Ana María Matute (1925-2014)

Ana María Matute is one of the two or three most important Spanish women writers of the post-Civil War period; she is also the only major Spanish woman novelist of the last six decades of the twentieth century who is still writing in the new millennium. She has received most of Spain's important literary prizes and has been mentioned repeatedly as a candidate for the Nobel Prize in literature. In 1997 she became the third woman in history elected to the Royal Academy of the Spanish Language. Her works have been translated into English, French, Italian, Portuguese, German, Czech, Polish, Russian, and Esperanto. Elected a corresponding member of the Hispanic Society of America in 1960, she is the only Spanish woman writer whose works are required reading for the Advanced Placement Examination in Spanish administered by Educational Testing Service for high-school students seeking college credit.


Matute began publishing during the first decade after the Spanish Civil War of 1936 to 1939, along with considerably older writers such as Camilo José Cela, Gonzalo Torrente Ballester, Elena Quiroga, and Carmen Laforet. She thereby anticipated by more than a decade the debuts of the Spanish writers with whom she is grouped: the "midcentury generation," which also includes Ignacio Aldecoa, Jesús Fernández Santos, Juan Goytisolo, and Carmen Martín Gaite. Practitioners of "social literature"--a euphemism for veiled political protest--these writers targeted socio-economic injustice with their fiction, poetry, and drama, risking official reprisals and persecution for defending the poor and oppressed.

The third of five children, Ana María Matute Ausejo was born in Barcelona on 26 July 1926 to Facundo Matute and Maria Matute, née Ausejo. During her first ten years the family residence alternated between Barcelona and Madrid because of her father's umbrella-manufacturing business. Matute's upper-middle-class mother, educated exclusively for matrimony, gave her children a traditional religious upbringing and was an inflexible disciplinarian. Matute was so terrified of her mother that she began to stutter and eventually ranked last in her class. She seldom portrays mothers in her works; most of her unhappy children characters are orphans.

Matute's mother came from the landed gentry of Old Castile, and the family spent summers at Matute's maternal grandparents' country estate in the mountain village Mansilla de la Sierra near the border of La Rioja and Navarre. Matute and her two sisters and two brothers never learned Catalan, which exacerbated their outsider status in Barcelona. Matute frequently tells interviewers that in Madrid she was la catalana (the Catalan girl), in Barcelona la castellana (the Castilian girl). The many lonely, isolated, solitary, and alienated children and adolescents in Matute's fiction echo her feeling of not belonging.

Matute suffered life-threatening illnesses at ages four and eight from which she convalesced at her grandparents' home. Contacts with servants and sharecroppers' families and attending the one-room village school with underprivileged local children made a lasting impression on her. In Spanish villages in the 1930s grain was still threshed, as in biblical times, by donkeys' hooves; peasants lived in quasi serfdom, washed their clothes in the river from which they also drew their drinking water, used the ancient Roman bridges, and lacked all modern conveniences. With no machinery and often no oxen, many pulled the plows themselves; pregnant women worked in the fields until giving birth, then resumed their tasks. Only the poorest people sent their children to the impoverished public schools, which usually consisted of a room in the schoolmaster's home, without books or heat; schoolteachers' poverty was proverbial, and haggard village schoolmasters abound in Matute's 1961 collections, Historias de la Artámila (Stories of la Artámila) and El arrepentido (The Repentant One). Such inequities distressed her even before the traumatic events of the Civil War spurred her to seek its causes in the traditional social structure, and the impact of the village echoes through many of her works.

Barcelona and Mansilla are the primary locales for Matute's fiction; while Castile may be the "land of steppes" depicted in her chivalric novels La torre vigía (1971, The Watchtower) and Olvidado Rey Gudú (1996, Forgotten King Gudú), Madrid is never mentioned in her works. Asked in an unpublished 1964 interview why Madrid never figures in her fiction, she contrasted the aridity, sterility, and blinding sun of the plateau on which the Spanish capital is located with the milder coast that she loves and where Barcelona and Sitges, the seaside village of her summer home, are situated. Settings are not neutral backgrounds for Matute but are coordinated with mood and sometimes shape her characters. The environs of her grandparents' estate in Mansilla de la Sierra are fictionally portrayed as the nameless village in Los Abel (1948, The Abel Family); as "la Artámila" in "Fiesta al noroeste" (1953; translated as Celebration in the Northwest, 1997) and in the collection Historias de la Artámila; and as "Hegroz" in Los hijos muertos (1958; translated as The Lost Children, 1965).

