Authors: Juan Benet

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

Spanish novelist, short-story writer, and essayist

Author Works

Long Fiction:

Volverás a Región, 1967 (Return to Región, 1985)

Una meditación, 1970 (A Meditation, 1982)

Una tumba, 1971 (novella)

Un viaje de invierno, 1972

La otra casa de Mazón, 1973

En el estado, 1977

Del pozo y del Numa: Un ensayo y una leyenda, 1978 (novella)

El aire de un crimen, 1980

Saúl ante Samuel, 1980

Herrumbrosas lanzas, I-VI, 1983

En la penumbra, 1983 (novella)

El caballero de Sajonia, 1991 (novella)

Short Fiction:

Nunca llegarás a nada, 1961

Cinco narraciones y dos fábulas, 1972

Sub rosa, 1973

Cuentos completos, 1977

Trece fábulas y media, 1981

Una tumba y otros relatos, 1981

Drama:

Max, pb. 1953

Agonía confutans, pb. 1969

Teatro, pb. 1970 (includes Anastas: O, El origen de la constitución, Agonía confutans, and Un caso de conciencia)

Nonfiction:

La inspiración y el estilo, 1965

Puerta de tierra, 1970

El ángel del Señor abandona a Tobías, 1976

En ciernes, 1976

¿Qué fue la guerra civil?, 1976

La moviola de Eurípides, 1982

Articulos, 1962-1977, 1983

Sobre la incertidumbre, 1983

Cartografía personal, 1997

La sombra de la guerra, 1999

Translation:

A este lado del Paraiso, 1968 (of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s novel This Side of Paradise)

Biography

Novelist and essayist Juan Benet (buh-NEHT) was one of the leading figures in what has been termed the “New Wave” of Spanish literature. Benet, whose full name was Juan Benet Goitia, was born in Madrid in 1927, the son of Tomas Benet and Teresa Goitia. Benet’s childhood was dramatically affected by the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War in 1936. His father was killed early in the conflict. His family left Madrid and settled for the duration of the war in San Sebastian, where Benet began his education. After the war’s end, Benet returned with his family to Madrid, where he continued his studies and in 1948 enrolled in the University of Madrid’s School of Civil Engineering.{$I[AN]9810001328}{$I[A]Benet, Juan}{$S[A]Goitia, Juan Benet;Benet, Juan}{$I[geo]SPAIN;Benet, Juan}{$I[tim]1927;Benet, Juan}

Throughout his youth, Benet’s older brother, Francisco, was an important shaper of the future author’s literary tastes, recommending books and encouraging Benet’s pursuit of a personal literary education to complement his university studies in engineering. Among those writers whose works would later have a profound influence on Benet’s own were William Faulkner, Franz Kafka, Marcel Proust, Thomas Mann, and Herman Melville. As a university student, Benet moved in circles that included many of Spain’s leading young writers and intellectuals, and his own literary career began in 1953 with the publication of his short play Max.

Benet graduated from the University of Madrid in 1954. He then moved to the northwest of Spain, where he remained until 1966 as a director of public works. The area of Spain in which he lived during those years became the inspiration for Región, the mythical setting of the majority of Benet’s novels. Often compared with Faulkner’s Yoknapatawpha County, Región has been described as a microcosm of Spain and Spanish society at the time of the civil war, with overtones of the decadence that would follow the war under Francisco Franco’s rule.

The first of Benet’s works set in Región is a collection of short stories. Published in 1961, Nunca llegarás a nada (you will never get anywhere) introduces Región and its inhabitants and establishes the themes and literary style that would inform Benet’s later work. The year after Benet left northern Spain for Madrid, the first of the Región novels, Return to Región, appeared. A difficult and enigmatic work now acclaimed as perhaps his finest book, Return to Región examines the legacy of the Civil War in modern Spain. Not widely read when it first appeared, the book benefited from the broad critical acclaim that greeted Benet’s second Región novel, A Meditation, which received the Seix Barral Prize.

Both novels demonstrate the complex use of language and literary allusions that have become the hallmarks of Benet’s work. Like Faulkner’s style, Benet’s is characterized by sentences that often continue for pages, imagery rich in references to a wide range of classical and modern authors, and an obsession with the dual themes of time and memory. Benet followed A Meditation with Una tumba (a tomb), a novella cast in the mold of the ghost story, and Un viaje de invierno (a winter journey) and La otra casa de Mazón (the Mazón’s other house), the third and fourth entries in the Región series.

