Matute, Ana María

Matute, Ana María
b. 1926, Barcelona
   Interviews by Matute during the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s reiterate the significance of childhood experiences of the Civil War and her own marginal, outsider status. Both profoundly mark her writings, producing pervasive feelings of alienation, solitude and melancholy. Matute's family owned a factory in Barcelona but resided alternately between Madrid and Barcelona for business reasons; consequently, she recalls always being "from elsewhere": Catalan in Madrid, Castilian in Barcelona. Her maternal grandpar-ents" mountain estate in Old Castile bordered La Rioja, Logroño and Navarre, near the village of Mansilla de la Sierra ("Hegroz" and "Artámila" in her fictions) and in this remote, rugged, primitive area, Matute enjoyed her childhood summers. When eight years old, convalescing from a near-fatal illness, she spent a year here, attending the one-room country school with the barefoot children of tenant farmers. Spain's cultural and economic contrasts imprinted themselves indelibly upon her sensibility, awakening the socio-political conscience that characterizes her writings. The Civil War, erupting just before her tenth birthday, trapped the family in Barcelona for the duration. With schools closed and many former teachers (nuns and priests) executed or in hiding, Matute, her siblings and young cousins remained indoors behind closed shutters, hearing the sounds of fighting in the streets, taking shelter during bombardments, frequently witnessing atrocities when allowed to venture forth. Her father's factory was "nationalized" (appropriated by the Popular Front) and their home occupied by militia during the social revolution which accompanied the war in Barcelona. Adolescent experiences of class conflict taught Matute the arbitrary nature of social values and structures, inspiring lifelong commitment to social justice. Further insights appear in A la mitad del camino (Halfway Down the Road) (1961), El río (The River), and Historias de la Artámila (Tales of Artámila).
   Los Abel (The Abel Family) (1948) introduces for the first time a theme which was to reappear in several of Matute's works: fratricidal strife, articulated through a reworking of the biblical myth of Cain and Abel, an emblem of the Civil War for Matute and many other writers. Years after the Abel siblings mysteriously disappeared, an acquaintance discovers evidence of internecine rivalries for lands and loves, motifs reiterated in Matute's monumental masterpiece, Los hijos muertos (The Dead Children), winner of the Critics" Prize for the best novel of 1958, and of the 1959 Miguel de Cervantes National Literary Prize. In these works, as in Fiesta al noroeste (Celebration in the Northwest) (1952)—sombre, dark chronicles of the decadence and downfall of rural gentry—Matute explores the underlying causes of the Civil War: socio-economic exploitation, abuse, indifference by powerful landholders to the welfare and rights of the poor, tenants and day-labourers. Updating the myth of Cain and Abel, Matute creates characters not only symbolic of social conditions and political ideologies but solitary and alienated individuals, frustrated by hostile environments and their own weaknesses. Unlike many post-war neo-realists, Matute conveys her social criticism not through impassive objectivity, but through a combination of lyricism, occasional pathos, interior monologue with its psychological insights, moments of intense drama, occasional surprise endings and sudden, sometimes grotesque violence.
   Matute's short stories contain similar themes: El tiempo (Time) (1957), El arrepentido (The Repentant One) (1961), and Historias de la Artámila (Tales of Artamila) (1961) treat primarily lowerclass characters, victimized by poverty, exploitation and indifference, or depict the loneliness of the old, the deformed, the ugly or timid. Another pervasive theme involves the private worlds of children and adolescents, their fantasies, disillusionments, and occasionally cruel adaptations: Los niños tontos (The Stupid Children) (1956), termed by Camilo José Cela the most important book by a woman since Emilia Pardo Bazán, sensitively paints fantasy sketches of children who the, mature, or otherwise escape harsh reality, while Libro de juegos para los niños de los otros (Book of Games for Others" Children) (1961), undisguised social criticism, combines essay and short story modes. These sketches, which are neither about games nor intended for children, depict fantasy outlets for repressed resentment, class hatred and deprivation. Matute also cultivates juvenile fiction, writing Anderseninspired fairy tales for younger children, plus novels of passage such as Paulina, el mundo y las estrellas (Pauline, the World and Stars) (1960) and El polizón del "Ulises" (The Cabinboy of the "Ulysses") (1962) intended for adolescents. Tres y un sueño (Three (Fantasies) and One Dream) (1961) paints three people's private fantasy worlds filled with fairy-tale elements, while El no (The River) (1963) nostalgically evokes childhood experiences following the submerging of Mansilla de la Sierra beneath a reservoir.
