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.
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.
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).
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.