Juan Benet Analysis

Other literary forms

(Survey of Novels and Novellas)

Although best known for his novels, Juan Benet (buh-NEHT) gained recognition as a superb essayist and short-story writer as well. His essays range in scope from music to linguistics, but his most perceptive writings are those on literary theory: La inspiración y el estilo (1965), Puerta de tierra (1970), El ángel del Señor abandona a Tobías (1976), and La moviola de Eurípides (1982). Above all, Benet articulates a literary posture that underscores the importance of style and enigma in the creation of fiction.

Benet’s short stories have been collected in several volumes, including Nunca llegarás a nada (1961), Cinco narraciones y dos fábulas (1972), Sub rosa (1973), and Trece fábulas y media (1981). For the most part, the stories parallel his longer fiction in style and theme, though they are often more playful in tone. Benet also wrote four plays—Max (pb. 1953), Agonía confutans (1969), Anastas: O, El origen de la constitución (pb. 1970), and Un caso de conciencia (1970)—but none was performed during his lifetime with either critical or commercial success.


(Survey of Novels and Novellas)

Juan Benet can perhaps be regarded most accurately as a novelist’s novelist (or a critic’s novelist) who wrote difficult works for a minority public. Indeed, his fiction rarely permits even the most experienced reader to feel at ease. After finishing a Benet work, one is left with the disquieting thought that one has missed the point or that there are many more points than one could possibly imagine—or, worse yet, that there is no point at all. Benet challenges his readers to rethink critical traditions that demand decisive meanings or that wrest from analysis unresolved ambiguities. His is a pluralistic fiction, anarrative of ideas forged with a style at once intricate and dense.

Despite the professed irritation of many critics with the difficult nature of his fiction, Benet gained recognition as one of Spain’s most distinguished contemporary writers. He was one of the first novelists of the post-World War II era to break with neorealism in Spain and to offer a more subjective and experimental fiction in its place. Since 1969, when A Meditation was awarded the prestigious Premio Biblioteca Breve, Benet became one of the most prolific writers of his time. He continued to garner literary prizes (including the important Premio de la Crítica for Herrumbrosas lanzas, I-VI) and was invited to lecture throughout Western Europe and the United States. Perhaps more important, he began to have a profound influence on younger writers seeking new directions for the Spanish novel. Benet’s fiction served as an imposing symbol of innovation and change in postwar Spain, and the unique vision that he brought to his craft propelled him to the forefront of his profession even as he remained aloof from the literary and critical establishment.


(Survey of Novels and Novellas)

Cabrera, Vincente. Juan Benet. Boston: Twayne, 1984. Good introductory study examines Benet’s works as a whole, including his novels.

Compitello, Malcolm Alan. Ordering the Evidence: “Volverás a Región” and Civil War Fiction. Barcelona: Puvill Libros, 1983. Illuminates the historical aspects of Return to Región in terms of the Spanish Civil War.

Ferrán, Ofelia. Working Through Memory: Writing and Remembrance in Contemporary Spanish Narrative. Lewisburg, Pa.: Bucknell University Press, 2007. Benet’s novels are among those analyzed in a study of Spanish literature published from the 1960’s through the 1990’s. Demonstrates how these novels explore present memory as a way for Spaniards to recover from the traumatic and repressive past of the Spanish Civil War and the regime of Francisco Franco.

Herzberger, David K. The Novelistic World of Juan Benet. Clear Creek, Ind.: American Hispanist, 1976. Analyzes Benet’s novels by examining them in the light of the author’s own theories.

Manteiga, Roberto C., David K. Herzberger, and Malcolm Alan Compitello, eds. Critical Approaches to the Writings of Juan Benet. Hanover, N.H.: University Press of New England, 1984. Collection of critical essays on Benet’s work includes a foreword in which the author...

(The entire section is 471 words.)