Rosa Chacel’s works, essays and fiction, share a common discursive tone: logical, measured, dispassionate, abstract, and clear. Chacel studied painting and sculpture before turning to literature, and artistic preoccupations characterize her writing as a whole. This widely traveled, cosmopolitan Modernist was influenced by James Joyce (fiction) and José Ortega y Gasset (essays and thought); other significant writers included Goethe, Jaspers, Rilke, Nietzsche, Kierkegaard, and Freud.
Chacel began writing essays on literature, art, and culture in the 1920s, in the heady atmosphere of vanguardism, and continued during the Spanish Civil War, when she contributed several articles to the wartime republican periodical Hora de España (Spain’s hour). Notwithstanding her republican sympathies, she was convinced of the superiority of things of the spirit and that aesthetics and ideology should remain separate; hence her writings have an ahistorical, detached quality seldom reflecting the circumstances of
Chacel’s first book of essays was a miscellaneous volume, Poesía de la circunstancia:
Cómo y por qué de la novela (1958; Circumstantial poetry: how and why of the novel), followed by La confesión (1970; Confessions), in which Chacel examines the genre and attempts to respond to Ortega’s query as to reasons for the scarcity of memoirs and confessional writing in Spanish. Seeking the fundamental condition of all confessions, she examines those she considers most important—St. Augustine (cf. Confessions), Rousseau, Kierkegaard— determining that the most dramatic ones are inspired by guilt, and are thus most truthful. Chacel applies “confessional” principles to a sui generis
meditation on Cervantes, Galdós, and Unamuno, concluding that all of the latter’s work is a huge, personified confession, while Don Quixote springs from the conclusion that to believe and love, one must be crazy. Special attention is given these writers’ pronouncements on love, a major subtheme, as are reflections on contemporary life.
Chacel’s longest and most significant work of nonfiction, Saturnal (1972; Saturnalia), was some four decades in the writing. Love constitutes the primary preoccupation, not as passion, charity, agape, or sexual attraction, but as unique poetic truth. Parting from the basic, unstated premise of sexual equality, Saturnal’s more than 400 pages elaborate and extend an article first published in Revista de Occidente (Western review) in 1931, “Esquema de los actuales problemas prác-ticos del amor” (Outline of current practical problems of love). Chacel situates herself between the extremes represented by Denis de Rougemont’s L’Amour et l’Ocddent (1939; Love in the Western World)—passionate love, mystic Christian overtones, and love-death—and Herbert Marcuse’s Eros and Civilization (1955)—Freudian implications, Eros as vital impulse, economic factors as discouraging eroticism, death as fatigue. Chacel views love as a blend of the ideal, erotic, and sexual, adding existentialist tones and references to clearly existentialist sources (Kierkegaard, Camus, Unamuno).
Her discussion of relations between the sexes centers around attempts to isolate the essence of feminine psychology, resulting in the conclusion that its distinguishing characteristic is a deep, ancestral fear of rape on the level of the collective unconscious.
Chacel discusses various feminists, noting specific divergences: Virginia Woolf, Simone de Beauvoir, the Spanish Countess of Campo Alange. She touches upon homosexuality, maternity, and prostitution, citing readings from Jung to Rosa Luxemburg and Madame Curie. Loosely following Ortega’s theory of generations and his method of defining the sensibility of the times, she elucidates characteristics of her own generation, differentiating it from those before and after. For Chacel, one distinguishing “sign of the times” is the “unisex” phenomenon.
Deeply preoccupied with ethical dilemmas, she contemplates good and evil, tolerance, war, the “right to kill,” and responsibility (which she believes all share equally). Chacel rejects the cliché blaming wars on men and viewing women as war’s enemies, contending that tolerance allows wars to exist and women are to blame for passivity. Saturnal treats many marginal topics, related only most tangentially to the malefemale axis, such as the cinema, to which she accords special significance as a force shaping the modern mentality. She makes excursions into the plastic arts, contemporary painting—areas in which Chacel was very knowledgeable, as was her mentor, Ortega—and fashion. Her theories on love repeatedly parallel those of Ortega, and her readings frequently coincide with his, as she consults sources from Socrates, Plato, Ovid, and Quevedo to Bergson, Kierkegaard, Heidegger, and Freud. Chacel considers platonic love, the nature of beauty, immortality and eternity, good and evil, and several other dense, universal themes in the course of what amounts to an unfinished intellectual journey, expressed with clarity and precision. While the relationship between the sexes forms the axis around which everything else revolves, and sexual relationships are viewed as paradigmatic or symbolic of all others, Saturnal weaves a complex tapestry of topics. Only two acts are recognized as being the same for all: birth and death.
Chacel’s writing, whether narrative, essay, or poetry, constitutes in its entirety a vehicle of self-discovery, an aesthetic quest centering around time as genesis of the word (logos), of life and memory and hence of autobiography, history, intimate dialogue, and all creative material. The writer—a pilgrim of illumination—travels toward light, form, truth, will-to-being, creating an aesthetics of rich expressiveness, seeking self-revelation in data extracted from the preconsciousness of time, before truth.
Los títulos (1981; Titles) contains selected articles by Chacel, but was not composed as a volume; nor was Rebañaduras (1986; Slices), a collection of 18 articles written between 1937 and the 1980s and divided into five thematic categories: 1) the feminine condition, love, and genesis; 2) Ortega y Gasset’s significance in the 1920s, especially for Chacel’s beginnings; 3) Spanish writers Quevedo, Sor Juana, Corpus Barga, and Justo Alejo (two baroque greats, two little-known contemporaries); 4) wartime articles from Hora de España; 5) Chacel’s lecture presenting her book on her late husband, their meeting, and his art, Timoteo Pérez Rubio y sus retratos del jardín (1980; Timoteo Pérez Rubio and his portraits of the garden)—part tale, part dream, a strangely beautiful essay reflecting on the mechanisms of memory.
