Miguel Delibes Delibes, Miguel (Vol. 8) - Essay

Miguel Delibes Setien

Delibes, Miguel (Vol. 8)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Delibes, Miguel 1920–

Delibes is one of Spain's leading authors; his publications to date have included two Spanish language texts familiar to many American students. Delibes's novels have maintained a consistently high quality. Having begun as a realist, he has most recently written symbolic parables that have been likened to the novels of Franz Kafka. (See also Contemporary Authors, Vols. 45-48.)

Miguel Delibes paces [the story of the characters in Smoke on the Ground] as deliberately as nature's movements, and populates his tragic idyl with memorable ragtail characters whose exuberance, meanness, and distress he lets us feel with no touch of strain or sentimentality. (p. 497)

The Antioch Review (copyright © 1973 by The Antioch Review, Inc.; reprinted by permission of the editors), Vol. XXXII, No. 3, 1973.

[A] new stylistic approach, beginning late in 1967, definitely Contraola (or, "counterwave"), was barely perceptible in the works of several young, new and exciting Spanish novelists. Not until 1969 did this neo-Baroque, highly intellectual, objectivist style, somewhat imitative of the French nouveau roman, reach its culmination in Spain (possibly thereby forecasting its own decline or decadence). What is especially surprising to the Spanish public is that Miguel Delibes, a mature and widely renowned Spanish novelist, embraced the Contraola, seizing the "new" techniques created by younger, less well-known writers and using them in his latest novel, Parábola del náufrago [(Parable of a Drowning Man)]. (p. 245)

[In] Cinco horas con Mario (Five Hours with Mario),… Delibes began to embrace the interior monologue and other techniques of the behaviorist novels…. (p. 247)

Delibes has been always considered a major novelist whose career is constantly developing, growing in quantity and quality, and becoming more prestigious because of his consistent use of Realism and his attachment to rural themes, which display a variety of character types. Delibes is also known as a conscientious practitioner of his craft, always seeking some new theme and new means of novelistic expression…. Critics acknowledge his skepticism, pessimism, reactionary vision of nature, his love for the man of instinct, of nature in contrast to a "civilized" product, in short, his negative view of progress and "civilization," his black humor and cold intellectualism. (pp. 248-49)

[Delibes'] true artistry lies in the works that retain Castillian settings and themes. Delibes is a sharp observer of daily life, with refined sensibilities and an enormous capacity to capture within his writings the essences of nature by means of his starkly Realist style. When he first began his writing career, his works appeared unconvincing and the reading public were unreceptive; however, his novels gained in veracity over the years because of a progressively purer or refined style…. In [his latest novels] he combines humor, tenderness, nature and tragedy in a harmonious manner, reviving the theme of nature as a literary element indispensable to the human condition and portraying this harmony through his extremely personal style. (p. 249)

Cinco horas con Mario marks the decisive turning point in Delibes' writing career, as it stylistically departs from everything written before it, demonstrating the revelation (through its three hundred pages of interior monologue) of story and characters in a Proustian or Joycean manner, whose psychic meanderings break all ties with chronological time and physical space (as we know them) in fiction. (p. 250)

When asked about his own novels, Delibes said, "for me, the essential thing in a novel is the characters. That they be living or lifeless depends upon the quality of the work. A well-developed character can make the most absurd of stories convincing…." (p. 251)

[Parable of a Drowning Man] is one of the best novels to come from the New Wave (or Counter-Wave), properly crowning the 1960's with its fresh experimental design within a genre becoming stale through reliance upon outmoded intellectual models, stereotyped plots and imitation of other literary schools. That the New Wave has been sustained and reinvigorated by a writer not really placed in its generation is both alarming and gratifying at the same time. (p. 255)

[Unlike] its predecessor, Volverás a Región, Delibes' novel is accessible, decidedly not labyrinthine, overly intellectually demanding, or hermetic. It does not suffer from the faults of Volverás but rather, through its unique style and simple plot, projects an equally harrowing but far more intelligent, humorous (black humor, that is) and devastating probe into man's degeneration and ruin.