Political events exacerbated Matute's sense of alienation during the Second Republic of 1931 to 1936. Catalonia's rejection of the central government in Madrid and its establishment in 1932 of an autonomous state, "La Generalitat," with its capital in Barcelona, resulted in the harsh repression after the Civil War that led Matute to denounce the "horrors of peace."

During the Civil War Matute's family was trapped in Barcelona, where the conflict was especially intense. The Catalan capital suffered not only war but also violent social revolution, terrorism, and political assassinations. In interviews Matute has described how she, her siblings, and her cousins crouched behind closed shutters listening to the fighting and later found dead bodies in the streets; the children wondered why the priests and nuns who had been their teachers and counselors had become targets for terrorists, obliged to flee or to assume lay disguises. These events and their socio-economic causes dominate Matute's writing during her "social realist" first period, from the mid 1940s through the end of the 1960s. In the unpublished 1964 interview Matute recalls her first classrooms, with "their fascinating prints of Cain and Abel"; the biblical conflict between brothers became her metaphor for the Civil War in all of her fiction except Pequeño teatro (1954, Little Theater). In her "pacifist" second period, beginning in 1971, she transfers her examination of injustice and war from the twentieth century to the tenth in La torre vigía and Olvidado rey Gudú.

A precocious, solitary child, often forced to be inactive because of illness, Matute loved museums and the theater. Her father gave her a puppet theater--another recurring motif in her works--and she improvised performances for her siblings and cousins during the war. She says in "Notas de una escritora" (1965, Notes of a Female Writer) that she cannot remember when she began writing, "because I always wrote. . . . Always, from my most remote recollection . . . I wanted to be a writer; I couldn't imagine being anything else." Throughout her childhood she wrote tales of imaginary worlds, animals, warriors and princesses, and gnomes and elves. She also drew and painted. Her mother encouraged her literary interests and preserved her early creative efforts: the Fundación Ana María Matute (Ana María Matute Foundation) in Boston University's Mugar Library includes several "issues"--365 pages--of "La revista de Shybil" (Sybil's Review), the children's magazine Matute produced, probably in 1938, with her stories, poems, news items, and drawings.

The Falange, modeled on Italian dictator Benito Mussolini's brand of fascism, became Spain's sole legal political party after the Civil War; the only organized opposition consisted of clandestine Communist cells. Schools, which had been closed during the war, reopened in 1939 on accelerated schedules. Matute completed only two years of the six-year bachillerato (high-school equivalency), abandoning formal education in 1941 to devote herself to writing, art, and music; she studied painting with Nùria Llimona and violin with Juan Masia, both of whom were well-known masters in their fields. She read voraciously; her favorites were the fairy tales of Hans Christian Andersen and the Brothers Grimm, Lewis Carroll 's Alice's Adventures in Wonderland (1865), and J. M. Barrie 's Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens (1906). Traces of all of these works abound in her children's fiction. Andersen's dichotomous worldview, contrasting material and spiritual riches, reappears in Matute's juvenilia, her children's stories, and many of her works for adults. She began frequenting literary circles and groups of aspiring writers, and in 1942 her first published story, "El chico de al lado" (The Boy Next Door), appeared in the Barcelona magazine Destino. In 1943 she abandoned her study of painting and music to concentrate on literature. She completed her first novel, Pequeño teatro, that year, but it remained unpublished until 1954.

In 1945 Matute submitted the manuscript for Los Abel for the newly established Nadal Prize; it finished as runner-up to Miguel Delibes's La sombra del ciprés es alargada (1948, Long Is the Cypress's Shadow). Los Abel launched her career as a novelist when it was published in 1948.