Chacel’s novels are very essayistic, especially La sinrazón (1960; Unreason), whose protagonist is meditative, philosophical, preoccupied with truth, beauty, essence and form, time and eternity, pleasure and the forbidden, good and evil, the divine and the transitory, body and soul, faith and doubt, reason and passion, love and death. This most dense and complex of Chacel’s novels presents multiple changes of genre—story, confession, essay, diary, autobiography—and treats the aesthetics of peril, will, life as a struggle between loves, love as dialogue, the problems of duplicity, doubt and suicide, and the metaphor of life as a road, with the necessity of choosing a destination.
Other books, of difficult classification, are both autobiographical and essayistic, dealing with the gestation of early works, Chacel’s own intellectual formation and that of her generation: Desde el amanecer (1972; From dawn) and La lectura es secreto (1989;
Reading is secret). Obsession with her point of origin, repetitive themes, autobiographical character, and constant stylistic rigor endow Chacel’s works with unity despite diversity.
Rosa Arimón Chacel. Born 3 June 1898 in Valladolid. Studied at the Escuela de Artes y Oficios and Escuela Superior de Bellas Artes de San Fernando, Madrid, 1908–18.
Married Timoteo Pérez Rubio, 1921 (died, 1977): one son. Lived in Italy, 1921–27, in France during the Spanish Civil War, 1936–39 and after, in Greece, and in Rio de Janeiro and Buenos Aires, 1940–77. Contributor, Revista de Occidente, Ultra, Caballo Verde para la Poesía (The green horse for poetry), El Mono Azul (The blue monkey), and Hora de España, 1927–36, and Sur, La Nación, and Realidad, 1939–60. Awards: two fellowships; National Critics’ Prize, 1970, 1976; National Literature Prize, 1987;
honorary degree from the University of Valladolid. Died in Madrid, 27 July 1994.
Essays and Related Prose
Poesía de la circunstancia: Cómo y por qué de la novela, 1958
La confesión, 1970
Desde el amanecer, 1972
Los títulos, edited by Clara Janés, 1981
Rebañaduras: Colección de artículos, edited by Moisés Mori, 1986
Memoria, narrativa y poetica de las presencias: Poesias, relatos, novelas y ensayos, 1988
La lectura es secreto, 1989
Other writings: seven novels (Estación, ida y vuelta, 1930; Teresa, 1941; Memorias de Leticia Valle [Memoirs of Leticia Valle], 1945; La sinrazón, 1960; Barrio de maravillas [The Maravillas District], 1976; Acrópolis, 1984; Ciencias naturales, 1988), two collections of short stories, poetry, diaries, autobiography, two volumes of memoirs (Alcancía: Ida and Alcancía: Vuelta, 1982), and a study of her husband’s painting. Also
translated works by Albert Camus and Jean Racine.
Collected works edition: Obras completas, 4 vols., 1989–(in progress).
Beneyto, Antonio, “Rosa Chacel: Esencialmente un ser libre,” in his Censura y política en los escritores españoles, Barcelona: Euros, 1975
Bergés, Consuelo, “Rosa Chacel y la literatura responsable,” Insula 183 (February 1961)
Conte, Rafael, “La realidad de una escritora intelectual,” El País, 30 January 1983
Crispin, John, “Rosa Chacel y las ‘Ideas sobre la novela’,” Insula 262 (September 1968)
Gimferrer, Pedro, “Una conciencia puesta en pie hasta el fin,” ABC, 3 June 1988
Herrero, F., “Ciencias naturales: La subversión de la palabra escrita,” El Norte de Castilla, 4 June 1988
Janés, Clara, “Rosa Chacel y la luz,” El País, 5 January 1977
Janés, Clara, Prologue to Los títulos by Chacel, Barcelona: EDHASA, 1981
Janés, Clara, “Diario de una escritora,” Nueva Estafeta 53 (1983): 90–92
Janés, Clara, “El reclamo de la razón,” Diario 16, 20 July 1989
Mangini, Shirley, “Women and Spanish Modernism: The Case of Rosa Chacel,” Anales de la Literatura Española Contemporánea 12 (1987):17–28
Marra-López, José R., “Rosa Chacel: La búsqueda intelectual del mundo,” in his Narrativa española fuera de España, 1939–1961, Madrid: Guadarrama, 1963
Moix, Ana María, “Rosa Chacel, un clásico: El amor, fuente de creación y armonía,” Destino, 10–16 December 1979
Moix, Ana María, “La agonía de la razón,” Camp de l’Arpa 74 (April 1980):74–76
Moix, Ana María, “El fuego sagrado del diálogo,” Diario 16, 28 May 1988
Pardo, F., “La serena meditación de una filosofia,” El Norte de Castilla, 4 July 1988
Pardo, F., “Estudio preliminar,” in Obra completa, 2: Ensayos y poesía by Chacel, Valladolid: Centro Jorge Guillén, 1989:7–43
Piedra, Antonio, “Saturnal, el laberinto lúcido,” Anthropos 85 (1988):54–58
Rodríguez Fischer, A., “Los diarios de Rosa Chacel,” Cuadernos Hispanoamericanos 399 (September 1983):135–47
Rodríguez Fischer, A., “Cronología intelectual de Rosa Chacel,” Anthropos 85 (June 1988):28–34
Rosa Chacel, premio nacional de las letras españolas 1987, Barcelona: Anthropos, and Madrid: Ministry of Culture, 1990
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