Because the literary Gregorio Martínez Sierra (mahr-tee-nays syehr-rah) is actually two people, Gregorio and his wife, María (née de la O Lejárraga García), a focus on both individuals is essential to illuminate the circumstances surrounding the artistic development of one of Spain’s most popular dramatists. Both Gregorio and María were born to middle-class Castilian families, Gregorio in 1881 and María in 1874.
Whereas Gregorio was reared in a staunch Catholic setting, María was taught from her earliest years to question traditional beliefs. As a young boy, Gregorio manifested general attraction to literature and a specific love for the theater. It was in 1897 that Gregorio and María met for the first time. Gregorio was a shy individual but found himself deeply attracted to María, who was seven years his senior. Their mutual love of literature seemed to fuse their lives inexorably together. Years later, as their marriage began to deteriorate, the literary union that initially had brought them together seemed to intensify.
After their marriage in 1900, María supported the two of them by teaching, allowing Gregorio free rein to pursue his literary interests. In 1901, he founded the first of three periodicals, Vida moderna, which survived for only four issues. Undaunted by this failure and encouraged by the support of such established writers as Juan Ramón Jiménez, Ramón Pérez de Ayala, and Pedro González Blanco, he cofounded the respected but ephemeral periodical Helios.
In 1904, his novel La humilde verdad (the humble truth) won third prize in a literary contest. This success led to a commission to write another novel. María took the opportunity to suggest that Gregorio and she take a short vacation from Spain. Gregorio’s health had been weakening, and she was afraid that if they remained in Madrid he might fall prey to tuberculosis. In 1905, they left for Paris, where in the succeeding weeks they had the good fortune to meet several influential artists who, in later years, would collaborate with Gregorio. While María worked on the novel Ana Mariá, Gregorio returned with the well-known Catalonian dramatist Santiago Rusiñol to Madrid, where they worked on a Castilian version of Rusiñol’s play Buena gente (1906; good people).
When Gregorio returned to Paris, María and he decided to tour Europe together. Once Gregorio’s health seemed substantially restored, they returned to Madrid, where, in 1907, two fateful events awaited them: the performance of their first play, Vida y dulzura (life and sweetness), which was written in collaboration with their good friend Rusiñol, and Gregorio’s initial encounter with the actress Catalina Bárcena. Catalina was to become Gregorio’s mistress, and together they would dominate the Spanish theater, he as Spain’s leading director and she as his leading actress. María would be the invisible force behind her husband’s rising fame, writing...
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