Javier Marías dies, the giant ‘grouchy’ of Spanish literature

He said he wasn’t worried about posterity, but if there is an author who has taken the idea of ​​a work well done more seriously, the one that has more possibilities of transcending his time, it has been Javier Marías. He did not trust it very much, living as we do in a throwaway moment that reduces great prestige and reader consensus to nothing, as soon as the author disappeared. But there is no doubt that Javier Marías, who died this Sunday in Madrid at the age of 70 As a result of a lung condition that has kept him in a coma for a month, he is one of the authors destined to remain. The Nobel definitely eludes him, Alas, because this is only awarded to living authors but it was he (the other would be, without question, Enrique Vila-Matas) who had the most numbers in the grand prize pool, which says a lot about his ambition as a ‘great’ novelist (a very twentieth-century model that may now be obsolete for us, immersed as we are in the consciousness of the plurality of gender and races). The model to which a William Faulkner or a Vladimir Nabokov fit, to give examples of authors he greatly appreciated.

The ‘young’ Marias

Marías arrived on the literary scene as the ‘young Marías’ – that is what his friend and mentor called him. John Benet– to be differentiated from the ‘old man’, his father, Julián Marías, philosopher, academic and writer who used to goad his son with the question “And what else?” to force him to think. These two figures, Benet and the father, were fundamental in the construction of the author. The two were accompanied in both cases by a certain mark of not having been sufficiently recognized. That Spain did not treat them fairly was a habitual complaint by Javier Marías regarding his two ‘fathers’, the symbolic one, and the real one.

“The world is becoming more stupid & rdquor; he was a headline picked up by this newspaper in an interview that portrayed him as a ‘curmudgeon’

Perhaps the proverbial bitterness of Marías, who he always drew Spain as a debased place, Until refused the National Narrative Award, because he didn’t want any official award from his country. And that he could not complain about his own critical recognition and neither reader because his books reached millionaire sales. That discomfort colored much of his literature and especially his vitriolic articles in the press. “The world is becoming more stupid & rdquor; he was a headline picked up by this newspaper in an interview that portrayed him as a ‘grouchy’, a term that he ended up accepting without shame.

love for cinema

Marías, born in Madrid in 1951, was the youngest of five siblings, all boys, although the eldest, Juan, died at the age of three. His father, it has already been said, was fundamental in his personal growth, but also his mother, the cultivated Dolores Franco, teacher, writer and translator, who abandoned those vocations for the care of the family, as was done then, and indirectly contributed the most bohemian streak to the family tradition thanks to his uncle, the flamboyant director Jesús ‘Jess’ Franco and his cousin, the ill-fated Ricardo Franco, his cousin. The cinema, especially the classics, was one of the great loves of the author who used to wear a pin on his lapel that had belonged to Leslie Howard, protagonist of ‘The Scarlet Pimpernel’, one of his children’s readings.

He used to wear a lapel pin that had belonged to Leslie Howard, star of ‘The Scarlet Pimpernel’, one of his childhood readings.

Imprisoned during the civil war, the father, Julián Marías, disciple of Ortega y Gasset, He had to move to the United States with his family where he taught at Wesllesey College in Massachusetts. There they stayed in Jorge Guillén’s apartment, whose neighbor was Vladimir Nabokov, who would eventually become one of Javier’s literary models, perpetually fascinated by Anglo-Saxon letters. Before turning 21, Marías had already written two novels, ‘Los dominios de lobo’ (1971) and Travesía del horizon (1973), which he would come to consider mere youthful whims. Dissatisfied, he took six long years to publish again, while he was studying at the Complutense University of Madrid and preparing for the challenge of writing “more wisely & rdquor; translating classics such as William Faulkner, Wallace Stevens, John Ashbery and especially that masterpiece of translation that is his version of ‘Tristam Shandy’, by Laurence Sterne.

hatching in the 90s

The great deployment of Marías, both creatively and in its dissemination, is made possible thanks to the novel ‘All souls’ (1989), an autofictional story and a satire about university life in Oxford, which he knew well because he taught there. In ‘All Souls’ he brought to light and popularized the figure of the obscure writer John Gawsworth, heir to the Kingdom of Redonda, a small Caribbean island. Marías would in turn inherit the honorary title, which would hardly serve him as editor to create a collection that rescues rare titles of his choice with little editorial luck, create an award and distribute noble titles among writers and artists such as Pedro Almódovar, Eric Rohmer, Francis Ford Coppola, JM Coetzee, Alice Munro or Umberto Eco. Interestingly, Marías was never tempted to personally meet the desert islet where he reigned.

He was king of Redonda, an islet of Antigua and Barbuda, and distributed noble titles among writers and artists

The 90s contemplate the consolidation of the author with ‘Heart so white’ (1992) that places him as one of the greats of Spanish letters. It is impossible to forget the shocking beginning of that novel. It is followed by the also very successful ‘Tomorrow in battle think of me’ (1994), another of the titles that come from Shakespeare and four years later, ‘Black back of time’.

father’s death

Already in the 21st century, the death of his father at 91 led him to finally accept a chair at the Royal Academy – he did not do so out of respect for his father – and tackle, as a tribute to him, one of his most ambitious works , the digressive trilogy ‘Your face tomorrow’ (2002 -2007), actually a single novel of 1,500 pages divided into three installments, with which he returns to the Oxford stage. It is one of the most demanding works of his and a true Everest reader.

Far from losing touch with the public, his latest novels ‘The crushes’ (2011), ‘Berta Isla’ (2017) and ‘Tomás Nevinson’ (2021), represent a return to the popular connection he had in the 90s. They once again revolved around their favorite themes: love -more cerebral than consummate-, betrayal and the difficulty of knowing your neighbor, be it someone distant or your own partner. The writer never got married, but in the last 20 years he did have a stable relationship, albeit at a distance, with his partner, Carmen López Mercader. About the impossibility of establishing a relationship, let’s say, more conventional, he spoke in this newspaper: “For many years I thought that I had not married because I always fell in love with people with problems who were already married. Other times it happened that they lived not in other cities but in other countries, and it was very difficult for one or the other to abandon everything to move. On other occasions, there was a previous boyfriend and the woman had many doubts. Then there came a time when I began to suspect that all this had nothing to do with chance and yes with my way of being”.

Related news