Continuamos nuestra serie de encuentros literarios en la biblioteca “5 minutos con… ” Laura Freixas
Carmen Sanjulián charla con la escritora barcelonesa sobre literatura, mujeres, lecturas y aficiones. Laura Freixas fue nuestra autora del mes de mayo. La autora de “Adolescencia en Barcelona hacia 1970” visitó nuestro café literario para hablarnos de la obra de Carmen Martín Gaite.
Esperamos que os guste.
We continue our series of literary encounters in the library “5 minutes with…” Laura Freixas.
Carmen Sanjulián chats to the writer from Barcelona about literature, feminism, reading habits and hobbies. Laura Freixas, our author of the month in May, paid us a visit to talk about Carmen Martín Gaite.
We hope you enjoy it.
Laura Freixas (Barcelona, 1958) estudió en el Liceo Francés de su ciudad. Se licenció en Derecho en 1980, pero se ha dedicado siempre a la escritura. Se dio a conocer en 1988 con una colección de relatos, El asesino en la muñeca.
En 1997 se publicó su primera novela, Último domingo en Londres, a la que siguieron Entre amigas (1998) y Amor o lo que sea (2005). Ha publicado también otro libro de relatos (Cuentos a los cuarenta, 2001) y una autobiografía: Adolescencia en Barcelona hacia 1970 (2007).
Paralelamente a su obra narrativa, Laura Freixas ha desarrollado una intensa labor como estudiosa y promotora de la literatura escrita por mujeres. En 1996 coordinó y prologó una antología de relatos de autoras españolas contemporáneas, Madres e hijas (que alcanzó 9 ediciones en el primer año), y en 2000 publicó el influyente ensayo Literatura y mujeres. En 2009 vio la luz otra antología de parecidas características, Cuentos de amigas, así como la obra La novela femenil y sus lectrices (Premio Leonor de Guzmán).
Ha sido editora, crítica literaria y traductora. Fundó y dirigió de 1987 a 1994 la colección literaria El espejo de tinta, de la editorial Grijalbo, donde publicó por primera vez en España a Amos Oz y Elfriede Jelinek, entre otros autores. Ha ejercido la crítica literaria en El País y traducido los diarios de Virginia Woolf y de André Gide, así como las cartas de Madame de Sévigné. Dirigió el número monográfico de Revista de Occidente consagrado al diario íntimo en España (julio-agosto 1996). Colabora regularmente en distintos medios: Babelia (suplemento cultural de El País), Revista de libros, Letras libres, Mercurio… y es columnista del periódico La Vanguardia.
Ha publicado libros de divulgación como Taller de narrativa (1999) y una biografía de la escritora brasileña Clarice Lispector bajo el título Ladrona de rosas (2010).
Imparte talleres literarios en diversas instituciones y ha sido profesora, conferenciante o escritora invitada en numerosas Universidades españolas y extranjeras (Estocolmo, Budapest, Londres, Edimburgo…), especialmente de Estados Unidos (Cornell, Virginia, Rutgers, City University de Nueva York, entre otras). En 2010 ha sido profesora visitante en la Universidad norteamericana de Dartmouth College.
Forma parte del Parlamento Cultural Europeo y preside la asociación Clásicas y Modernas para la igualdad de género en la cultura.Tras haber residido en Francia e Inglaterra, vive en Madrid desde 1991.
También vamos a celebrar una entrevista digital con Laura en la bitácora de la biblioteca. Podéis enviar vuestras preguntas sobre sus obras, o sobre Carmen Martín Gaite. Laura responderá a ellas el mismo día 3 de mayo, de 16.30h a 17.30h, hora de Dublín.
Laura Freixas (Barcelona, 1958) studied at the FrenchSchool in her home city. She got a BA degree in Law in 1980 but she has always been dedicated to writing. She was first known in 1988 for her collection of short stories, El asesino en la muñeca (The Wrist Murderer).
In 1997 her first novel Último domingo en Londres (Last Sunday in London) was published, followed by Entre amigas (Just between Friends, 1998) and Amor o lo que sea (Love or Whatever It Is, 2005). She has also published another collection of short stories (Cuentos a los cuarenta, Tales at the Age of Forty, 2001) and an autobiography: Adolescencia en Barcelona hacia 1970 (A Teenager in Barcelona Around 1970, 2007).
Along with her contribution to fiction Laura Freixas has developed an intense work both as a scholar and a promoter of literature written by women. In 1996 she compiled and wrote the prologue for an anthology of short stories by Spanish contemporary female authors, Madres e hijas (Mothers and Daughters, which reached nine editions during its first year), and in 2000 she published the influential essay Literatura y mujeres (Women and Literature). In 2009, Cuentos de amigas (Women Friends), another anthology of similar characteristics was published, as well as the work La novela femenil y sus lectrices (Ladies’ Novels and Lady Readers, ‘Leonor de Guzmán’ Award).
