Vicente Blasco Ibáñez

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Vicente Blasco Ibáñez
Blasco Ibañez.jpg
Born Vicente Blasco Ibáñez
(1867-01-29)29 January 1867
Valencia, Spain
Died 28 January 1928(1928-01-28) (aged 60)
Menton, France
Resting place Valencia Cemetery
Language Spanish
Nationality Spanish
Literary movement Realism
This name uses Spanish naming customs; the first or paternal family name is Blasco and the second or maternal family name is Ibáñez.

Vicente Blasco Ibáñez (29 January 1867 – 28 January 1928) was a journalist, politician and best-selling Spanish novelist in various genres whose most widespread and lasting fame in the English-speaking world is from Hollywood films adapted from his works.

Biography[edit]

He was born in Valencia. At university, he studied law and graduated in 1888 but never went into practice. He was more interested in politics, journalism, literature and women. He was a particular fan of Miguel de Cervantes.

In politics he was a militant Republican partisan in his youth and founded a newspaper, El Pueblo (translated as either The Town or The People) in his hometown. The newspaper aroused so much controversy that it was taken to court many times. In 1896, he was arrested and sentenced to a few months in prison. He made many enemies and was shot and almost killed in one dispute. The bullet was caught in the clasp of his belt. He had several stormy love affairs.

He volunteered as the proofreader for the novel Noli Me Tangere, in which the Filipino patriot José Rizal expressed his contempt of the Spanish colonization of the Philippines. He travelled to Argentina in 1909 where two new cities, Nueva Valencia and Cervantes, were created. He gave conferences on historical events and Spanish literature. Tired and disgusted with government failures and inaction, Vicente Blasco Ibáñez moved to Paris at the beginning of World War I.

He was a supporter of the Allies in World War I.

He died in Menton, France in 1928, the day before his 61st birthday, in the residence of Fontana Rosa (also named the House of Writers, dedicated to Miguel de Cervantes, Charles Dickens and Honoré de Balzac) that he built.

Writing career[edit]

His first published novel was “La araña negra” ('The Black Spider') in 1892, an immature work that he later repudiated – a study of the connections between a noble Spanish family and the Jesuits throughout the 19th century. It seems to have been a vehicle for him to express his anti-clerical views.

In 1894, he published his first mature work, a novel called “Arroz y tartana” ('Airs and Graces'). The story is about a widow in late 19th century Valencia trying to keep up appearances in order to marry her daughters well. His next books consist of detailed studies of aspects of rural life in the farmlands of Valencia – the so-called “huerta” that the Moorish invaders had created to grow crops such as rice, vegetables and oranges, with a carefully planned irrigation system in an otherwise arid landscape. The concern with depicting the details of this lifestyle qualifies Blasco Ibáñez as an example of Costumbrismo:

  • Flor de mayo (1895) ('Mayflower')
  • La Barraca (1898) [1] ('The Hut')
  • Entre naranjos (1900) Archived 25 October 2009 at WebCite ('Between Orange Trees')
  • Cañas y barro (1902) Archived 25 October 2009 at WebCite ('Reeds and Mud')

These works also show the influence of Naturalism which he would most likely have assimilated through reading Émile Zola. The characters in these works are determined by the interaction of heredity, environment and social conditions – race, milieu, et moment – and the novelist is acting as a kind of scientist, drawing out the influences that are acting upon them at any given moment. They are powerful works but are sometimes flawed by heavy-handed didactic elements. For example, in “La Barraca”, the narrator often preaches the need for these ignorant people to be better-educated. There is also a strong political element – he shows how destructive it is for these poor farm-workers to be fighting each other rather than uniting against their true oppressors – the Church and the land-owners. However, alongside the preaching, there are lyrical and highly detailed accounts of how the irrigation canals are managed and of the workings of the age-old “tribunal de las aguas” – a court composed of farmers that meets weekly close by Valencia Cathedral to decide which farm gets to receive water when and which also arbitrates on disputes on access to water. “Cañas y barro” is often adjudged the masterpiece of this phase of Blasco Ibáñez’s writings.

After that, his writing changed markedly. He left behind costumbrismo and Naturalism and began to set his novels in more cosmopolitan locations than the huerta of Valencia. His plots became more sensational and melodramatic. Academic criticism of him in the English-speaking world has largely ignored these works, although they form by far the majority of his published output – some 30 works. Some of these works attracted the attention of Hollywood studios and became the basis of celebrated films.

Prominent among these is Sangre y arena ('Blood and Sand') (1908), which follows the career of Juan Gallardo from his poor beginnings as a child in Seville, to his rise to celebrity as a matador in Madrid, where he falls under the spell of the seductive Doña Sol, which leads to his downfall. Ibáñez directed a 65-minute film version in 1917. There are three remakes made in 1922, 1941 and 1989, respectively.

His greatest personal success probably came from the novel Los cuatro jinetes del Apocalipsis (The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse) (1916), which tells a tangled tale of the French and German sons-in-law of an Argentinian land-owner who find themselves fighting on opposite sides in the First World War. When this was filmed by Rex Ingram in 1921, it became the vehicle that propelled Rudolph Valentino to stardom.

Rex Ingram also filmed Mare Nostrum – a spy story from 1918 - in 1926 as a vehicle for his wife Alice Terry at his MGM studio in Nice. Michael Powell claimed in his memoirs that he had his first experience of working in films on that production.

A further two Hollywood films can be singled out, as they were the first films that were made by Greta Garbo following her arrival at MGM in Hollywood –The Torrent (based on Entre naranjos from 1900), and The Temptress (derived from La Tierra de Todos from 1922).

Woman Triumphant, a translation of La maja desnuda by Vicente Blasco Ibáñez into English

Works[edit]

"La araña negra" (1892) volume I.

Notes[edit]

External links[edit]