Author: Miquel Llor
- Eduvaula 62
- ISBN: 9788492672721
- Release Date: 12-04-2012
-Reviewed by: Maria Julia Rossi
Laura a la ciutat dels sants could be described as a complex overview of the life of a Spanish small town during the first decades of the twentieth century, as an intense exploration of female individuality subjected to social pressures, or as a troupe of types in the theatre of life in that small town during that period of time… and it is fair to say that it is all these things at the same time. Historical interest is its main asset, as it is clearly explain in a very clear introduction by Lluïsa Julià, where many important aspects can be found: the scandal its publication provoked in Spain in 1930, literary and social standards during that time, what was expected from a woman, differences between life in big cities and small towns, among many other similar aspects. In this novel—similar in a way to Madame Bovary—a woman, Laura, becomes the excuse to explore the female soul in contexts of moral constraints.
The novel, which combines aspects of social realism with French naturalism, narrates the story of Laura, a naïve but intelligent woman from Barcelona, who married Tomàs de Muntanyola, a very important and rich character from the small town of Comarquinal. After their wedding, Laura moved to the small town and the first part of the novel revolves around her adaptation to this new life and a very complex construction of the social and human landscape that surrounded her. The literary fabric that composes this first part reveals gossips, prejudices and religious as fundamental components of life in this small town, metaphorically covered in fog all the time. Principles of behavior are socially ruled and characters are defined by their acceptance or dissent of them. In this vein, Teresa (Tomàs’s sister) is the main example of reinforcement of the existing rules and is presented as a bitter woman who embraces religious and social precepts even against her own feelings; Beatriz, “the poor cousin,” is revealed as a suffering soul oppressed by economical and social differences; men are presented according to their social status and anecdotes that reflect materializations of their ideologies. By the end of the first part, Laura was almost accustomed to life in Comarquinal until she discovered she was pregnant, she had a baby girl—not very well received by her husband, his family or the town, due to the fact that they expected a boy to be the heir—and then the baby died (all these within a couple of pages). Laura became disenchanted of everything: life in general and her marriage in particular, until she met another man, Pere (in the last line of the first part).
The second part consists of Laura discovering her real feelings thanks to Pere, a friend of the family who also had feelings for her. A very discreet and decorous relationship developed between them but that was much more than Laura had ever felt for her husband. Teresa, the strict sister in law, was also in love with Pere and this situation, combined with the fact that she was an expert at hiding her feelings since she was a child, led her to discover the lovers’ feelings before they discovered it themselves. Teresa planned a slow and calculated revenge, which ended up by hurting them all, based upon external humiliation and social condemnation. In the end, Laura run away from the hell Comarquinal turned out for her, and returned to Barcelona. Contrasts between feelings and appearances are the core of this part: not only regarding Laura and Pere, but also in explorations of complex psyches such as Teresa’s, whose meanness is not but resentment and hurt feelings. Complexity is key here—as it happens with most characters—to disentangle her apparently simple personality: her education, in an oppressive context, led her to unbearable sufferings that turned her to be as strict and unfriendly as she is.
Miquel Llor conceived several devices, mostly determined by the epoch, to supplant the essential lack of action in this novel: deep exploration of personalities, contrasts between feelings and expectations, interior life and social behaviors, detailed anecdotes with figurative meanings. Ideologies are the main protagonists in this unhurried and intricate novel, and characters serve the purposes of embodying them. The main interest of this novel is, then, a historical exploration of a zeitgeist whose components include religious beliefs, moral rules and mainly gender constraints. In this sense, it could be of interest for a publishing house interested in non-canonical literary history or feminist presses, interested in different representation of feminine characters in diverse contexts. Reading activities complement this edition, also by Julià, demonstrating the critical interest of this book as an important object of study regarding Catalonian literature and culture.