She has also worked as a Spanish language assistant at two British universities, as a publisher, a literary critic for El País and a translator. At present she teaches literature workshops for different institutions, she writes as a columnist for the newspaper La Vanguardia and does literary reviews for its supplement “Cultura/s”. She is a contributor to literary magazines such as Mercurio, Letras libres, Revista de libros…
She has been a lecturer or a writer in residence at a large number of Spanish and foreign universities (Stockholm, Nottingham, Budapest, Cornell, Rutgers, CUNY…) and taught creative writing at the University of Virginia (UVA) in 2006 and at DarmouthCollege in 2010. She is a member of the European Cultural Parliament and the chair of the association Clásicas y Modernas for gender equality in Spanish culture.
After been living in France and England, she currently resides in Madrid since 1991.
We will also be hosting a virtual interview with Laura on our library’s blog, whereby you can ask her questions about her own work or the work of Carmen Martín Gaite. You can send in your questions as of now, Laura will answer them live on Tuesday 3rd May, from 4.30pm to 5.30pm. hora de Dublín.
Laura, which title would you recommend to the foreign reader as a good introduction to Carmen Martín Gaite’s work?
“El cuarto de atrás”(translated into English under the title “The Back Room”).
How does Carmen Martín Gaite’s work vary from that of peers?
In many ways… For example: she had a great capacity for analysis, reflection, and introspection.
Also: her ability to mix popular culture and daily life with high culture, and to do so in a very natural way.
Also: the great richness and plasticity of her language (which, similarly to the references she made, even geographical – New York with a town in Galicia -, flowed seamlessly between popular and high culture).
Another characteristic very much her own, and perhaps the most obvious difference between her work and that of her peers, whether male or female, is the variety of genres in which she worked: novels, short stories, plays, essays, daily newspapers, autobiography etc.
Kafka’s influence in Martín Gaite’s first novel, El balneario, is evident, as the writer herself agreed. Which other influences could we glean from her bibliography? Are any of them women?
Good question…I hadn’t thought about that. I think she was influenced by the novelists of the nineteenth century – Galdós, Balzac, Flaubert…-, also by Proust…and I’m not sure who else… I think like all good (male/female) writers, she was a voracious reader, and that means that there is no one single influence in her work; she drew from many wells.
Ignacio Aldecoa introduced Carmen Martín Gaite to his circle of friends upon her arrival in Madrid: there she met Medardo Fraile, and Rafael Sánchez Ferlosio, with whom she later became romantically-involved until 1970. How important was this circle to her training as a novelist?
Without a doubt he gave her support, and security, two things which are hard to find in the case of female writers, given that they are normally more isolated than male writers. Both formal groups (academies) and more informal groups (literary gatherings), where writers exchange opinions and ideas etc., tend to be male-dominated.
The entire group took on quite a similar aesthetic approach, a realistic and critical portrait of Spanish society at that time, in contrast to later generations who opted for more experimental literature.
Carmen Martín Gaite spoke on the television programme A Fondo, in and around 1981, of a before and an after in her writing style brought on by a refinement of her style crucial to the writing of her essay on Macanaz. Is her work previous to this still valid?
How interesting, I didn’t know that. But, of course, her previous work is still valid, to my eyes Entre visillos shows she had already acquired a definite personal style. I read it just a few years ago and I still think it’s wonderful, and the same goes for Retahilas, for example.
Some years after the aforementioned TV programme, Carmen lost her only daughter. Did this tragic loss also affect the style and subject matter of her writing?
That’s a good question, but I don’t know… In any case, don’t forget that she had already lost a son, who died just a few months after having been born. That provided the autobiographical basis for her short story “Lo que queda enterrado”, although, oddly enough, the protagonist in the story loses a baby girl, not a baby boy.
(I think the reason for that change is that the death of the baby girl in the story takes on a greater meaning: it represents the death of the little girl in the narrator, of her hopes and dreams).
You have mentioned before that very few women’s issues, such as pregnancy, are ever examined in literature. Which women’s issues did Carmen Martín Gaite explore in her work?
Lots of them: mother-daughter relationships, the profile of a housewife, feminine introspection, women’s various roles (comparing women who work outside the home, and those who don’t, for example), the creation of female characters rarely or never dealt with in literature (the “weird” girl, the artist etc.), the critical analysis of gender roles, inequality, the relationship between power and the lack of communication between the sexes…
What other subjects do you think still remain difficult to write about simply because they are never discussed in literature?