Everything printed in Spain under the fascist regime--even maps, magazine covers, and matchbooks--underwent stringent censorship for morality, religious orthodoxy, and political conformity. Writings could be cut, prohibited, or confiscated; the author's home could be searched and additional works seized; and writers could be jailed. In Los Abel, and later in "Fiesta al noroeste" and Los hijos muertos, Matute employed a framing device to confuse the censors. Bureaucrats rather than literary critics, censors generally assumed the original narrator of a work to be the protagonist; anticipating this character's return distracted their attention from subversive elements in the plot. In all three works the introductory narrators vanish without explanation, leaving readers--including the censors--to wonder about their fates.

A cousin who spent childhood summers with the Abel family narrates the first eight chapters of Los Abel; seeking to solve their wartime disappearance, he finds Valba's diary, which constitutes the remainder of the novel. Updating the biblical myth of fratricidal conflict, Matute describes the two eldest Abel brothers' competition for the family lands and for the same woman. Her characteristic pairing of opposites--fair/dark, good/evil, materialist/idealist--appears in the rival brothers: Aldo is ascetic, rigid, hardworking, and potentially violent, while Tito is hedonistic, charming, and irresponsible. Diary-writer Valba, the elder daughter, is dark, androgynous, tomboyish, and alienated, while Jacqueline, her erstwhile friend, future sister-in-law, and cause of the brothers' murderous conflict, is blond, voluptuous, conventional, and hypocritical. Los Abel resembles a nineteenth-century rural novel as it chronicles the decadence, disintegration, and disappearance of this paradigmatic family of landed gentry; subplots concern Valba's psychological maturation and other family members' conflicts. Matute's concern for social injustice appears in economic tensions between landowners and peasants.

Approximately the first third of Matute's 1953 novella "Fiesta al noroeste" is narrated by Dingo, a boyhood friend of the main narrator, Juan Medinao. Dingo absconded with the pair's childhood savings; returning to their home village years later, he accidentally kills a shepherd's child and is arrested. From the jail he calls his former friend, prompting an extended retrospective confession by Juan that makes up the rest of the work. "Fiesta al noroeste" depicts the conflict between landowners and semifeudal sharecroppers and between love for the land and the desperate desire to escape it. The Cain/Abel dichotomy appears in the deformed, fanatically religious Juan Medinao, the elder and legitimate son of a landowning aristocrat, and his handsome half brother Pablo, the landowner's disinherited illegitimate son by a servant. As the local cacique, Juan represents the system that allowed powerful individuals to name representatives to the national assemblies. Juan's confession inadvertently reveals his latent homosexual attraction to Pablo. He attempts to lure Pablo to his house by purchasing Pablo's sweetheart from her destitute parents; but Pablo disappears, leaving Juan with a wife who despises him. He proceeds to rape Pablo's mother, echoing crimes by generations of landowners against peasants and sharecroppers. Matute received her first literary award, the Café Gijón Prize, for "Fiesta al noroeste"; conferred by a literary club, it carried more intellectual prestige than many commercial prizes.

The romantic, sentimental novelette La pequeña vida (1953, Small Life) recalls Andersen's doomed orphans. Two mistreated adolescents run away from home; the girl's foot becomes wedged in the railroad track as a speeding train approaches, but rather than escape, the boy embraces her as the train runs over them. The work was renamed "El tiempo" (Time) when it was republished as the title piece of a collection of her stories in 1957.

Pequeño teatro competed successfully for the Planeta Prize, which included publication by the Planeta firm, in 1954. Most of the characters and the deliberately trite plot derive from commedia dell'arte antecedents. Zazu, the daughter of the only wealthy man in a Basque fishing village, scandalizes the village by visiting the fishermen's quarter to indulge her erotic urges. When Marco, an attractive stranger, exploits the greed and hypocrisy of the townspeople in an elaborate confidence game, only Zazu perceives his falseness. Fearful of being conquered by him, she walks off the breakwater into a storm-whipped sea. Since suicide was prohibited in literature by the censors, her fate remains undetermined.

