Ramón Sender Sender, Ramón (Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism) - Essay


(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

Ramón Sender 1902-1982

(Full name Ramón José Sender) Spanish novelist, essayist, playwright, and poet.

The following entry provides criticism on Sender's works from 1986 through 1991. See also Ramon Sender Literary Criticism.

Although he spent more than half his life in exile, Sender was considered one of Spain's leading novelists. His novels written after the Spanish Civil War helped to define the expatriate experience.

Biographical Information

Sender was born in Alcolea de Cinca, Spain, on February 3, 1902, to a farmer's family. He earned a degree at the University of Madrid, where he was known for his reform political activities. He married twice and had one child. In the early 1920s he fought in Spain's war against Morocco, for which he received military honors. He was an editor and literary critic for El Sol, a liberal publication, and later worked as a freelance writer. Sender was an adamant opponent of the fascist Generalissimo Francisco Franco, joining the army of the Republic during the Spanish Civil War, which broke out in 1936. He left Spain for a speaking tour of the United States and Europe in 1937 and, after the collapse of the Spanish Republic in 1939, was forced to be an exile for the rest of his life. In Mexico and the United States, he taught and lectured at several colleges and universities and contiuned to write in Spanish about his native land. Sender died in San Diego, California, on January 15, 1982.

Major Works

Sender created nonfiction works, poetry, and plays but is best remembered as a novelist. While still in Spain, he wrote Imán (1930; Pro Patria), a novel focusing on the powerlessness of the underprivileged in Morocco. In Siete domingos rojos (1934; Seven Red Sundays), he profiled the lives and thoughts of a number of communist, anarchist, and trade union strikers in Madrid. Another novel of social protest, Mister Witt en el cantón (1936; Mr. Witt Among the Rebels), is set in 1873 during the time of the revolts against the first Spanish republic. Contraataque (1937; Counter-Attack in Spain), written after he left Spain, is a thinly disguised fictional autobiography based on his civil war experiences. His Proverbio de la muerte (1939; The Sphere) later enlarged as La esfera (1969) combines fantasy and reality in the story of a Spanish refugee on a transatlantic voyage. In 1940 Sender provided a new perspective on a much-maligned Spanish explorer in the play Hernán Cortés. He wrote a number of psychologically and symbolically complex novels from the late 1930s to the early 1950s, including El lugar del hombre (1939; A Man's Place), Epitalamio del prieto Trinidad (1942; Dark Wedding), El rey y la reina (1949; The King and the Queen), and El verdugo afable (1952; The Affable Hangman). In Mosén Millán (1953; Requiem for a Spanish Peasant), Sender portrays a young idealist who opposes monarchists and fascists, only to be betrayed by his own village priest. English translations of the three novels in the trilogy Before Noon (1957) brought Sender to the attention of a new generation of readers. These stories—which include Chronicle of Dawn, Violent Griffin, and The Villa Julieta—provide a nostalgic look at pre-Franco Spain told from the point of view of a young Republican refugee who is dying in a French prison camp during the civil war. Sender continued to write prodigiously until just a few years before his death, producing a number of novels, nonfiction works, and book of short stories, Relatos fronterizos (1970).

Critical Reception

Critics have generally divided Sender's fiction into his pre-exile and post-exile periods. The former group, such as Pro Patria and Seven Red Sundays, is concerned with the reactions of Spaniards to the political and social turmoil which occurred during the approach and onset of the civil war. Sender's post-exile works, such as The Sphere and the Before Noon trilogy, were portrayed by critics as more philosophical in tone. Critics called attention to Sender's socially conscious narratives but also to his skillful blending of the surreal and the real. Most critics responded favorably to the nostalgic evocation of the author's youth in the Before Noon series. A 1974 Twayne World Authors Series study of Sender helped to bring the author more attention among English-speaking readers, as did more frequent essays on Sender in bio-critical dictionaries and reference books after that time. Later critics have taken a comparative literature approach to Sender's fiction or have deconstructed specific works. Most have agreed that he is one of the great Spanish novelists of the twentieth century and that the sheer volume and variety of his work call for more critical attention.