I think there are still subjects which are scandalously absent from literature because they are difficult to deal with, or could cause a backlash, and/or because they are associated with sub-culture (they are viewed as “women’s magazine” topics, and aren’t considered “serious”). For example, pregnancy, abortion, or the negative aspects of motherhood.
Are Ana Karenina, Madame Bovary, and La Regenta “real” women, or are they transvestite men who have tried unsuccessfully to reflect the interior world of women?
Ah, what a good question! When I read those novels, I had the feeling there was something the authors hadn’t quite captured, or weren’t aware of, something they didn’t manage to fully reflect. I didn’t feel they were able to construct characters as convincing or as complex as those by Carmen Martín Gaite, Virginia Woolf or Annie Ernaux.
But the difference is so subtle that it would be very difficult to pinpoint exactly. Perhaps it’s for the same reason that I never fully believe historic novels. If I’m interested in learning more about the 17th century, I would be more inclined to read Madame de Sévigné, for example.
How is the young Spanish woman from the ‘50s, the protagonist in “Entre Visillos”, different to the young woman from the ‘70s, the protagonist in “Adolescencia en Barcelona hacia 1970”?
The protagonist in Adolescencia… has had two or three times the luck of the young woman in Entre Visillos, to have been born in a more modern Spain (in terms of the era and the region, Catalonia), in a more cosmopolitan family, and to have studied in the French Lycée. All of those influences give her self-confidence, freedom, the ability to view things with a critical eye, and a clear ambition. She is more enterprising and more self-assured.
But what she does have in common with the protagonist in Entre visillos is a certain feeling of disorientation, that something isn’t right, but she can’t quite put her finger on what exactly.
(If truth be told, to answer the question properly I’d need to reread both books, because it’s not something I had ever thought of before. Thank you LMartín, for giving me so many ideas…)
The back cover of that same book reads: …an education ruled by the maxim “You must be ladies”. Are today’s young women in Spain still under pressure to be ladies, or have things become even more difficult for them, in that nothing is expected of young women any more, nor of young people in general?
I don’t know, to tell you the truth, because the only young woman I know well is my daughter, and I, along with her father, and her school (the French Lycée, cela va sans dire!), expect a great deal from her.
Is the biographical component also an important element in your other three novels “Último domingo en Londres”,”Amor o lo que sea” and “Entre amigas”?
Yes, absolutely. All my novels have an autobiographical core. I used to feel uncomfortable about that at the beginning, but not any more, for the following reasons:
1-Autobiographers are accused of having a lack of imagination, but I think I have proved that’s not the case with my books of short stories. Besides, it is possible to be a wonderful writer while not displaying much imagination (as with Proust, or Pla).
2- In revealing my life, I’m not revealing anything most people couldn’t relate to. My life is very similar to that of any other woman born in circumstances (generational, geographical, social etc.) similar to my own.
3- The autobiographical element is only the jumping-off point. It’s like the fabric from which I make a dress: first I have to cut out the pattern, sow it, add other materials and accessories, and so on. Multiple stories can be weaved from the one biography.
What happened with your first novel, “Último domingo en Londres”? Why was it such “an ordeal” to get published, given that you had already published your first book of short stories? Were you not able to convince Anagrama? I imagine they were your first choice.
That’s exactly it. I think it was a very ambitious (or complicated) novel for the little literary experience (or complete lack of, if we are talking specifically about novels) I had at the time.
Aside from that, I think that gender was something of a double-edged sword in the case of my initial success (Anagrama having published my first novel, given that I was unknown and that it was a book of short stories), in that, young women have a certain charisma and that affords them lots of opportunities… but then, when they are no longer so shiny and new, they are treated as “more of the same”…
I don’t think it’s a coincidence that so many female writers’ careers (I would interested in finding out if the same thing happened in other eras, and if it continues to happen in other fields, such as in politics, or painting) take off very early and with apparent ease, and then lose speed, or disappear completely, only to reappear (in some cases) years later, as the very same Carmen Martín Gaite, Carmen Laforet, Ana María Matute, Luisa Forrellad…
Regarding “Ladrona de rosas”, isn’t it a luxury to throw yourself into writing and publishing the biography of a Brazilian author who isn’t particularly well-known in Spain? How did the need, or the idea, to write this book come about?
It was all thanks to a happy coincidence. An editor (María Borrás, from La Esfera publishing house) contacted me to ask if I would be interested in writing an autobiography, which gave me the opportunity study a writer who had always intrigued and fascinated me, through her life as much as her work.
Is “Ladrona de rosas” to Laura Freixas what “Macanaz” was to Martín Gaite? Did the writing of this book change the way in which you approach your literary work?
I haven’t thought about that, but it has changed my approach to life, or rather, it has reaffirmed one thing, namely: for years I thought being a (part-time) housewife was a good way of being able to devote oneself to writing, without the pressures inherent in having to make a living from a career (be that literature or not).