Although she had resolved to remain single and devote herself to literature, in November 1952 Matute married another aspiring--but unsuccessful--writer, Juan Eugenio de Goicoechea. In 1954 her only child, Juan Pablo, was born. She began writing children's stories for him, raising the age level of her audience as he grew up. Attempting to repay debts accrued by her husband, she published a book a year from 1954 to 1958, three in 1960, six in 1961, and one a year from 1962 to 1965.

As the family's primary financial support, Matute was forced to "mutilate" her most daring novel when the original version was prohibited by the censors. "Las luciérnagas" (The Fireflies) portrayed Republican supporters and pacifists sympathetically while depicting the dictatorship's economic failures during the first fifteen postwar years. The clearly pacifistic original version included such statements as "War is a macabre farce that achieves nothing, betters nothing." Matute deleted the final third of the novel, leaving an open-ended, enigmatic tale of young love doomed by war that was published in 1955 as En esta tierra (In This Land). She never liked the abridgment and has always considered it her worst artistic error.

En esta tierra is narrated by Soledad, the daughter of a bourgeois Barcelona family whose world is destroyed by the Civil War. Although Soledad is a young woman, rather than the ten-year-old that the author was at the time of the events depicted, the novel is Matute's most autobiographical full-length work. Soledad's family's holdings are nationalized by Communist militants, and their home is occupied by militia members. During a bombardment, Soledad and Cristián, a pacifist and draft dodger, take refuge in an abandoned house and become lovers. When General Francisco Franco's Insurgent forces enter Barcelona, Cristián runs toward them, shouting, and is gunned down. The ending leaves undetermined whether his shout signified welcome, defiance, or despair.

Matute's 1958 novel, Los hijos muertos , is a family chronicle spanning three generations of an aristocratic rural dynasty, the Corvos, that acquired wealth in the nineteenth century only to lose it in the twentieth; the true protagonist of the work is not introduced until the third generation. In 1929 bank failures in Argentina precipitate family ruin, provoking the suicide of Elías Corvo and the attempted suicide of his brother, Gerardo. Gerardo's daughters--the vigorous, domineering Isabel and the beautiful, dreamy, rebellious Verónica--compete for the affections of Daniel, Elías's illegitimate son. Daniel, whose mother is alleged to have been a mulatto Cuban servant, has been relegated to quasi-servant status, resulting in his hatred for the upper class. Isabel attempts to restore the family fortune by arranging a marriage between fourteen-year-old Verónica and a wealthy old man; Verónica's refusal leads Isabel to plan a marriage of convenience between her father and Beatriz, a moderately prosperous spinster of forty. In 1932, a year after the wedding, Beatriz dies giving birth to a daughter, Mónica.

Jealous of Daniel's preference for Verónica, Isabel expels him from the estate. He and Verónica elope to Barcelona, where she and their unborn child die in an air raid. Daniel serves in the Loyalist (Republican) army during the Civil War; captured by the Francoist forces, he is sentenced to forced labor in the mines. He is released in 1948, broken in body and spirit, and becomes a woodsman on the family estate. Mónica, a younger version of Verónica, falls in love with Miguel Fernández, an urban delinquent who is among the few nonpolitical prisoners in the nearby penal colony. Miguel attempts to escape and is hunted down and killed, like an animal during the annual wolf hunt. (Janet Pérez notes in "The Fictional World of Ana María Matute: Solitude, Injustice and Dreams" [1991] that wolves symbolize the poor, who are forced to violence by necessity: wolves kill only when hungry.) Daniel and Diego Herrera, the director of the penal colony, strive to transcend the war's hurts and rancor. Combatants on both sides lose children and now seek reconciliation. While the primary theme of the novel is the destruction caused by the war, background characters--dispossessed peasants and the Barcelona proletariat--communicate Matute's concern with social justice; but despite her implied critiques of the wealthy, Matute never idealizes the lower classes. Los hijos muertos won the Critics' Prize as the best novel of the year in 1958 and the Miguel de Cervantes National Literary Prize in 1959.