Benet was also acclaimed for his short fiction, and in the early 1970’s he published Cinco narraciones y dos fábulas (five narratives and two fables) and Sub rosa, followed in 1977 by his fifth novel, En el estado (in the state). A two-volume collection of stories, Cuentos completos (complete stories), appeared that same year, followed in 1978 by Del pozo y del Numa: Un ensayo y una leyenda (of the well and of Numa: an essay and a legend), which contains a novella centered on El Numa, a character from Return to Región.

Benet also earned a reputation as one of Spain’s foremost essayists, publishing several collections of literary and social criticism. Among the most important are La inspiración y el estilo (inspiration and style), El ángel del Señor abandona a Tobías (the angel of the Lord abandons Tobit), La moviola de Eurípides (Euripides’ replay machine), ¿Qué fue la guerra civil? (what was the civil war?), and Articulos, 1962-1977 (articles, 1962-1977).

Saúl ante Samuel (Saul before Samuel), published in 1980, continued the Región series, while El aire de un crimen (air of a crime) represented a departure by Benet from his usual, inaccessible style–a fact that won for its author a host of new readers. These novels were followed by two collections of short stories, Trece fábulas y media (thirteen and a half fables) and Una tumba y otros relatos (a tomb and other tales), a novella entitled En la penumbra (in the shadow), and the beginning of a multivolume series, Herrumbrosas lanzas, I-VI (rusty lances), which won Spain’s prestigious Premio de la Critica award in 1984. Also set in Región at the time of the Civil War, the novels in that series are written in the more accessible style that marks El aire de un crimen and seemed certain to enhance Benet’s reputation as one of Spain’s most important literary figures. His career was cut short, however, when he died of cancer in 1993 at the age of sixty-five.

BibliographyCabrera, Vincente. Juan Benet. Boston: Twayne, 1984. Good introductory study examines Benet’s works as a whole, including his novels.Compitello, Malcolm Alan. Ordering the Evidence: “Volverás a Región” and Civil War Fiction. Barcelona: Puvill Libros, 1983. Illuminates the historical aspects of Return to Región in terms of the Spanish Civil War.Ferrán, Ofelia. Working Through Memory: Writing and Remembrance in Contemporary Spanish Narrative. Lewisburg, Pa.: Bucknell University Press, 2007. Benet’s novels are among those analyzed in a study of Spanish literature published from the 1960’s through the 1990’s. Demonstrates how these novels explore present memory as a way for Spaniards to recover from the traumatic and repressive past of the Spanish Civil War and the regime of Francisco Franco.Herzberger, David K. “Narrating the Past: History and the Novel of Memory in Postwar Spain.” PMLA 106 (January, 1991). Significant English-language article.Herzberger, David K. The Novelistic World of Juan Benet. Clear Creek, Ind.: American Hispanist, 1976. Analyzes Benet’s novels by examining them in the light of the author’s own theories.Manteiga, Roberto C., David K. Herzberger, and Malcolm Alan Compitello, eds. Critical Approaches to the Writings of Juan Benet. Hanover, N.H.: University Press of New England, 1984. Collection of critical essays on Benet’s work includes a foreword in which the author explains his works in an international context.Margenot, John B., III. “Character Questing in Juan Benet’s Volverás a Región.” Modern Language Studies 19, no. 3 (Summer, 1989): 52-62. Analyzes the novel in terms of a mythical quest by its characters, focusing on the characters’ physical movement to Región as well as their psychological exploration through time and memory.Margenot, John B., III, ed. Juan Benet: A Critical Reappraisal of His Fiction. West Cornwall, Conn.: Locust Hill Press, 1997. Collection of essays aims to reevaluate Benet’s work from the perspective of the late twentieth century. Includes bibliographical references and index.Rodríguez, Joe. “Reason, Desire, and Language: Reading Juan Benet’s Trilogy as a Relational Totality.” Bulletin of Spanish Studies 83, no. 2 (March, 2006): 241-263. Focuses on three of Benet’s novels–Return to Región, A Meditation, and Un viaje de invierno–describing their narrative techniques and their relationships to one another.Turner, Harriet, and Adelaida López de Martínez, eds. The Cambridge Companion to the Spanish Novel: From 1600 to the Present. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2003. Collection of essays tracing the development of the Spanish novel includes a discussion of Benet’s novels Return to Regíon, A Meditation, and Saúl ante Samuel, among others.Walkowiak, Marzena M. A Study of the Narrative Structure of “Una meditación” by Juan Benet. Lewiston, N.Y.: Edwin Mellen Press, 2000. In-depth study of A Meditation explains the novel’s complex world by exploring its narrative structure and plot, the role of its characters, the narrator’s point of view, and its treatment of time and space. Places the book within the context of post-World War II political and literary developments within Spain.
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