Ayala, Francisco

Ayala, Francisco
b. 1906, Granada
   A master stylist and an astute observer of human society, Ayala has won international recognition as a novelist, short story writer, and essayist, as well as a sociologist and social critic. He has received all of Spain's major prizes, including the 1972 Critics" Prize, the 1983 National Prize for Literature, the 1988 National Prize for Spanish Letters, and in 1991 Spain's most prestigious award, the Cervantes Prize. Election to the Royal Academy of Language in 1983 confirmed him as one of Spain's leading intellectuals. Since making Madrid his primary residence in 1980, he has contributed frequent essays on contemporary social issues to Spanish newspapers.
   A native of Granada, Ayala became part of the literary vanguard of the late 1920s, when Spain was opening up to intellectual currents from across Europe, especially Germany, where he spent the year 1930. His earliest writings are two collections of short, experimental fiction, El boxeador y un ángel (The Boxer and an Angel) (1929) and Cazador en el alba (Hunter in the Dawn) (1930), marked by verbal experimentation and cinematographic techniques. Since his first novel in 1925, written while he was a law student in Madrid, he has written in a wide range of genres, including prose narrative, criticism, translation theory, sociology, cultural history and autobiography. In all these genres, he displays wide verbal scope, rhetorical authority and ironic vision.
   A law professor at the University of Madrid when the Civil War began, Ayala served in the Republican government's Foreign Office. He left Spain just before Franco's victory in 1939, teaching first sociology and later Spanish literature at universities in Buenos Aires, Puerto Rico, and ultimately the United States. Although he made his first return visit to Spain in 1960, recording his impressions of post-war conditions in España a la fecha (Today's Spain), he continued to live and teach abroad. He discussed Spain again in a 1985 series of lectures, published as La imagen de España (The Image of Spain), which analyses the changes and continuities in the post-Franco era. In the mid-1940s, Ayala began writing fiction again in Buenos Aires, where he knew such seminal figures as Jorge Luis Borges. Ayala's first post-war short story, "El hechizado" (The Bewitched), which Borges considered one of the best in Hispanic literature, was included in the first of two collections published in 1949, Usurpers (Los usurpadores). Usurpers explores the abuse of power through the imaginative recreation of episodes from Spanish history. The second volume, La cabeza del cordero (The Lamb's Head), contains stories of fraternal conflict set in the context of the Civil War. Ayala's only full-length novels are two interrelated volumes, the 1958 Death As a Way of Life (Muertes de perro) and the 1962 El fondo del vaso (The Bottom of the Glass). Both examine the excesses and absurdities of political power in a Latin American dictatorship. He also founded two important literary magazines, Realidad in Buenos Aires and later La Tone in Puerto Rico. During these years, Ayala published numerous volumes on politics and sociology, including a frequently reissued textbook, Tratado de sociología (Treatise on Sociology). His later volumes of short fiction continue his experimentation with narrative form and blur the boundaries between story, sketch, satire, essay, and autobiography. His ironic and at times acerbic view of contemporary life remains a constant in his 1955 Historia de macacos (Monkey Stories), his 1966 De raptos, violaciones y otras inconveniencias (On Abduc-tions, Rapes and Other Inconveniences), and his 1971 El jardín de las delicias (The Garden of Delights). Ayala's complete prose narratives appeared in a single volume in 1969 in Mexico, since Spanish censorship still prohibited publication of his civil-war stories, La cabeza del cordero. Not until 1993 did Spain bring out his Narrativa completa (Complete Narratives).
   A perceptive literary critic, Ayala was one of the first Spanish critics to analyse texts in terms of their narrative structure. In 1970 he wrote an influential early narratological study, Reflexiones sobre la estructura narrativa (Reflections on Narrative Structure), that helped ground Spanish criticism in a close reading of literary texts and give it a theoretical base. He himself has written penetrating analyses of the masterpieces of Spanish literature from the renaissance to the twentieth century.
   In the 1980s Ayala brought out his threevolume memoirs, Recuerdos y olvidos (Recollections and Omissions). These superb vignettes together make up a fragmented autobiography that is by turns nostalgic and satirical. His observations on intellectual life on three continents exhibit his sharp eye for detail, and his engaging ironic style. The memoirs offer a portrait of Spain over nearly eight decades with intimate (and at times unflattering) glimpses of some of the country's best-known literary personalities. Since his return to Spain in 1980, Ayala has been appreciated as an astute social observer and one of Spain's most accomplished living writers. Although the Civil War is a central metaphor of his fiction, his writing transcends historical and cultural specificity to offer a dispassionate and yet morally grounded meditation on human foibles and corruption. The pleasure of reading Ayala lies in the intelligence of his vision, his masterful control of narrative, the richness of his language, and his dark humour.
   Major works
   - Ayala, F. (1930) Cazador en el alba, Madrid: Ulises (short fiction).
   —— (1949) Los usurpadores, Buenos Aires: Sudamericana (short stories); trans. C.Richmond, Usurpers, New York: Penguin, 1996.
   —— (1949) La cabeza del cordero, Buenos Aires: Losada (short stories).
   —— (1955) Historia de macacos, Madrid: Revista de Occidente (short stories).
   —— (1958) Muertes de perro, Buenos Aires: Sudamericana; trans. J.MacLean, Death as a Way of Life, New York: Macmillan, 1964; London: Michael Joseph, 1965 (novel).
   —— (1965) España a la fecha, Buenos Aires: Sur (an essay on a returning exile's impressions of Franco's Spain).
   —— (1966) De raptos, violaciones y otras inconveniencias, Madrid: Alfaguara (short fiction).
   —— (1971) El jardín de las delicias, Barcelona: Seix- Barral (short fiction).
   —— (1972) Los ensayos. Teoría y crítica literaria, Madrid: Aguilar (a compilation of Ayala's earlier volumes of literary theory and criticism).
   —— (1982–91) Recuerdos y olvidos, 3 vols, Madrid: Alianza (autobiographical sketches).
   —— (1986) La imagen de España, Madrid: Alianza (a collection of lectures on continuity and change in post-Franco Spain).
   —— (1990) El escritor y su siglo, Madrid: Alianza (a compilation of Ayala's essays on the novel, literary theory and literature).
   —— (1993) Narrativa completa, Madrid: Alianza (complete works of fiction).
   Further reading
   - Bieder, M. (1979) Narrative Perspective in the Post- Civil War Novels of Francisco Ayala, Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina (a very readable analysis of narrative strategy, irony and the role of the reader in Muertes de perro and El fondo del vaso).
   - Ellis, K. (1964). El arte narrativo de Francisco Ayala, Madrid: Gredos (an excellent introduction to Ayala's fiction).
   - Irizarry, E. (1977) Francisco Ayala, Boston, MA: Twayne (a well-written, perceptive overview of Ayala's life and writing).
   - Mermall, T. (1983) Las alegorías del poder en Francisco Ayala, Madrid: Fundamentos (a philosophical approach to Ayala's recurring preoccupation with structures of power in his fiction and essays).

Encyclopedia of contemporary Spanish culture. 2013.

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