In 1960 Matute published Primera memoria (First Memoir; translated as School of the Sun , 1963), the first volume of her trilogy, "Los mercaderes" (The Merchants). The novel employs the Cain-and-Abel structure to portray Spain's fratricidal conflict symbolically and in miniature. The adolescent Matia, whose father is serving in the Loyalist army, is sent to the supposedly peaceful haven of Majorca to live with her grandmother, a wealthy aristocrat. The grandmother is a Franco supporter, as is Matia's cousin Borja, whose father--Matia's father's brother-in-law--joined the Insurgent army. Violence by juvenile gangs and island terrorists mirrors the war on the mainland on a smaller scale as Matia discovers sordid adult sexuality, treachery, betrayal, death, and her own cowardice. Manuel, a neighbor whose family is scorned as chuecas (crypto-Jews), is framed by the jealous Borja for a crime Borja committed; Matia, symbolizing those in Spain who did not protest the postwar imprisonment and executions of thousands who had been loyal to the Republican government, dares not speak in his defense.

Matute received a Fundación March (March Foundation) grant to complete the trilogy, and the second volume, Los soldados lloran de noche (translated as Soldiers Cry by Night , 1995), appeared in 1964. Two years after the conclusion of the previous novel, Manuel is legitimized by his biological father, the "lord of the island," in a deathbed testament. Suddenly wealthy and revealed to be related to Matia's grandmother, he is released from jail by a fawning establishment but renounces the inheritance in disgust. He gives most of the money to his mother and the man he believed to be his father, keeping only enough to buy a yacht for a secret mission to the mainland to carry out the last wishes of Jeza, a condemned Communist organizer he met in prison. Manuel visits Jeza's widow, Marta, and obtains documents to smuggle to Jeza's comrades in Barcelona. Marta had been raised in a dissolute environment by a promiscuous mother and lived a sordid existence before meeting Jeza, who taught her idealism and commitment. She accompanies Manuel on what both recognize as a suicide mission, but the smuggled documents are no longer needed: they reach Barcelona as Franco's troops are capturing the city. Manuel and Marta man a machine-gun post abandoned by fleeing Republicans and are killed by the advancing Insurgent army. This part of the trilogy clarifies the overall title, "Los mercaderes": according to Matute, humanity comprises "heroes"--the few, the idealists--and "merchants," the materialist majority. Their decision to die for a cause, even one that is not their own, makes Manuel and Marta "heroes."

Matute's marriage was unhappy, but divorce, which had been legalized by the Republic, was abolished by the Franco regime. In 1963 Matute became one of the first women under the dictatorship to seek a legal separation, which required approval from the Catholic Curia in Rome. A Spanish wife was the ward of her husband, unable legally to rent an apartment or have a bank account of her own; Matute lost custody of her son during the separation proceedings. Disinherited by her conservative mother, Matute lived with one of her sisters while awaiting the documents she needed to regain some degree of autonomy (a married woman was not allowed to live alone until she had obtained a legal separation). Literary prizes and popular success brought her some financial security, and in 1965 she obtained her legal separation and won custody of her son. In France, where civil remarriage is permitted after a legal separation, Matute married a Catalan businessman; the marriage lasted until his death twenty-eight years later.

Matute served as visiting professor at the University of Virginia in 1965 and at Indiana University in 1965-1966. In the fall of 1969, the year she published the final volume of the "Los mercaderes" trilogy, La trampa (translated as The Trap , 1996), she was a visiting professor at the University of Oklahoma.

La trampa is set twenty-five years after Primera memoria. Matia, fortyish and discontented after a life of futile searching for love, returns to Majorca in response to a summons to attend her hated grandmother's ninety-ninth birthday celebration. The war has changed nothing essential: the grandmother still controls the island; Borja, now a jaded playboy, still waits to inherit her estate; and the family's sordid past, which Matia suspected as a child, persists in the grandfather's sealed secret apartments decorated with pornographic murals. After the war, Matia had joined her exiled father, a Spanish professor, in the United States and had married the son of one of his colleagues; her husband had soon become hopelessly alcoholic. Their college-age son, "Bear," is already on the island; he has been recruited by Mario, supposedly an idealistic revolutionary, to assist in the assassination of a politician. Bear hides Mario in his mother's room, correctly counting on their becoming lovers. Growing fond of Matia, Mario rejects using her son for personal vengeance: his intended victim is not a key politician, as Bear believes, but the man who killed Mario's father years earlier. Arriving outside his mother's room, Bear overhears Mario say that there will be no assassination; but he leaves before learning the reason and carries out the deed himself. Seeking to ruin his grandmother and Borja and all they represent, he makes no effort to conceal his identity. Bear escapes in Borja's yacht, but his capture seems inevitable.