Principal Works

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

El problema religioso en Méjico (nonfiction) 1928

América antes de Colón (nonfiction) 1930

Imán [Pro Patria] (novel) 1930

El verbo se hizo sexo (nonfiction) 1931

Madrid-Moscú (nonfiction) 1934

Siete domingos rojos [Seven Red Sundays] (novel) 1934

Viaje a la aldea del crimen (nonfiction) 1934

Crónica del pueblo en armas (juvenilia) 1936

Mister Witt en el cantón [Mr. Witt Among the Rebels] (novel) 1936

Contraataque [Counter-Attack in Spain] (nonfiction) 1937

El lugar del hombre [A Man's Place] (novel) 1939

Proverbio de la muerte [The Sphere] (novel) 1939

Hernán Cortés (play) 1940

Mexicayotl (nonfiction) 1940

O. P.: Orden público (novel) 1941

Crónica del alba [Chronicle of Dawn] (novel) 1942

Epitalamio del prieto Trinidad [Dark Wedding] (novel) 1942

El rey y la reina [The King and the Queen] (novel) 1949

El verdugo afable [The Affable Hangman] (novel) 1952

Mosén Millán [Requiem for a Spanish Peasant] (novel) 1953

Hipogrifo violento [Violent Griffin] (novel) 1954

*Before Noon: A Novel in Three Parts (novels) 1957

Emen hetan (novel) 1958

Los laureles de Anselmo (novel) 1958

La llave (novel) 1960

El mancebo y los heroes (novel) 1960

Novelas ejemplares de Cibola [Tales of Cibola] (short stories) 1961

La tesis de Nancy (novel) 1962

Jubileo en el Zócalo (play) 1964

La gallinas de Cervantes y otres narraciones parabolicas (nonfiction) 1967

Las criaturas saturnianas (novel) 1968

En la vida de ignacio Morel (novel) 1969

La esfera (novel) 1969

Nocturno de los 14 (novel) 1969

Novelas de otro jueves (nonfiction) 1969

Relatos fronterizos (short stories) 1970

Tanit (novel) 1970

El Pez de oro (novel) 1976

La efermerides (novel) 1976

Obra completa (collected works) 1976

Rimas compulsivas: Antologia poetica (poetry) 1998

*This work contains the novels Chronicle of Dawn, Violent Griffin, and The Villa Julieta.

†This work is an enlarged edition of Proverbio de la muerte (1939).

Anthony M. Trippett (essay date 1986)

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Trippett, Anthony M. “Introduction.” In Adjusting to Reality: Philosophical and Psychological Ideas in the Post-Civil War Novels of Ramón J. Sender, pp. 13-21. London, United Kingdom: Tamesis, 1986.

[In the following introduction to his full-length book on Sender's fiction after the Spanish Civil War, Trippett explains his study as an overview of past scholarship and a look at the themes of selected works.]

Sender studies present a number of intriguing difficulties. The author was uncooperative with biographers1 and sometimes rather unreliable when talking about himself. He was reluctant to polish his work once it was written2 and yet often moved later either to repudiate3 it or re-use the material for different ends4. Then there is the sheer volume of it all—more than a hundred full-length books and uncollected articles by the thousand5—with a range and variety to match. Furthermore, the issues and passions of the Spanish Civil War—central to large parts of his life and works—still live on in Spain and elsewhere and this can distort judgments6 on him.

A few years ago7 such difficulties might have deterred a potential student of Sender, now it is to be hoped they will only serve to whet his appetite. He can certainly count on a number of useful critical tools and studies to help him8 and a clear, measured consensus view9 that the author is one of the greatest Spanish novelists of the twentieth century with an assured and permanent international reputation.

Collard and Nonoyama10 have gone a long way towards mapping the ideological basis of Sender's pre-Civil War work—fictional and non-fictional—and their research has provided an excellent base from which investigation into his later work and therefore his evolution can be pursued. It is this evolution that underlies the intriguing difficulties I referred to.

