Obituary: Juan Gil-Albert
Thursday 07 July 1994
JUAN GIL-ALBERT, a fine poet and writer of prose, was outstanding in more ways than one. He produced extremely subtle and innovative work; he fought with the Republican Army against Franco in the 1930s; he went into exile, first in a French camp at Saint- Cyprien, then in Mexico, where he collaborated with Octavio Paz on the review Taller and was admired by Juan Rulfo, then in Argentina, where he was befriended by Jorge Luis Borges who introduced him to the literary life of Buenos Aires.
But Gil-Albert returned to Mexico in 1947, before going once more into exile - what he called his 'interior exile' - in Francoist Spain, abstaining from all contacts with official institutions and Francoist writers, living in total isolation in his native region, Valencia. Even after Franco's death and the democratic revolution in mid-Seventies Spain, he was rarely seen in public, though he was greatly honoured by his birthplace and became president of the Valencia Cultural Affairs Council, which in 1982 awarded him his only public honour, the Premi de les Lletres Valencianes. Ever since his return to Spain, he had been unjustly ignored by most critics and writers, a literary persecution of a virulence unknown by any other Spanish writer.
Gil-Albert was born in Alcoy, a small inland town between Valencia and Alicante, the oldest of four sons of a prosperous family of industrialists. He liked to recall that he was born on All Fools' Day, which happened to be also a Good Friday, at three in the afternoon, the hour of Christ's death on the cross. He felt this auspicious date had a permanent influence on his life and gave certain of his writings their mystical quality, which can be felt in his third book, a collection of discreetly personal sonnets, Mysteriosa presencia (1929), published to the acclaim of fellow poets such as Federico Garcia Lorca and Luis Cernuda.
Gil-Albert's parents were devout Catholics, and the religious atmosphere of the family strongly marked his early years, during which the entire household moved to Valencia. There he took courses in philosophy and law, and graduated with honours in 1926. It was also in Valencia that he made the acquaintance of painters and writers, and in the Thirties in Madrid made close friends with a host of young poets of what was called 'Generacion del 27' - Lorca, Cernuda, Antonio Machado, Rafael Dieste, Manuel Altolaguirre, Jose Bergamin and Rosa Chacel. But Lorca was murdered in 1936, Machado died in exile in 1939 in Colliure, near Perpignan, and all the others went into exile in France and Latin America.
Gil-Albert had published his first two exquisitely formal works, La fascinacion de lo irreal and Vibracion de estio in 1927 and 1928, followed by Como pudieron ser, Galerias del Museo del Prado (1929) and Cronicas para servir al estudio de nuestro tiempo (1932). During the civil war he collaborated in the avant-garde Republican reviews Hora de Espana and El Mono Azul ('The Blue Monkey'). He became secretary of the Alianza de Intelectuales Antifascistas at the request of its president, Jose Bergamin. He published a violently anti-Fascist text, Candente horror (1937) whose very title, 'Incandescent Horror', is an indication of Gil-Albert's view of the war and his commitment to the Republican cause. He also took part in the great Congress of Anti-Fascist Writers held in Valencia in 1937. Two years later he was forced into exile. He was in the refugee camp at Saint-Cyprien for only one month, but later he said it felt like years.
During his stay in Mexico and Argentina, Gil-Albert contributed to many periodicals; but he published only one collection of poems, Las ilusiones, whose bitter tone marked a departure from the Mallarme-like style praised by Cernuda.
After his return to Valencia in 1947, his publications were sporadic: Concertar es amor (1951), Poesia (1961), La trama inextricable (1968) and a good selection of his poetry, Fuentes de la constancia (1972), none of which received much critical or public attention. It was as if this exile in his own land had been banished from Spanish literary life. But then began the publication of his collected works at the devoted hands of his small band of admirers by the Valencia Institute of Studies and Researches. Among the fine works produced after Franco's fall were a treatise on homosexual passions, Homenaje a Plato ('Homage to Plato', 1975), and the beautiful, well-researched novel Valentin: homenaje a Shakespeare (1974), an evocation of Shakespeare's times and the ambiguous loves of adolescent boy actors and their aristocratic patrons.
Its only translation is in French (Actes Sud, 1987). It well deserves an English translation, as do the other works of this very unusual Spanish hellenist and intellectual who set himself apart from his countrymen by calling himself 'a Spaniard who thinks'.
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