The trilogy, ranked by critics with Los hijos muertos as Matute's greatest achievements, brought her further recognition, including the first books devoted to the novelist: Margaret E. W. Jones's The Literary World of Ana María Matute (1970) and Janet Díaz's Ana María Matute (1971). U.S. student editions appeared of Doce historias de la Artámila (1965) and Fiesta al noroeste (1971). Anthologists began including Matute's stories, and a collection with a critical introduction, Selecciones de Ana María Matute (1982, Selections from Ana María Matute), edited by Juana Amelia Hernández and Edenia Guillermo, followed Matute's inclusion by the College Board among required authors for the Advanced Placement program in Spanish literature. She also attracted attention from Hispanists in France, Germany, and the Soviet Union.

Matute's health began to deteriorate in the late 1960s; in the 1970s she suffered a serious depression and could write almost nothing for twenty years. The last work she published before lapsing into silence was La torre vigía in 1971.

An apocalyptic allegory of good and evil with social realist undertones, La torre vigía is set in the tenth century in an unnamed "country of steppes" beset by enemies and extremes of climate and portrays the seamy underside of romanticized courts and chivalric heroes: the work abounds in cruel and violent warlords, sordid affairs, miserable conditions, ignorance, and barbaric behavior; knightly honor is shown to be a myth. A minor nobleman suspects that the youngest of his four sons, a beautiful boy, is not his; he prefers the others, who are rough and coarse like himself. They become squires for the father's liege, while the youngest is left to sleep under the stairs with the dogs. The fourth son eventually reaches the baron's castle, where, to his brothers' disgust, he distinguishes himself militarily and becomes a favorite. As he progresses in warrior's skills, however, he observes breaches of the chivalric code; the promiscuous and predatory nature of the baron and baroness, who prey on young people of both sexes; and the false glory of war. He begins to spend his time atop the watchtower with the atalaya (watchman), a visionary who describes battles of the armies of good and evil that recall the Book of Revelation. While keeping vigil over his weapons in the chapel, the boy realizes that he does not want to become a warlord. He lays down his sword and walks unarmed into the night, where his jealous brothers fall upon him and kill him. (Matute remarked in an unpublished December 1978 interview that she thought that she was avoiding Cain and Abel in this novel but finally realized that, instead, she had created three Cains.) The problem of social injustice is the same in the tenth century as in the twentieth, with humanity divided into victims and victimizers. La torre vigía was relatively unnoticed by critics and is one of Matute's least-known works. Matute was writer in residence at the University of Virginia in 1978.

Franco had died in 1975, and Spain had become a constitutional monarchy under King Juan Carlos in 1978. In 1993 an unexpurgated, revised, and enlarged version of En esta tierra was published as Luciérnagas (translated as Fireflies , 1998). In this version Cristián is not killed but is captured near the end of the Civil War and "mobilized" into the Insurgent forces (captive draft-age males could "choose" between joining Franco or execution). Soledad is jailed and discovers that she is pregnant. She and Cristián marry after her release and struggle futilely to make a life for themselves and their child amid economic stagnation and totalitarianism. Cristián attempts to steal medicine for their sick baby and is sent to a penal colony resembling the one in Los hijos muertos; both are based on the concentration camp for political prisoners near Matute's grandparents' estate. Soledad moves nearby with their son, and they suffer hunger and hardship. Sociopolitical conditions have destroyed all of their lives.

