madrid, Tangier and Rome were its main cities. Her great friend, the Polish refugee Linka Babecka, inspired the character of Ena in Nothinga joyful and complicit relationship with her husband, the painter Pedro Borrell.

Another relationship that left a series of extraordinary letters was with the art critic Emilio Sanz de Soto, animator of the cultural life of Tangier during the 50s and 60s of the last century. They met there, in the cafes on Boulevard Pasteur or in Porte, with close friends such as the painter José Hernández, the writer Ángel Vázquez and Jane Bowles.

In the 70s Laforet spent long periods in Rome with the group of Spanish exiles, especially with María Zambrano, Rafael Alberti and Maria Teresa León, whom he admired since he was young. The poet and essayist Enrique de Rivas Cheriff, Azaña’s nephew, was another great support there. Precisely, the writer dedicated her last article (1983) to Alberti. Anti-regulatory youthwhen he won the Cervantes Prize.

She met Ramón J. Sender, also an exile, in person, in 1965, on a trip she made to the United States, invited by the State Department. From there emerged a collection of letters collected in the volume I can count with you.

She was even a friend of Galdós, whom she never met: “It is true that on the date of his death I had not yet been born… But Galdós has been a friend of my childhood through his Episodesand from my adolescence, with Fortunata and Jacinta. As if we had coincided in the era and time, I think I remember the metal of his voice and the calm gesture of an islander with which he smoked his cigar.”

Detached, demanding

Agustín Cerezales affirms that his mother was not accumulative and that she really liked to give gifts, that she was very demanding with her writing, which is why she tore so many pages. He also remembers the story of The half chicka traditional story that he told to his children and to which he infused his revolutionary touch.

Laforet first believed that she would be a painter. In fact, Andrea’s name in Nothing He was inspired by the figure of the Italian Mannerist painter Andrea del Sarto, whose canvases he admired during family visits to the Prado Museum on Sundays. Those sensual, dramatic and telluric influences were captured in his second novel, The island and the demons, focused on his teenage experiences in Gran Canaria.

Carmen Laforet did not have a happy ending. A strange aphasia that was not diagnosed at the time, Mesulam syndrome, a rare degenerative disease, progressively took its toll. Her condition prevented her from reading straight, and although she stopped speaking completely at the end, she maintained cognitive abilities.

Agustín Cerezales remembers his sense of humor, when it was believed that it was Alzheimer’s and he said that the good thing about losing your memory is that you can reread those works that you like so much and enjoy them as if it were the first time. However, she suffered: “During those years when I did not take up the pen I continued to be a writer, in a dull, constant remorse.”

Laforet’s last typewriter.

Until, in 1987, when she could no longer hold the pen, she wrote to her high school friend in the Canary Islands María Dolores de la Fe: “I have decided not to be a writer, not even of letters…”.

Carmen Laforet died in 2004, in Madrid, with a literary production intact today in its modernity and validity. As she wrote in Nothing“some beings are born to live, others to work, others to watch life. I had a small and mean role of spectator. Impossible to get out of it. Impossible to free myself.”

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