Delibes' point of view, however, may no longer be that of the Spaniard but of Everyman. In fact, there are few (if any) intellectual or geographical ties in the novel where the reader might conclude the "mythical" country or enterprise Delibes describes is really Spain or any Spanish-speaking country. Delibes has raised his sights to the universal human condition. (p. 256)

[The] novel … consists of a witty barrage of verbal and stylistic pyrotechnics that left this reader both amazed, delighted and dazzled. On page one, Delibes begins with a series of conventions replacing normal punctuation (as we know it) which is indeed, revolutionary for the reader. For example, he transcribes phonetically the signs of punctuation: "Behind the fence comma was the little house of Genaro open parenthesis who was now called Gen colon Here, Gen! close parenthesis comma …"….

Parable is not divided into chapters like all of his previous works, nor is there any progressive continuity of the narrative thread along traditional Delibean lines. The novel is written mostly in the third person but there are sections (usually in italics) when Jacinto's conscience speaks (as he looks into a mirror or sees his image reflected elsewhere) which are narrated in the second person singular in the form of an interior monologue. Within these monologues and general texts, there are elliptical thoughts, changes of time, interpolations of different themes, onomatopoeia, repetition, details deliberately selected to reinforce thought patterns, an extended use of syllabification and capital letters, apocopated words in Spanish used to form the new language of "the contract."… Delibes' novel is a refreshing exercise in the intelligent use of the aforementioned stylistic techniques, which help to evoke the philosophy, parody, satire, black humor and grotesqueness inherent in Delibes' principal thematic concerns. (p. 257)

If we dare to perceive any "structure" as such in the novel, we might say it exists on two separate levels where different tenses are utilized: on the first, Delibes uses the present tense, narrating Jacinto's adventure in the cabin, gradually being overtaken by [a] hydra, giving us the actual sensation of life as the events occur; on the second, he employs the past tenses (imperfects and preterites), which relate the causes of Jacinto's illness, facts about his work, home, the city in which he lives, themes handled such that the impression is given that something has already occurred and something belongs to the past. Apart from the notion of structure or style, Delibes develops his characters and themes in extraordinary fashion, embracing or escaping the totally crushing philosophies which appear to us in the realm of impersonal and sometimes cryptic, ironic and paradoxical slogans…. Most amusing is Delibes' playfulness with the Spanish language (using a lack of punctuation and then a super-abundance of it) to achieve within his characters (and readers) their mental confusion, so that we may feel the confused and disoriented sensations of Jacinto. (pp. 258-59)

There are certain hilarious episodes that are etched in Delibes' uncanny "black" humor. (p. 259)

Perhaps the most moving section of the novel occurs near its conclusion when Jacinto realizes he is a prisoner of the hydra and vainly tries to send messages for help but to no avail. In one of his interior monologues, Jacinto discusses the meaning of reality: "The world neither sees, nor hears, nor understands, because the blind do not see and the deaf do not hear and no one can understand what one does not see nor hear"…. Jacinto has been reduced to the most elemental level of communication in his struggle for survival, a struggle he eventually loses. Delibes presents the reasons for Jacinto's downfall early in the novel in a capsulized biography: "In May, 1966, he has shown an unhealthy curiosity about the reasons behind his work…. He mistrusts words … and trusts only in man and in his goodness. (Under observation by the State)"…. When Jacinto the man becomes jacinto the metamorphosized ram, Delibes even reflects these changes in the spelling of his name. (p. 260)

One cannot help wondering about Delibes' reasons for completely breaking stylistically and thematically with his former literary production (his neo-realism in favor of extreme subjectivism), unless he finds Parábola will have greater historical and literary relevance for him and his fellow Spaniards…. Although there is nothing so terribly new in the thematic or stylistic realms of Delibes, if we consider his novels in comparison to international literature, we nevertheless find that unlike many such similar practical works by his contemporaries (or predecessors), Parable is a novel that deserves to be read and boars re-reading. For it is a novel to mull over, not only for its thought content, but for its style. As one critic put it, "Parable is a plethora of intellectual content, whose technique is overshadowed by its theme." It is a book one cannot forget and one that is basic to the development of the novel genre in Spain as well as a key work in understanding the revolutionary turnabout in thinking and artistic accomplishments of Miguel Delibes himself. It may very well be the pacesetter for the "New" New Wave of the 1970's. (p. 261)

Ronald Schwartz, "Delibes and 'Parábola del náufrago'," in his Spain's New Wave Novelists: 1950–1974 (copyright © 1976 by Ronald Schwartz), Scarecrow Press, 1976, pp. 245-64.