My study, going on from there, is an attempt to elucidate the major themes in the post-Civil War works and to place these within the context of Sender's whole life and work. It aims to substantiate my three basic contentions concerning Sender, viz that the Civil War experience was crucial to him and fundamentally changed his view of reality, that the major interest of his subsequent work tends to be philosophical and psychological, and that the later books have a distinctive ambiguity and structural complexity. Given this complexity I have opted to base my study on the detailed analysis of a small number of works. The inevitable limitations of such a selection were felt to be more than justified by the value of detailed analysis and in so far as the works chosen are representative11 of many more in Sender's post-Civil War canon.

La esfera12—that most overtly philosophical of Sender's works—would have figured prominently among my choice of novels had it not already been the subject of a number of fine studies13 to which I shall refer in due course. The same reason dissuaded me from choosing the splendid novels, El lugar del hombre14 and El rey y la reina.15Antología crítica contains a number of noteworthy articles16 on them.

The particular attraction of El verdugo—my first choice—arose from its re-use of materials from three pre-Civil War works. It could provide insight into Sender's ideas over some twenty years together with clues as to his techniques of composition. To avoid any duplication of Peñuelas's study17 which—in any case—did not investigate these literary debts, I decided to concentrate on the quite distinctive English version18 which for many years Sender had regarded as definitive and is in many respects more interesting.

Las criaturas saturnianas19 was also chosen, to show that Sender's historical novels were not so different from others within the post-Civil War period. An added interest was the opportunity of demonstrating the strength or otherwise20 of Sender's powers in his late sixties. Since parts of Las criaturas derived from Emen hetan21, it seemed appropriate to look at that too, even though it is of lesser merit. Carrasquer's refutation22 of earlier assertions23 of the atypicality of Emen hetan clearly had not convinced all critics24 so further arguments as to its significance for Las criaturas seemed desirable. I was keen too to suggest important qualifications to Carrasquer's presentation of the main character in Las criaturas and what I saw as his neglect of crucial psychological dimensions in Sender.

Crónica del alba,25 the most extensive and well-known26 of Sender's works, was an inevitable and important choice for analysis. Surprisingly, though it won an important literary prize27 it had not been the subject of serious, critical attention in its full version. Furthermore, though written over the major period of Sender's life in exile, 1942-1966, it bears on his life before and during the Civil War. It could therefore be expected to yield a lot of material of interest to my purpose. There was too the invitation of Sender's own assessment of it as “lo más atrevido y lo más difícil que he hecho”.28

As my studies progressed it rapidly became apparent to me that in his post-Civil War works Sender addressed himself repeatedly and insistently to two major questions: the nature of reality and the problems of adjustment to it. Since these broad questions subsume almost all others, however important, without in any way suggesting that his interests were limited, say, to his native country or to the twentieth century, they naturally suggested the title of this study. A further argument in favour of the title chosen was its implication that there is a fundamental difference between Sender's approach to the questions of the nature of reality and man's adjustment to it in the post-Civil War novels from those written before the Civil War.

Given my emphasis on Sender's evolution and on the importance of the Civil War experience, it is clearly necessary for my readers to be acquainted with some details of his life, which I will provide them with at the opportune moment in the body of my main chapters.29 At this stage I will confine myself to advising the reader against reductionism on the subject of the very complex relationship between the details of Sender's life and what appears in his novels. It is a very serious mistake to deduce Sender's life from his novels, as Josefa Rivas30 did, and almost as serious an error—perhaps prompted by the need to expose Rivas' shortcomings—to argue, as Peter Turton31 does, that Sender sought through his works to disguise the details of his life and present flattering versions of himself to the world.

I conclude this introduction with brief, general indications as to Sender's works up to 1938.