Now, through my own experience, and also because I have seen it as clear as day in the case of Lispector, I think that is a very dangerous was of thinking, and which comes at a high price. Through her letters, we see that when she was living abroad, disconnected from what was happening in literary circles in her country, she was so distressed and depressed she had great difficulty writing. And she wrote her best works when she divorced, returned to Brazil and had to earn a living. Of course there are lots of factors at work there, but that doesn’t stop it being a fact.
“A glass ceiling prevents many women from being published”, those are your words. What can we do to break through this glass ceiling?
The first thing we can do is be aware of it, talk about it, analyse it, research the figures, to try to understand why and how it occurs… In my association “Clásicas y Modernas”, that’s precisely what we do.
In 2009, you relayed some striking facts produced by the Spanish Ministry of Culture: “women read more than men, the number of men and women who write literature is equal – 8% of the population – however, only 20% of literature published in Spain is by women”. Has anything changed since then?
Unfortunately not. And neither have I observed a greater awareness of the situation… except in the case of those involved: female writers, painters, composers, film directors… as evidenced by the creation of various associations of women within the world of the arts in recent years, such as CIMA (association of women in film and audiovisual industries), MAV (Women in the Visual Arts) and Clásicas y Modernas (association for gender equality in the arts).
Your mother’s passion for reading was, as far as I’m aware, what led you to read and to write, “to turn yourself into a book” so that your mother would pay more attention to you. What did you read at that age? Which was the book that seeded your love of literature?
My love of literature began even before I could read. Oddly, I don’t remember a particular title which marked me greatly until the great discovery I made at 19: Proust.
You were recently selected as one of the most representative authors of contemporary Spanish fantastic narrative. Proof of that is the inclusion of your short story “Final Absurdo” in the anthology of contemporary Spanish fantastic short stories “Perturbaciones, Antología del relato fantástico español actual” (Salto de Página, 2009).
What is your relationship with the fantastic genre? What is it that attracts you to it? How would you define today’s fantastic literature?
Well, I should confess that it’s a genre which interested me when I was younger, mainly as an influence of the Latin American boom, and now it doesn’t interest me so much…
Laura, I think men are more group-oriented than women, making it much more difficult for women to achieve important positions within society. I don’t understand why it is like that. What is your view on the subject?
You’re right, women are more fragmented, living their lives at home, not making as much use of public spaces, and tending to spend their time with family and friends more so than with colleagues or competitors.
That has to do with power: men play power games much more than we do, and that happens through men tending to relate mostly with other men, through negotiations and exchanges. As for women, I’m not sure whether it’s that we don’t know how to play those games, we’re not able to, or we don’t want to. And I think being excluded from that interplay, whatever the reason may be (which I honestly don’t know), is a price we pay dearly.
Do you think men and women write about different subjects in their work?
Although it may be rather brash of me to make sweeping generalisations, I do think there are certain areas which are dealt with more by male writers (for example, war) and others which are more common among female writers (for example, relationships between women: friends, mothers and daughters, sisters etc.).
I also think that female writers tend to construct female characters which are varied and complex, with interests and ambitions not solely focused on love, whereas male writers are inclined to present female characters purely as the lover, mother, or wife of the male character, rather than the protagonist of her own life.
Laura, a few months ago you were interviewed on the radio for the classical music programme “Juegos con espejo”, in which the person being interviewed picks their favourite music. You chose only foreign composers. Why were there no Spanish composers among your selection? Thank you.
Thank you for pointing that out, I hadn’t noticed.
It’s purely down to my musical ignorance. The little musical knowledge I have has been almost entirely handed down from my parents, who were both great fans of classical music. As far back as I can remember they would listen to Bach, Handel, Mozart, Schubert… I added more modern composers (Janacek, R. Strauss…), and apart from that, my friends influenced me as a teenager, by introducing me to Janis Joplin, for example.
Although, if truth be told, now that you mention it, I think that like many of my generation, I had certain anti-Spanish prejudices in my formative years, which carried over to my tastes in literature (I started to get out of that mind-set quite late, in the ‘90s, when I began reading the Spanish classics, of my own accord), and I suppose also in music.
Do you think that men and women’s roles in society are the same in every country? Thank you.
Not in the slightest. Fortunately so, for those of us who live in the West, which proves that gender roles are a social fabrication and may be modified.
Good afternoon, Laura. What does Carmen Martín Gaite’s “Caperucita en Manhattan” represent to you? Thank you very much.
Yikes, that’s one of the very few, perhaps the only, of her books I haven’t read… I’m sorry. I’ll make sure to read it.
Thank you to all of you for taking part.
Laura Freixas is our author of the month throughout the month of May.