*Pérez de Ayala, Ramón
Pérez de Ayala, Ramón
Although Ramón Pérez de Ayala is best known for his novels, the genre he practiced all his adult life was the essay. Most of his essays were short magazine articles which showed keen observation, immense knowledge, and individual, occasionally polemical, ideas. Ayala believed that Bacon, Montaigne, and Hume had cultivated the true essay, the kind published in the Spectator. The Spanish author took pleasure in that English title, which reflects the true spirit of the essayist: one who observes attentively in expectation. Ayala often chose lesser labels for these conversations with his readers— apostillas (marginal notes), divagaciones (musings), pequeños ensayos (little essays).
Despite the brevity of these writings and Ayala’s denigration of their importance, the reader always learns something from his entertaining chats, about literature, international or Spanish politics, travel, art, or war as seen from the trenches. His words are carefully chosen, often evincing his extensive knowledge of classical Latiri and Greek. His style is personal, yet measured; erudite, yet seldom snobbish; entertaining while informing. One technique Ayala uses is an apparent wandering from the topic announced in the title, only to draw upon that “tangential information” as a key illustration of a difficult concept. In an article written soon after his arrival in Argentina, his desire to communicate with his audience is clear; he celebrates a large number of letters from readers, praising, questioning, and even suggesting topics for future essays. This, he said, was unheard of in Spain, where he received few letters, and those few were injurious or insulting.
Pérez de Ayala published in at least 16 leading magazines in Spain and Latin America, among them the pro-Republican España, Nuevo Mundo (New world), El Imparcial, La Tribuna, and Argentina’s La Prensa (The press). Ayala was a war correspondent for the last during World War I; those essays comprise Hermann, encadenado: Notas de un viaje a los frentes del Isonzo, la Carnia y el Trentino (1917; Herman in chains: notes on a trip to the front lines of Isonzo, la Carnia and il Trentino). He was also a correspondent for the Spanish newspaper ABC during his exile in Argentina (1940–54), as well as after his return to Spain in 1954. Because of the disparate nature of these publications (on two continents, in so many sources, and over a wide range of topics), Ayala’s editors face a monumental task in collecting and publishing his essays.
Spaniards were treated to Perez de Ayala’s personal observations of other countries in several volumes of collected essays. In El país del futuro (1959; The country of the future), Ayala reports his observations of the United States during two visits (1913–14, 1919–20). His Tributo a Inglaterra (1963; Tribute to England) collects articles written about and from England, and Crónicas londinenses (1958; London chronicles) includes his newspaper articles written during his visit in 1908. Ancient Greece is the focus of Viaje entretenido al país del ocio: Reflexiones sobre la cultura griega (1975; Entertaining journey to the land of leisure: reflections on Greek culture). Fábulas y ciudades (1961; Fables and cities) considers the educational importance of fables for all ages and the origins of great cities. Ayala proves that neither archaeologists nor anthropologists have answered the question of how cities begin, subsequently offering his own theories.
A majority of Ayala’s essays treat two themes: literature (especially drama and the novel) and politics. In Política y toros (1918; Politics and bulls), he analyzes the Spanish perspective of the world, indicating that the Spaniard believes himself to be an expert on both politics and the bullfight. Ayala, however, calls Spain uncivilized, for, unlike any civilized nation, Spain has neither resolved nor stated its political problems. In a later collection, Escritos políticos (1967; Political writings), editor Paulino Garagorri includes Ayala’s denunciation of Primo de Rivera’s dictatorship and his welcoming the fall of the monarchy and the beginning of the Second Republic.
Spanish or international letters and history are explored in Ante Azorín (1964; In the presence of Azorin), Amistades y récuerdos (1961; Friendships and remembrances), Nuestro Séneca y otros ensayos (1966; Our Seneca and other essays), Principios y finales de la novela (1958; Beginnings and ends of the novel), Divagaciones Hterarias (1958; Literary musings), and Más divagaciones literarias (1960; More literary musings). In Las máscaras (1917–19; Masks), his famous two-volume collection of theatrical criticism and reviews, Ayala criticized and analyzed the leading Spanish playwrights of his day, at times heavyhandedly. In later years, he revised some of his more vitriolic reviews, especially on Benavente. He did, however, continue to appreciate most drama which followed classical and Aristotelian principles.
