Posted by: Lisa Hill | November 21, 2017

The September Revolution, by Narcís Oller, translated by Gregory López de Górgolas

I bought this short story by Narcís Oller (1846-1930) after reading about him in Spanish Literature, a Very Short Introduction by Jo Labanyi.  I actually wanted Gold Fever (La febra d’or) but couldn’t find it in English, so I settled for The September Revolution (La Revolució de Setembre) instead.

It’s only about 6000 words, but it’s powerful stuff.  The story is narrated by a youthful idealist who’s captivated by the idea of a revolution but events force his disenchantment.  At first (because by the time I came to read the story, I’d forgotten Oller’s date of death, 1930) I thought I was reading about the Spanish Revolution of 1936, the one that was the catalyst for the Civil War, and when it dawned on me (via harness bells, coaches and carriages) that I was reading about a revolution in the 19th century, I had to find out more about it.

Wikipedia  to the rescue!

The Glorious Revolution (Spanish: La Gloriosa or Sexenio Democrático) took place in Spain in 1868, resulting in the deposition of Queen Isabella II. Leaders of the revolution eventually recruited an Italian prince, Amadeo of Savoy, as king. His reign lasted two years, and he was replaced by the first Spanish Republic. That also lasted two years, until leaders in 1875 proclaimed Isabella’s son, as King Alfonso XII in the Bourbon Restoration.[Page viewed 21/11/17, lightly edited to remove their excessive links].

I gather that the impetus to remove Queen Isabella had more to do with disputing her rule because she was a woman than because of a desire for democracy…

However, the young narrator is an idealist:

My family’s liberal mentality, the generosity of feeling we all had in our early youth, theories picked up in the classroom, readings that privately nourished me, and the very air we breathed in academies and student centres had made a steadfast democrat of me. I couldn’t have been even twenty years old, and it had already been at least four [years] since I’d been getting into constant arguments with my uncle, a prototypical progressive,[1] a very well educated man, unusually knowledgeable, and endowed with extraordinary clairvoyance. (Kindle Location 13-18)
[1]: his uncle is a member of the ‘Progressive Party’, i.e. a moderate, but supporting Queen Isabella.

He delineates the difference between his defence of the democratic credo and his uncle’s gradualist dogma.

I would say that the individual has natural, inalienable rights, rights not subject to legislation. He, that natural rights are limited by those that, for its part, society has, and hence the absurdity of the theory of individualism.

I, that one of the rights the State should never trample on is that of free association. He, that freedom of association would fill Spain with monasteries and workmen’s associations run in bad faith by a handful of pilferers, creating nothing but disturbances and threats to the progress of a poor and backward country like ours.

I, that the middle class (the backbone of the country, as people, in a tone of praise, called it then) would suffice to stand up to monks and workmen and keep them in their place. He, that the middle class, still overly occupied consolidating its foundations and with little experience of the insidious struggles of politics, would lack the cohesiveness, foresight, leaders, and shrewdness to act as a counterweight to the enemies of its progress.

I, that freedom of speech, that freedom of assembly. . . . He, that that right, freely exercised, would benefit only revolutionaries of the two extremes, agitators, and the usual parasites; not at all the real patriots.

I, that universal suffrage. He, that, exercised in good faith, it would bring us Charles VII on account of the clergy’s influence over the rural masses,[2] the largest population group.   (Kindle Locations 18-30).
[2] Charles VII was the Carlist pretender to the Spanish throne.

Although all seems calm when the rebellion begins, his uncle bustles him out of Barcelona to their country estate, only to find that rumours of chaos and confusion follow them along the train line and there is a mobilisation of troops.  Still, he is confident that there will be no bloodshed because he believes that everyone supports revolt:

The futility of any resistance was already so deeply rooted in people’s spirits that the supposed danger didn’t frighten anybody: on the contrary, everybody trusted that the cry of freedom would be unanimous, and the people were waiting to echo it and to mill boisterously behind the military bands to give vent to the excitement that was already spilling out of their eyes.  (Kindle Locations 55-58).

Like an old friend who once said to me that she believed in the redistribution of income, as long as none of it was hers, the narrator does not realise his own vulnerability.

I believed that once the house was cleaned from top to bottom, we would necessarily be happy, since all of the good liberals would strive to govern us well, to restore the justice banished from courtrooms and the morality expelled from government offices; and I believed sincerely in the possibility of class harmony and of patriotism in the army, since all of us would be free, all of us would be equals, all of us would look at each other and respect each other like brothers, the children of one mother alone, the motherland. Now, now, my uncle will see if my political credo isn’t a redemptive credo!  (Kindle Locations 76-80).

Well, that’s not what happens.  The story erupts into irony as events cascade out of control…

Although this Fario edition contains a couple of copy-editing errors, I’ve downloaded Novena for the Dead as well.  At $1.05 AUD, I’m hoping this will encourage Gregory López de Górgolas to translate the one I really want!

Author: Narcís Oller
Title: The September Revolution (La Revolució de Setembre)
Translated by
Gregory López de Górgolas
Publisher: Fario, 2013
ASIN: B00FVDN940
Source: Purchased from Amazon for the Kindle.


Responses

  1. I’ve bought a couple of fario editions. I asked one of the translators, Juan LePuen about translating more Thomas Mann stuff and apparently copyright is an issue.

    • Interesting…
      When I was hunting around trying to find the original publication date of this one, I checked out Oller’s Wikipedia page. Which is brief to say the least. I Googled the Catalan title, and got pretty much nowhere with that too. But somehow, I forget the exact combination of search terms I used, I landed on the Spanish Wikipedia page, which was long, you know, like Shakespeare or James Joyce kind of long, but of course slabs and slabs of text in Spanish. Well beyond my level of tourist Spanish…
      What I could make sense of was the list of works, but I looked in vain for La Revolució de Setembre, just as you can look in vain for short story titles with many authors, it’s just the novel that gets listed on WP.
      And that leads me to the conclusion that it’s these ‘smaller’ works that are being resurrected by translators and publishers, perhaps because if they were first published in obscure journals that are long out of circulation, then maybe copyright is less difficult to manoeuvre?

      • Could be… short stories drop by the wayside sometimes.

  2. I always wondered why the British crown so easily gave up power during the C19th, but with all these revolutions going on they probably felt quite nervous.

    • I reckon they did. Give people some of what they want in the hope of staving off them taking what they want.


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