All but one32 of the some twenty works by Sender published before he went into exile have a bearing on the events and realities of Spain in the 1920s and 1930s, and often they draw on his personal experiences.33 He lived the aftermath of the Annual disaster during his military service in Morocco, and used his experiences as well as the accounts of Annual survivors in Imán.34 His visit as a newspaper correspondent to Casas Viejas within a week of the repression there formed the basis of Viaje a la aldea del crimen,35 and his three months in goal for alleged political offences under Primo de Rivera underlies O.P. [Orden público]. It was as an36 active member of the Confederación Nacional del Trabajo that he wrote his penetrating analysis of anarchist psychology, Siete domingos, with the object of influencing37 anarchosyndicalists know to him. When Sender addressed himself to the relations between religion, sex and love,38 he was addressing himself to what were or had been his own problems.39 I would suggest that the relations between Church and State in Spain underlie El problema religioso en Méjico40 and Sender's analysis of the communistic social organisation of the Indians in América antes de Colón,41 looks as much to the Spain of the 1930s and its possible future social structures as to the imperial past. Similar observations may be made on Míster Witt en el Cantón42 and Madrid-Moscú.43

Sender's preoccupation with the Spain of his time arises out of a radical disquiet with her social, economic and religious values which he suggests are part of a corrupt, unjust and decadent system. In Imán, the failures of that system are shown to have led to military defeat and to indefensible injustices perpetrated against members of the urban and rural proletariat, represented by Viance. In O.P. the victims are goaled political prisoners. The outrages to which they have been subject cry out for drastic, revolutionary action and the sense of an impending revolutionary holocaust is very strong. The holocaust is imaginatively visualised in Noche in the form of a whirlwind. This brings about the end of bourgeois society in Spain as heads of representative members of that society are whirled to a cemetery on the outskirts of Madrid where they pathetically mumble their last characteristic thoughts. What is particularly interesting here is the concluding sketch of a radically new society based on collective values where men work anonymously without thought of personal advantage or reward. In the earlier Siete domingos, a similar—if slightly less sharp—contrast was made between the values of the working-class revolutionaries and those of Samar's bourgeois fiancée. Viaje44 shows the bourgeois state's potential for violence....

(The entire section is 4180 words.)

Anthony M. Trippett (essay date 1986)

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Trippett, Anthony M. “Eman hetan.” In Adjusting to Reality: Philosophical and Psychological Ideas in the Post-Civil War Novels of Ramón J. Sender, pp. 43-7. London, United Kingdom: Tamesis, 1986.

[In the following essay, Trippett discusses the importance of the theme of Satanism in one of Sender's novels, the implied criticism of the Catholic Church, and the ways in which Eman hetan forms the basis for Las criaturas.]

There has been some progress in criticism1 of Emen hetan, but no-one has yet done justice to its irony and no attempt has been made to relate the psychology of the characters to the action. I would suggest that...

(The entire section is 2307 words.)

Mary S. Vasquez (essay date 1991)

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Vasquez, Mary S. “Ramón Sender and Wartime Defenses: Contraataque as Fictive Autobiography.” In Critical Essays on the Literatures of Spain and Spanish America, pp. 225-33. Boulder, Colo.: Society of Spanish and Spanish-American Studies, 1991.

[In the following essay, Vasquez separates the real from the fictional aspects of Contraataque, finding it less a piece of propaganda than a careful attempt at self-justification on the part of the author.]

Ramón Sender's 1938 Contraataque must be the most quickly dismissed, misread, and, I feel certain, unread, of all his non-essay works. And, in fact, those critics who through the...

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Further Reading

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)


King, Charles L. Ramón J. Sender: An Annotated Bibliography, 1928-1974. Metuchen, N.J.: Scarecrow Press, 1976, 287 p.

Extensive list of all works by and about Sender, to 1974, with annotations and complete indexes.


Kern, Robert W. “Sender, Ramón.” In Historical Dictionary of Modern Spain, 1799-1988, pp. 453-54. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1990.

A two-page biographical sketch.


Acker, Robert. “Gustav Regler and Ramón Sender: A Comparative Study of Their Mexican Exile.” In Latin America and the...

(The entire section is 208 words.)