From the other essays on literature, one can glean Ayala’s theory of the novel. He stated, for example, that the essay and the novel are the culmination of the development of genres; classicism is likewise the zenith of literary movements. Ayala believed that the novel must present many (perhaps even contradictory) viewpoints in order to portray three-dimensional reality by one-dimensional description. Although the novel’s purpose is communication, and therefore content must be privileged, style is still important, though it should never be used solely for decorative effect. The plot, he stated, is merely melodramatic if it is founded on a conflict between good and evil. Instead, the best plot presents the confrontation of two or more just causes. The best topics for novels, therefore, are love and tolerance.
Miscellaneous collections cover all the above topics as well as art, education, and geography. Among these are Pequeños ensayos (1963; Little essays), Apostillas y divagaciones (1976; Marginal notes and musings), Tabla rasa (1963; The table cleared), and Las terceras de ABC (1976; The third page of ABC). The latter’s title refers to Pérez de Ayala’s essays appearing on that Madrid newspaper’s third page. El libro de Ruth (1928; The book of Ruth) is an anthology of essays extracted from Ayala’s novels.
Pérez de Ayala contributed significantly to Spaniards’ understanding of themselves and the world for nearly 50 years. It is only fitting, therefore, that he should be appreciated for his most constant genre, the essay.
EUNICE DOMAN MYERS
Born 9 August 1880 in Oviedo, Asturias. Studied at the Jesuit school in Gijón, 1890–94;
University of Oviedo, 1896–1902, law degree; University of Madrid, 1902. Contributor to Helios, 1903–04; London correspondent, El Imparcial, 1908. Traveled to Germany, 1912, and the United States, 1913–14. Married Mabel Rick, 1913: two sons. War correspondent for La Prensa (Buenos Aires), 1916; contributor to Madrid newspapers while in the U.S., 1919–20. Elected to the Royal Spanish Academy, 1928. Founder, with José Ortega y Gasset and Gregorio Marañón, Agrupación al Servicio de la República (Group at the service of the Republic), 1931. Spanish ambassador in London, 1931–36 (resigned); lived in Biarritz and Paris, 1936–39, returning to Spain at the end of the Civil War. Lived in Buenos Aires, 1940–54; worked for a time at the Spanish Embassy, Buenos Aires; returned to Spain, 1954. Contributor, ABC, 1954–62.
Awards: Mariano de Cavia Prize, for journalism, 1922; National Literature Prize, 1926; Juan March Prize, 1960; honorary degree from the University of London. Died in Madrid, 5 August 1962.
Essays and Related Prose
Hermann, encadenado: Notas de un viaje a los frentes del Isonzo, la Carnia y el Trentino, 1917
Las máscaras, 2 vols., 1917–19
Política y toros, 1918
El libro de Ruth: Ensayos en vivo, 1928
Selections from Perez de Ayala (in Spanish), edited by Nicholson B. Adams and Sterling A.Stoudemire, 1934
Principios y finales de la novela, 1958
Divagaciones literarias, edited by José García Mercadal, 1958
Crónicas londinenses, 1958; edited by Agustín Coletes Blanco, 1985
El país del futuro: Mis viajes a los Estados Unidos, 1913–1914, 1919–1920, edited by José Garcia Mercadal, 1959
Más divagaciones literarias, edited by José García Mercadal, 1960
Amistades y recuerdos, 1961
Fábulas y ciudades, 1961
Tabla rasa, 1963
Pequenñs ensayos, edited by José García Mercadal, 1963
Tributo a Inglaterra, edited by José García Mercadal, 1963
Ante Azorín, edited by José García Mercadal, 1964
Nuestro Séneca y otros ensayos, edited by José García Mercadal, 1966
Escritos políticos, edited by Paulino Garagorri, 1967
Viafe entretenido al país del ocio: Reflexiones sobre la cultura griega, edited by José García Mercadal, 1975
Apostíllas y divagaciones, edited by Jose Garcia Mercadal, 1976
Las terceras de ABC, 1976
Artículos y ensayos en los semanarios “España,” “Nuevo Mundo,” y”La Esfera”, edited by Florencio Friera Suárez, 1986
Other writings: nine novels (Tinieblas en las cumbres, 1907; A.M.D.G., 1910; La pata de la raposa [The Fox’s Paw], 1912; Troteras y danzaderas, 1913; Belarmino y Apolonio, 1921; Luna de miel, luna de hiel [Honeymoon, Bittermoon], 1923; Los trabajos de Urbano y Simona, 1923; Tigre Juan, 1926; El curandero de su honra, 1926), novellas, poetry, and a play.
