José María Gironella Gironella, José María - Essay

JoséMaría Gironella


(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Gironella, José María 1917–

A Spanish novelist, poet, short story writer, essayist, and travel writer, Gironella creates a fiction that bears the influence of the cinematic technique employed by many contemporary Spanish writers. Although his novels often have a political content, Gironella does not write from an established political point of view. Rather, he seeks to present the various sides of an issue and explores the political and social motivations of his characters.

Ronald Schwartz

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Gironella revived the Spanish tradition of nineteenth-century Realism. His novels represent a break from the introspective, aesthetic and intellectualized pre-Civil War novel. The trauma of his Civil War experiences caused his return to Realism and to the exterior world with its imperative political and social problems. Gironella is a serious writer … who reflects both his personal traumatic experiences of the war and the realities of postwar Spain in his work. (p. 18)

At first glance of the author's career, Gironella's virtuosity in a multiplicity of genres is indicative of his refusal to submit to Spain's literary paralysis. In fact, the brilliance of Gironella's literary career which already spans two "literary generations [both the "Generation of 1939" and the "Generation of 1950"] and may possibly help to engender a third, may be revealed either as a commentary upon modern man or upon Gironella, the writer constantly in search of himself. (p. 19)

Whatever the stylistic defects of his first two novels, [Where the Soul Was Shallow and The Tide], both works are written with extraordinary vigor; their feeling of exhilaration and their vitality of prose may be partly explained by the novelist's anxiety for success and popularity. His first two novels probably fall into the category of popular literature. (p. 27)

[Gironella's] insistence on writing in [The Cypresses Believe in God] about things Spanish, combined with the prolonged and voluminous character of the novel and its inventory of human types and the Spanish spirit, is an accurate implementation of the goals partially described in [Novelist Before the World, Gironella's treatise on literature] and subsequently attained in The Cypresses. Although Gironella did not rely upon Novelist Before the World entirely for the creation of The Cypresses since his ideas about the novel and his career were constantly changing, he was convinced that in Novelist he had laid the cornerstone of his literary career and had found a formula for continued success. His early novels, however amateurish they were, display certain aspects of Gironella's aesthetic doctrines which matured with later literary successes such as The Cypresses Believe in God. Novelist Before the World, then, is not only an index to his early works but probably plays a formative role in the writer's subsequent career. Novelist should be considered as a list of partially fulfilled concepts deriving from a glowing, youthful idealism and pertaining particularly to the author's first two published novels. (p. 28)

The most important theme in Gironella's early novels is his description of man—man in search of himself in the labyrinth of society. His first novel, Un hombre (Where the Soil Was Shallow), is an autobiographical and romantic work. (p. 38)

The plot of Where the Soil Was Shallow is surprisingly simple for it only traces the activities, growth and education of a young man.

A basic problem with the novel is that the reader knows from the outset, Miguel will not triumph, for his search for ideal values is hopeless from the very beginning. (p. 39)

The delineation of Miguel's character loses in intensity when the author inserts a multitude of episodic incidents that detract from his protagonist's development. However, the sections in which Gironella explores Miguel's relationship with his mother are the most significant in the entire novel for they reflect the writer's attempt to reveal personal experience…. Although skeletal autobiographical facts are partially adhered to, the chief difficulty with Where the Soil Was Shallow is its falsification of the worlds in which the author did not live. Despite autobiographical similarities, Gironella is detached from what he describes. Consequently, the novel suffers from artificiality whose episodic incident replaces badly needed sections explaining motivations and inner feelings. (p. 40)

Historically, Miguel's spiritual search is the author's own quest for a new life after the shattering experiences of the Civil War. Although Gironella carefully avoids presenting this motivation as the chief impetus, he substitutes Miguel's mother's death as the principal reason for his spiritual quest. Her death symbolizes the end of a matriarchy—Spain cast into upheaval because of civil war….

What Where the Soil Was Shallow lacked in organization and balance because of a young writer's inexperience and exuberance, The Tide made up for in professional skill. Gironella had learned from past errors. The Tide presents a cohesive plot in a highly realistic historical setting. Events themselves help to determine the fictional lives of the personages. However, its plot is melodramatic rather than imaginative although The Tide extends Gironella's search further into man and his problems. (p. 41)

The greatest asset of this novel is its depiction of an entire world, unified and integrated in the historical period it describes with personages and problems well developed in a realm of possibility…. The novel's action moves at a rapid, nervous pace to its conclusion and its emotional rhythm is like the long sweep of a giant wave that gains impetus, crashes on the shore, and recedes slowly back to sea. In contrast to Where the Soil Was Shallow, The Tide is a tense, highly organized, and far better written novel. Its unity results from its surprising economy and deftness. For all of these good qualities, The Tide fails because of Gironella's limited perspective. No matter how logically conceived or easily visualized, his personages are stereotypes and colorless creatures representing a concept rather than vital incarnations of reality. Despite excellent delineation, they are used as props. (p. 43)

The salient feature that redeems these early novels is their portrayal of the "romantic life" of their protagonists. In fact, Romantic elements pervade subsequent novels as well. His early novels, in particular, show the gradual transformation of his Romantic protagonists into complex modern figures typical of the twentieth century. (p. 44)

The cycle of Civil War novels opening with Los cipreses creen en Dios (The Cypresses Believe in God) in 1953 is one of José María Gironella's best achievements. Facing new responsibilities as a social writer, Gironella retains certain romantic ideas of his first two novels but controls them for a greater social purpose—the explanation of Spain's Civil War….

The Cypresses is Gironella's most ambitious work, as it is his largest novel in scope, breadth, and depth up to that time. (p. 51)

The life-death struggle is of primary thematic concern in The Cypresses. It is presented symbolically—burning of forests, poisoning of rivers, droughts, and realistically—the death of the spirit. Death as a negative stimulus forces Gironella's protagonists to react more vitally to life. (p. 62)

Gironella not only stresses the complexity of Spanish politics and the inevitability of Civil War, he also explains the rebellion in less than adequately documented conclusions…. The strong convictions of his characters, nevertheless, give strength to their opinions and establish the author's persuasive power as a novelist rather than as an historian. (pp. 63-4)

Gironella's rigid adherence to a preconceived stylistic pattern allows for...

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John E. Dial

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

The publication in 1971 of José María Gironella's Condenados a vivir marks, in a sense, the completion of a statement, a statement that is at once tenuous and compelling. The work does not belong to the series begun in 1953 with Los cipreses creen en Dios [The Cypresses Believe in God]; it exists as a work apart. Its setting is Barcelona and not Gerona, and its author has fashioned a new gallery of characters; but Gironella's procedure and style remain the same. His vision of Spain from the Republic to the present is now open to scrutiny. If the clarity of his vision has at times been suspect, no one has denied the energy with which Gironella transferred that vision to paper. It is hardly legitimate to...

(The entire section is 2021 words.)