Between 1971 and 1996 Matute mainly published new editions and collections of her previous works. Except for the children's tale Sólo un pie descalzo (1984, Just One Bare Foot), she brought out only one new title: El verdadero final de la Bella Durmiente (1995, The True Ending of Sleeping Beauty), an extended, violent version of the traditional fairy tale that does not end happily when the prince and princess are united. Their seemingly endless journey back to his kingdom traverses deep, dark forests for months, perhaps years, before they reach his castle. The Queen Mother, the most evil of mothers-in-law, is an ogress who devours children; she immediately begins planning to cook her two grandchildren. While her husband remains at home, the princess astutely fends off the grandmother's trickery; but when he goes off to war, the ogress becomes more aggressive. Beauty and her children are concealed by a kindly servant but are eventually discovered. In peril of their lives, they are saved by the prince's last-minute return. The work illustrates Matute's conviction that love and family relationships are especially difficult.

Even before La torre vigía appeared, Matute's publisher had announced the impending release of Olvidado rey Gudú; but the work was delayed for twenty-five years. In interviews in 1993 Matute mentioned a manuscript exceeding two thousand pages; the published version, which appeared three years later, is nearly nine hundred pages long and enormously complex, featuring multiple dynasties, realities, plots, and subplots. It is another exercise in social criticism disguised as an antichivalric novel: with rare exceptions the knightly state is completely demythologized, and kings are merely the biggest barbarians. Comparable only to J. R. R. Tolkien 's The Lord of the Rings trilogy (1954-1955) in its combination of fantasy and reality, magic and misery, and allegory and aspiration to transcendence, Olvidado rey Gudú has no precedent in Spanish literature. Glittering tournaments, noble knights and lovely ladies, courtly manners and high ideals seldom appear; instead, everywhere there is murder, rape, pillage, degradation, pain, misery, starvation, filth, disease, cruelty, and disillusionment. Covering nine generations and many kingdoms, the novel blends pseudohistory, myth, and fairy-tale elements: fairies, elves, wizards, witches, nymphs, minor deities, journeys through the air and underground, spells and potions, and seductions and betrayals. Gudú, the consummate warlord, is incapable of loving; old, defeated, and utterly alone, he dies at the hands of two of his sons. His mother, Queen Ardid, is Matute's most complex and only fully empowered female character. Abounding in gore from beginning to end, the novel implicitly constitutes a pacifist statement in its display of the horrors of war.

In 2000 Matute published Aranmanoth , a short novel with chivalric and fairy-tale elements; a tale of doomed love, it recalls the legend of Tristan and Isolde. Aranmanoth, born of an encounter between a water sprite and a nobleman of "the North" (a mythical land), is sent at puberty to his father, Orso, who relegates him to servitude. Forced by the king to marry for political reasons, Orso appoints Aranmanoth guardian of his nine-year-old bride, Windumanoth, who is from "the South." The two grow up together as quasi siblings. The similarity in the endings of the names of the unrelated adolescents indicates a transcendent relationship between them, and there are many suggestions of their sacramental character (for example, Aranmanoth's blond hair is repeatedly compared to stalks of wheat, the raw material for the bread of the Eucharist). Windumanoth is homesick for the South; she and Aranmanoth try to journey there but wander for years in endless forests without finding Windumanoth's beloved homeland. They interrupt their journey back to Orso's gloomy castle to consummate their love and almost immediately are slain by Orso's men. Aranmanoth's severed head vanishes, and miracles are later attributed to it; among them is the salvation of Orso, who repents their slaughter and becomes a hermit. Aranmanoth is a transparent allegory of redemption through untrammeled love.

While Ana María Matute is better known to critics for the neorealistic social-protest works of her first quarter century, Olvidado rey Gudú was her greatest popular success and won her a cult following. Disconcerting to scholars because of their radically changed settings and plots, the works of Matute's later period differ less than it seems from those of her early period: sympathy for the poor and the denunciation of oppression, injustice, violence, and egocentrism are constants throughout her oeuvre.


From: Pérez, Janet. "Ana Maria Matute Ausejo.Twentieth-Century Spanish Fiction Writers, edited by Martha Eulalia Altisent and Cristina Martainez-Carazo, Gale, 2006. Dictionary of Literary Biography Vol. 322.