Collected works edition: Obras completas, edited by José García Mercadal, 4 vols., 1964–69.
Best, Marigold, Ramón Pérez de Ayala: An Annotated Bibliography of Criticism, London: Grant and Cutler, 1980
Bibliografía de Ramón Pérez de Ayala en la Biblioteca Pública de Oviedo (Bibliografía para un centenario), Oviedo: Biblioteca Pública, 1980
Fernandez, Pelayo H., “Bibliografía sobre Ramón Pérez de Ayala,” in his Estudios sobre Ramón Pérez y Ayala, Oviedo: Instituto de Estudios Asturianos, 1978:153–93
Bobes Naves, María del Carmen, and others, Homenaje a Ramón Pérez de Ayala, Oviedo: University of Oviedo Department of Literary Criticism, 1980
Campbell, Brenton Kay, “The Esthetic Theories of Ramón Pérez de Ayala,” Hispania 50, no. 3 (September 1967):447–53
Campbell, Brenton Kay, “Free Will and Determinism in the Theory of Tragedy: Pérez de Ayala and Ortega y Gasset,” Hispanic Review 37 (July 1969):375–82
Feeny, Thomas, “Subjectivity in the Dramatic Criticism of Pérez de Ayala,” Revista de Estudios Hispánicos 17, no. 1 (January 1983): 55–64
Fernández, Pelayo H., editor, Sitnposio internacional Ramón Pérez de Ayala, Gijon: Flores, 1981
Fernández, Pelayo H., “Bergson y Pérez de Ayala: Teoría de lo cómico,” Cuadernos Americanos 248, no. 3 (May–June 1983): 103–09
Fernández Avelló, Manuel, “Ramón Pérez de Ayala y el periodismo,” Boletín del Instituto de Estudios Asturianos 42 (April 1961):37–56
García Calderón, Francisco, “Ramón Pérez de Ayala y la política española,” in La herencia de Lenín y otros artículos, Paris: Garnier, 1929:153–61
González del Valle, Luis T., El canon: Reflexiones sobre la recepción literaria-teatral
(Pérez de Ayala ante Benavente), Madrid: Huerga & C Fierro, 1993
Insula issue on Pérez de Ayala, 404–05 (July-August 1980)
Myers, Eunice D., “Tradition and Modernity in Pérez de Ayala’s Literary Theories,” Critíca Hispánica 2, no. 2 (1980):157–66
O’Brien, MacGregor, El ideal clásico de Ramón Pérez de Ayala en sus ensayos en la Prensa de Buenos Aires, Oviedo: IDEA, 1981
Pérez Ferrero, Miguel, Ramón Pérez de Ayala, Madrid: Publicaciones de la Fundacion JuanMarch, 1973
Rand, Marguerite C, Ramón Pèrez de Ayala, New York: Twayne, 1971
Sallenave, Pierre, “La estética y el esencial ensayismo de Ramón Pérez de Ayala,” Cuadernos Hispanoamericanos 234 (June 1969): 601–15
Sallenave, Pierre, “Ramón Pèrez de Ayala, teórico de la literatura,” Cuadernos Hispanoamericanos 82, no. 244 (April 1970):178–90
Suarée, Octavio de la, Jr., Sociedad y politica en la ensayística de Ramón Pèrez de Ayala, New York: Contra Viento y Marea, 1982
Villanueva, Darío, editor, La novela lírica, vol. 2, Madrid: Taurus, 1983
Weber, Frances Wyers, The Literary Perspectivism of Ramón Pèrez de Ayala, Chapel Hill:University of North Carolina Press, 1966
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