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1932: Grandes novelas humorísticas


This week I'm thinking about the "Colección de grandes novelas humorísticas" published by Biblioteca Nueva between 1928 and 1932.

Full disclosure: I have not read all of these novels (in fact I have completed none of them), but their existence, and particularly the fact that a major, serious publisher considered it commercially or aesthetically necessary to group them together during this period, is so central a component of my understanding of Spanish modernism of the period that I wanted to highlight the collection as a whole before going into specific authors and titles.

Thirteen novels were published in the collection over four or five years (sources differ on whether the first of them, Enrique Jardiel Poncela's Amor se escribe sin hache, was published in early 1929 or late 1928), of which only one, Santiago Rusiñol's La "niña gorda", had seen prior publication, in a Catalan edition of 1917. In this way, the collection was not dissimilar to vanguardist collections put out by serious publishers around the same time, like Revista de Occidente's "Nova novorum" or Editorial Ulises' "Valores actuales," which promoted experimental literature that dispensed with both the pieties and the formalism of the past. And indeed both the vanguardists and the "humorists" owed a major debt to the profligate imagination, dehumanized narratives, and serious unseriousness of Ramón Gómez de la Serna.

Spanish literary analysis has been organized in reference to "generations" since Azorín identified the early-twentieth-century modernists like Miguel de Unamuno, Pío Baroja, Ramón del Valle-Inclán, and himself as the "Generation of '98," all marked by the failures, colonial losses, and diminished prestige of the Spanish-American War. The usual referent, when the "Generation of '27" is listed in course catalogs and encyclopedia entries, is to the structurally experimental and idealistically leftist poets of Federico García Lorca's cohort, which ended in death or exile so few years later; but recently the "Other Generation of '27" has started to be used to refer to the cynically satirical, commercially-minded, and lastingly populist humorists associated with the magazine Gutiérrez, which included satirical cartoonists like Tono and Miguel Mihura as well as playwrights, screenwriters, and occasionally, novelists. Unlike the poets, they mostly survived the civil war; and if they were never again as popular as in the heyday of the late 20s and early 30s, their work has remained consistently popular, returning to print with the regularity that classic absurdism merits.

Enrique Jardiel Poncela was the undisputed king of the humorists: with three novels, he is most-represented writer in the collection, and his work has rarely been out of print since. His farcical plots, energetic production, and sustained popularity can sometimes cast him as the Spanish P. G. Wodehouse, but he is much more satirical, especially about politics and religion.


Enrique Jardiel Poncela, Amor se escribe sin hache (1928)

Enrique Jardiel Poncela, ¡Espérame en Siberia, vida mía! (1929)

Enrique Jardiel Poncela, Pero... ¿hubo alguna vez once mil vírgenes? (1930)


Other members of the "Other Generation of '27" represented in the collection include Edgar Neville (better known for his plays and movies) and Antonio Robles, who was better known for his children's books, as was the older Manuel Abril.


Edgar Neville, Don Clorato de Potasa (1929)

Antoniorrobles, Novia, partido por dos (1929)

Antoniorrobles, Torerito Soberbio (1932)


Manuel Abril, La salvación (Sociedad de seguros del alma) (1931)


Aside from his one novel here, Juan José Domenchina was otherwise a vanguardist poet; Joaquín Belda was a prolific writer of popular fiction, one of the principal architects of erotic "literatura sicalíptica" in the 1910s; and Santiago Rusiñol was best known as one of the great Catalan "modernisme" (Art Nouveau) painters of the turn of the century.


Juan José Domenchina, La túnica de Neso (1929)

Joaquín Belda, Se ha perdido una cabeza (1929)

Santiago Rusiñol, La "niña gorda" (1917, tr. 1929)


Samuel Ros, after vanguardist beginnings, would go on to be closely identified with the Falangists, like a Spanish Evelyn Waugh; and Tirso Medina was a journeyman writer whose most notable work was published here.


Samuel Ros, El ventrílocuo y la muda (1930)

Samuel Ros, El hombre de los medios abrazos (1932)

Tirso Medina, Mis dos mitades (1929)


There are, of course, several further "humorist" classics of the period which did not appear in this collection: books by José López Rubio, Álvaro de Albornoz y Salas, Julio Camba, Wenceslao Fernández Flórez, and Juan Pérez Zúñiga, not to mention Ramón's own late-20s zenith. Any literary movement that could be represented by a single publisher would never be worth much interest a century later.

I don't own many of these books, and those I do have are later reprints — as with the rest of their contemporary literary scene, my eyes are often bigger than my stomach when it comes to actual consumption of the texts. Consider this just another step toward plotting out the full picture of modernist Spanish-language literature as I understand it, to be filled in with greater detail once I buckle down to actually reading everything over the course of the next decade or so.

Jonathan BogartModernismos