De kortstondige lotgevallen van de PEN-clubs tijdens het interbellum in Spanje - Een geschiedenis van politieke en regionale polarisatie | Amsterdam University Press Journals Online
Volume 16, Issue 3
  • ISSN: 1384-5829
  • E-ISSN: 2352-118X


Three separate PEN Clubs were founded in Spain during the turbulent period between the wars. The first Spanish PEN Club met for the first time in the celebrated Madrid restaurant Lhardy on 5th July 1922, precisely nine months after the International PEN Club was set up in London. It did not have its own accommodation, but gathered roughly once a month in this restaurant under the chairmanship of the renowned writer José Martínez Ruiz, better known by his pen-name of Azorín. It appears from the list of the club’s members, which was published in November 1923, that this varied company included a number of prestigious authors such as Díez-Canedo, Ramiro de Maeztu, Enrique de Mesa, Ramón Pérez de Ayala and José María Salaverría. In addition, the Spanish delegation also aspired to an international profile by incorporating nineteen international honorary members at the top of the list of members, originating from Spanish-speaking America, Portugal and England. Although several regional authors joined this first PEN Club, remarkably enough there were only two Catalan writers on the list: Eugenio D’Ors and Angel Guimerá, the latter as an honorary member. There was a great deal of criticism of the snobbish nature of the banquetes, the costly feasts the members took part in at their own expense. One of the fiercest critics was undoubtedly Rafael Cansinos Assens, who not only denounced the elitist nature of the gatherings, but was also annoyed by what he considered the overly regional and national tenor that characterised the club. However, the fact that the club was less internationally oriented did not mean, in the national context, that it reflected only one end of the ideological spectrum. The elitist nature of the club did not stop members with republican sympathies (such as Roberto Castrovido and Luis de Tapia) from joining. Journalists who had taken a critical attitude to the military campaigns in Morocco, such as Alfonso Hernández Catá and Manuel Ciges Aparicio, also found their way to the PEN Club. Even someone like Julio Camba, at that time closely linked to anarchist circles, was a member. It is striking that there were also a substantial number of members from the Liga de Educación Política, an association that José Ortega y Gasset had set up and which was part of the liberal Partido Reformista. The founding of the first Spanish PEN Club in 1922 also coincided with the structural crisis the Ateneo Científico, Literario y Artístico de Madrid found itself in at about that time. It comes as no surprise that many of those in the PEN membership list in 1923 are also to be found in the January 1922 list of Athenaeum members. So the Spanish PEN Club was a valid alternative in the quest for a way of giving Spain’s literary life a minimum of independence and social embedment. Spain’s first PEN Club was not destined for a long life, however. Several reasons for this have been given over the years: the previously mentioned aristocratic nature of the club, the diversity of interests and poetics of its members, the lack of fellowfeeling among Spanish writers and the elitism of the Madrid writers with regard to authors from the periphery, especially those from Catalonia. But the increasing effect of the dictatorship of Primo de Rivera, who came to power in 1923, was also part of it. The same ideological polarisation and militarization had already led to the downfall of the Athenaeum in Madrid in 1924; a similar scenario was also to be played out at the German PEN Club in 1933. It was in 1924, two years after the Spanish club had been set up, that its Catalan counterpart came into being. On 7th January, in his capacity as chairman, the Catalan grammarian and liberal intellectual Pompeu Fabra sent out a letter in which he invited the Catalan intelligentsia to join the club. Although this letter emphasised that the PEN Club ‘had no political or propaganda tenor whatsoever’, it was obvious that cultural nationalism underlay the establishment of the Catalan delegation. Even before the club had been set up, its future secretary, Millàs Raurell, was already pointing out, in a letter sent to the International PEN member Herman Ould on 11th January 1923, that the Catalan club had no connection with the one in Madrid. This new delegation wanted to represent the ‘Catalan nation’, which belonged to a different culture from its Spanish counterpart. The Catalan association possibly had an even harder time of it than the Spanish PEN Club under the regime of Primo de Rivera: under these circumstances, for example, it was out of the question to organise an international PEN congress in Barcelona. This did change, however. After the Catalan PEN Club had fallen into obscurity for many years, in 1934 it enjoyed a new boost, at the time of the Second Republic. In May of that year the club was re-established in the Athenaeum in Barcelona, which from then on served as the club’s seat. The absolute climax of the activities of the Catalan PEN Club, however, was when the international PEN congress was held in Barcelona from 21st to 25th May 1935. It was the perfect opportunity to showcase the wealth of the Catalan artistic heritage and to give Catalan literature an international boost. The outbreak of the Spanish Civil War in 1936 put a final end to this glorious revival. The success of the international PEN congress in Barcelona was not to everyone’s taste, however. In a newspaper article, Ramón Gómez de la Serna criticised the total absence of Spanish writers from the congress. The prevailing dissatisfaction was the main reason for setting up what was called the ‘Second Madrid PEN Club’. The fact that this second Madrid – not Spanish – club developed in an extremely tense and polarised atmosphere hardly needs mentioning. Although there were still a number of republicans and liberals at the first banquet, such as Max Aub, Américo Castro, Tomás Navarro Tomás, Pedro Salinas, Luis de Tapia and Guillermo de Torre, their numbers steadily declined. The lists of participants at each of the feasts show that it was mainly writers with right-wing affinities (with all the shades of meaning that ‘right-wing’ implies) who attended. They included both adherents of Primo de Rivera’s Falangism (fascists) (Fernández Almagro, Manuel Machado, Sánchez Mazas) and more moderate right-wing intellectuals such as Baroja, el Conde de Romanones et al. As Miguel A. Iglesias has already pointed out in an article on this third PEN Club, this majority of right-wing intellectuals was an even more conspicuous presence since these right-wing movements were socially and politically in the minority during the Second Republic. The various Spanish PEN Clubs between the wars were neither the first nor the most successful attempt to unite Spanish writers regardless of their aesthetic or political tenor. In the 19th century the various liberal Athenaea were founded, as well as a considerable number of other associations that tried to defend the rights of authors, artists and musicians. A number of other initiatives arose between the wars, such as the Unión de Autores, the banquets that La Gaceta Literaria organised, and the publishing house named Compañía Iberoamericana de Publicaciones, which was set up with the financial support of the Bauer Bank. Despite their good credentials and undoubtedly extremely noble intentions, these initiatives were all to end in failure. The extreme heteronomy of the Spanish literary and artistic fields and the political polarisation between the wars explain why not only the PEN Clubs, but also other associations turned out not to be feasible in that period.


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  • Article Type: Research Article
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