   For some critics, Matute's crowning achievement is her trilogy Los mercaderes (The Merchants), comprising Primera memoria (First Memoir, winner of the Nadal Prize) (1960), Los soldados lloran de noche (Soldiers Cry by Night) (1964); and La trampa (Trap) (1969), which re-examines conservative class structures and political caciquismo (bossism) as root causes of Spain's civil conflict. These independent novels, spanning some three decades, reiterate themes of betrayal, loss of innocence, idealism versus materialism, solitude, disillusionment, self-sacrifice, and the (usually evil) power of entrenched position, hereditary wealth, and the past. Biblical symbols and the modernized Cain and Abel myth blend with sordid adult sexuality as young idealists encounter repeated disillusionment. Matute's last significant work, La tone vigía (The Watchtower) (1971), an apocalyptic work in the style of the chivalric romance, depicts the death or frustration of youthful idealism, desolation and resignation. In Olvidado Rey Gudú, another millenial and apocalyptic, neo-chivalric chronicle, Matute continues many many themes of La torre vigía but adds fairy-tale motifs and characters and one of her most intriguing heroines. This dynastic chronicle, some four times the length of its predecessor, emphasizes the mindless cruelty of war, subtly drawing parallels between the close of the first millennium and the second. During the 1960s Matute ranked among Spain's most prominent novelists, being selected as one of five representative writers (and sole woman) required by the "Advanced Placement" Spanish programme in US secondary schools.
   Declining health and changing post-Franco aesthetics brought problems with publishers, with novels announced, then withdrawn. While any comeback to prominence seems unlikely, Matute continues among the most artistic and admired of the mid-century "social realists". In January 1998 Matute became a member of the Royal Academy.
   Major works
   Matute, A.M. (1948) Los Abel, Barcelona: Ediciones Destino (novel).
   —— (1952) Fiesta al noroeste, Barcelona: Pareja y Borrás (novelette).
   —— (1956) Los niños tontos, Madrid: Ediciones Arión (stories).
   —— (1958) Los hijos muertos, Barcelona: Editorial Planeta (novel).
   —— (1960) Primera memoria, Barcelona: Ediciones Destino; trans. J.Mason, Awakening, London: Hutchinson, 1963; also trans. E.Kerrigan, School of the Sun, New York: Pantheon Books, 1963 (novel).
   —— (1961) El arrepentido, Barcelona: Editorial Rocas (stories).
   —— (1961) Historias de la Artámila, Barcelona: Ediciones Destino (stories).
   —— (1963) El río, Barcelona: Editorial Argos (sketches).
   —— (1964) Los soldados lloran de noche, Barcelona: Ediciones Destino; trans. R.Nugent and M.J. de la Cámara, Soldiers Cry by Night, Pittsburgh, PA: Latin American Literary Review Press, 1995 (novel).
   —— (1968) Algunos muchachos, Barcelona: Ediciones Destino (stories).
   —— (1969) La trampa, Barcelona: Ediciones Destino (novel).
   —— (1971) La torre vigía, Barcelona: Editorial Lumen (novel).
   Further reading
   - Díaz, J. (1971) Ana María Matute, New York: Twayne (a biobibliographical study analysing all works except La trampa).
   - Jones, M.E.W. (1970) The World of Ana María Matute, Lexington, KY: University of Kentucky Press (an excellent study of biblical allusions, childhood and adolescence, and stylistic devices).
   - Pérez, J. (1991) "The Fictional World of Ana María Matute: Solitude, Injustice and Dreams", in J. Lipman Brown (ed.) Women Writers of Contemporary Spain, Newark, DE: University of Delaware Press, pp. 93–115 (analysis of motifs listed, paying special attention to La torre vigía).
   - Roy, J (ed.) (1993) The Literary World of Ana María Matute, Miami: Iberian Studies Institute (contains four essays).
   - Thomas, M.D. (1978) " The Rite of Initiation in Matute's Primera memoria", Kentucky Romance Quarterly 25, 2: 153–64.

Encyclopedia of contemporary Spanish culture. 2013.

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