  • Further Reading
    • Juan Luis Alborg, Hora actual de la novela española, volume 1 (Madrid: Taurus, 1958), pp. 181-190.
    • Celia Barretini, "Ana María Matute, la novelista pintora," Cuadernos Hispanoamericanos, 48 (December 1963): 405-412.
    • Constance Nock Brown, "Rhetorical Elements in Two Novels by Ana María Matute, Primera memoria and Los soldados lloran de noche," M.A. thesis, University of North Carolina, 1970.
    • Anita Coffey, "Archetypal Figures in Selected Works of Ana María Matute," dissertation, Texas Tech University, 2001.
    • Claude Couffon, "Una joven novelista, Ana María Matute," Cuadernos Hispanoamericanos, 44 (November 1961): 52-55.
    • Janet Díaz, Ana María Matute (Boston: Twayne, 1971).
    • Díaz, "The Autobiographical Element in the Works of Ana María Matute," Kentucky Foreign Language Quarterly, 15, no. 2 (1968): 139-148.
    • Díaz, "La commedia dell'arte en una novela de Ana María Matute," Hispanófila, 40 (1970): 15-28.
    • Olga P. Ferrer, "Las novelistas españolas de hoy," Cuadernos americanos, 118 (September-October 1961): 211-223.
    • Marie-Lise Gazarian, Janet Pérez, and others, The Literary World of Ana María Matute (Coral Gables, Fla.: University of Miami, Iberian Studies Institute, 1993).
    • Ideas 92, special Matute issue, edited by Joaquín Roy (1993-1994).
    • Margaret E. W. Jones, "Antipathetic Fallacy: The Hostile World of Ana María Matute's Novels," Kentucky Foreign Language Quarterly, 13, supplement(1967): 5-16.
    • Jones, The Literary World of Ana María Matute (Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 1970).
    • Jones, "Religious Motifs and Biblical Allusions in the Works of Ana María Matute," Hispania, 51 (September 1968): 416-423.
    • Eugenio de Nora, La novela española contemporánea (1927-1960), volume 2 (Madrid: Gredos, 1962), pp. 288-299, 432-433.
    • Janet Pérez, "Apocalipsis y milenio, cuentos de hadas y caballerías en las últimas obras de Ana María Matute," Monographic Review / Revista monográfica, 14 (1998): 39-58.
    • Pérez, "Contemporary Spanish Women Writers and the Feminized Quest-Romance," Intertexts, 2, no. 1 (1998): 83-96.
    • Pérez, "The Fictional World of Ana María Matute: Solitude, Injustice and Dreams," in Women Writers of Contemporary Spain: Exiles in the Homeland, edited by Joan Lipman Brown (Newark: University of Delaware Press, 1991), pp. 93-115.
    • Pérez, "More than a Fairy Tale: Aranmanoth, Gudú and La torre vigía. Matute and the 'nueva novela caballeresca,'" Letras Peninsulares, 15 (Winter 2002-2003): 107-122.
    • Pérez, "Once Upon a Time: Spanish Women Writers and the Fairy Tale," in Hers Ancient and Modern: Women's Writing in Spain and Brazil, edited by Catherine Davies and Jane Whetnall (Manchester, U.K.: Department of Spanish and Portuguese, University of Manchester, 1997), pp. 57-71.
    • Pérez, "Portraits of the femme seule by Laforet, Matute, Soriano, Martín Gaite, Quiroga and Medio," in Feminine Concerns in Contemporary Spanish Fiction by Women, edited by Roberto Manteiga, Carolyn Galerstein, and Kathleen McNerney (Potomac, Md.: Scripta Humanistica, 1988), pp. 54-77.
    • Pérez, "A Subjective Stylist with a Social Conscience," in her Contemporary Women Writers of Spain (Boston: G. K. Hall, 1988), pp. 131-137.
    • Pérez, "Variantes del arquetipo femenino en la narrativa de Ana María Matute," Letras femeninas, 10, no. 2 (1984): 28-39.
    • José María de Quinto, "El mundo de Ana María Matute," Revista española, 1 (September-October 1953): 337-341.
    • Alicia Redondo de Goicoechea, "Un dolorido vivir," Compás de letras (1993): 14-23.
    • Janet Winecoff, "Style and Solitude in Ana María Matute," Hispania, 49 (March 1966): 61-68.