Through the "I" of the Other: Cross-Gender Narration in Rodoreda's Quanta, Quanta Guerra

By Slagter, C. | Michigan Academician, Spring 2007 | Go to article overview

Through the "I" of the Other: Cross-Gender Narration in Rodoreda's Quanta, Quanta Guerra


Slagter, C., Michigan Academician


Merce Rodoreda published prolifically throughout her lifetime and is probably one of the best-known authors in the Catalan language. She won the prestigious Premi d'honor de les Lletres Catalanes (she is the first woman to have done so), and her novel La placa del Diamant has been translated into twenty languages. Nonetheless, Rodoreda remains a relatively unknown and under-appreciated author outside Catalonia. In recent years, however, there has been an increasing interest in and examination of her work both in Spain and in the United States. While in the period 1963-1980 the Modern Language Association bibliography records only three references to Rodoreda and an additional two references to La placa del Diamant, since 1980 there have been more than seventy articles and books published on her short stories and novels, including ten dissertations. (1)

Some of Rodoreda's new popularity is due to the increasing interest of American feminist literary critics in her work. Many of these critics have been intrigued by the role of the garden and of flowers in Rodoreda's fiction, relating them to the biblical Garden of Eden or to a time of childhood innocence and happiness. (2) Others have addressed her exploration of the complex problems of identity or her investigations into the issues of gender and sexuality. (3) Rodoreda has become equated with themes of isolation, exile, and otherness as well as a persistent examination of the place (or lack of it) of women in patriarchy. (4) Her protagonists frequently contend with an inability to express their thoughts and emotions and with a feeling of enclosure or entrapment.

Rodoreda's concern with narrative perspective is apparent early in her career and remains a constant in her fiction. Before the Spanish Civil War, she had already written five novels as well as a number of short stories. She later disowned all but one of the early novels, Aloma, which she extensively revised and republished. The second version alters the text from a first-person narration to a third-person narration, although the point of view is still restricted to that of the eponymous Aloma. (5) Two subsequent novels, La placa del Diamant and El carrer de les camelias (Camelia Street), are narrated in the first person by their female protagonists. A later novel, Mirall trencat (Broken Mirror), offers the reader a fractured view of the narrative action in keeping with the image of a broken mirror offered by the title. This novel is told from as many as thirteen different narrative perspectives, including that of a rat. Clearly, decisions about narrative voice and narrative perspective continue to be important to Rodoreda throughout her career.

Rodoreda also wrote two cross-gender narrated novels (6) published fourteen years apart: Jardi vora el mar (Garden by the Sea), a sentimental romance narrated by an aging, nameless gardener who tends the grounds of an estate near the sea, and Quanta, quanta guerra ... (So much, so much war ...), a quest-romance related by a young boy who leaves home to join a war and who subsequently roams the countryside encountering many different people, each with a unique story of pain and disillusionment. This study will concentrate on Quanta, quanta guerra ..., the later of the cross-gender narrated novels.

When she uses the guise of a male narrator, Rodoreda participates in a long tradition, marked in Spain by authors such as Maria de Zayas and Emilia Pardo Bazan. Pardo Bazan and Zayas often create male narrators who become objects of ridicule, or who betray their own ignorance, stupidity, or hypocrisy. Rodoreda, on the other hand, creates a generally congenial male narrator who, while endowed with some foibles, is not finally to be condemned or rejected by the reader. Indeed, her male narrators closely fit Gerald Prince's succinct definition of reliable narrators. For the most part, in both cases the "narrator [is] behaving in accordance with the implied author's norms" (80-81). …

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