Neither diaries nor memoirs nor autobiographies. The truth of a writer is in his letters, that place where privacy invites you to lower your guard and not to pose for the history of literature, to write without repeating instincts, composing the figure or putting makeup on the self-portrait. A correspondence is the place where weaknesses and complaints, enthusiasm and complaints, anxiety and vanities end up.
On January 27, 1971 Miguel Delibes wrote to Francisco Umbral to comment on his new book: European women. Although he admires the “very fine quality” of his prose, he does not walk around with hot cloths: “I didn’t just see a novel there.” It would have been better, he suggests, an essay “of a certain length” on foreign tourism. “Maybe”, he concludes, “the question is that you write too much, skipping that essential maturation process, but I see European women as something formally impeccable but superficial and without a skeleton ”.
“The point is that you write too much, skipping that essential maturation process” (Delibes)
Two days later, his friend responds to him to confess things that, he claims, he has never told anyone. “Not even to Spain”, his wife. On the one hand, he clarifies, there is no precipitation in his novel: he simply has a facility for writing. On the other, he admits that he lacks university training for the “big test”. He resigns himself, then, to being “a good writer without gender” and to producing “funny chronicles for all eternity.” “I have not managed,” he says, “to curdle a serious work and I am approaching 40”. Why? Because his literary values are “of a lyrical type, of language, of observation, of description, irony, ideas or personal visions”. Conclusion: “It is clear that I am not a novelist.” Then comes the moment of truth for a man uncomfortable with “all that dandyism folklore” that is attributed to him: “I never make these confessions to anyone because my public image is one of security and even aggressiveness, because the jungle forces ”.
In an edition by Araceli Godino and Luciano López and with a foreword by Santos Sanz Villanueva, Destino publishes the volume next week The friendship of two giants. Correspondence (1960-2007), which compiles the almost 300 letters that Miguel Delibes (1920-2010) and Francisco Umbral (1932-2007) exchanged since the latter moved to Madrid to pursue a literary career while the former remained in Valladolid at the head of the newspaper The North of Castile. The phrase literary career is key in this epistolary. Both authors practice in him a kind of sincerity without intimacy in which, despite the affection they profess, the personal is reduced to commenting on their early health ailments and taking an interest in their respective families. Only the premature death – from cancer and barely months apart – of the son de Umbral and Delibes’s wife suppose in 1974 a black hole in a half-century conversation whose main themes are, from beginning to end, literature and the literary world. Understanding the first as the work of each of the interlocutors – they hardly speak of other readings – and the second, as the forest of editorials, newspapers and awards in which the mentor had a place since he won the Nadal in 1948 and in the that the disciple seeks a place and profit by writing several books a year and several articles a day: whether it be a chronicle of the town and court or a stonemason report on the latest Renault model from Valladolid. There is a lot of money talk in these letters.
“It is clear that I am not a novelist” (Threshold)
“I’m still your eighth child,” Umbral says to Delibes, whom he considers his “older brother”, “the longest match” of his life. You have reasons for it. Your discoverer not only puts you in touch with the editor of Destino, but gets you to The North – “to whom I already owe my life and surely I will leave death to owe” – I paid the doctor’s bills (he religiously reimburses them). Counselor for everything, he still encourages him to ask for a salary increase that – which he did not do in the same situation – to accept the Planet Award when it is offered to him: “Tie Lara for the award (or almost), give her that book and then go to Destiny. The million is fine, and the propaganda that it entails, but the publisher (although it sells) deserves little credit ”.
The frustrated attempt to control The North of Castile by Opus Dei, the offer to Delibes to direct EL PAÍS or to Umbral to write in The vanguard paying him “what he asks” are the surroundings of a long epistolary talk to which, despite the times, politics very little appears. If Francoism is basically censorship, the Transition is uncertainty: “The country is fatal, macho”, writes Threshold in 1976. “Neither the reformists have much desire to reform anything nor the possible reformers are going to leave them time or opportunity ( …) I’m dreading the sword trick from one moment to the next ”.
The core of the correspondence is, we have already said, the work of the correspondents. Each one comments – and that is the charm of these pages – the other’s books as they are published. Delibes, by letter. Threshold, in addition, in the media in which he collaborates (with a different tone in each case; thus, when he criticizes for redundant Parable of the castaway clarifies to his teacher that he will write in “my posts” emphasizing what has excited him. “This comment is personal,” he clarifies). To the immense value of the criticism of others we must add that of the replies of each alluded to, which end up displaying almost antagonistic theories of literature by accumulation.
“Tie Lara for the award [Planeta]Give him that book and then go to Destiny. The million is fine, but the publisher deserves little credit ”(Delibes)
More loquacious and impudent, Francisco Umbral bears the part of the gossip against Cela, Laforet, Onetti, Benet – “kills snakes with boredom” – or Vargas Llosa – “these great writers know the English of Faulkner and the aguachirle of his people, but Castilian know little “-. Delibes, meanwhile, limits himself to putting his friend on the frustrated path of the RAE and regretting that he is an eternal finalist. In 1968 The North I was ready to celebrate “your Brief Library Award,” but, “as usual, a Mexican jumped out.” That is, Carlos Fuentes.
After the eighties, the correspondence grows cold. Delibes acknowledges receipt of each Umbral novel saying that it is the best of his and this one complains that it does not praise him in public. “They have not done me justice in Spain and they will not do it to me,” he laments in 1987. The Critics’ Prize, the Prince of Asturias and Cervantes, were about to get him. Delibes —who already had the first two and would soon receive the fat one— wrote to him in 1991 to worry about his cataracts and, of course, to ponder his umpteenth book: “Magnificent la Chronicle of those beautiful people (I’ll go to the board to say it) ”.
The friendship of two giants. Correspondence (1960-2007)
Miguel Delibes and Francisco Umbral. Edition by Araceli Godino López and Luciano López Gutiérrez. Foreword by Santos Sanz Villanueva. Destination, 2021. 450 pages. 19.90 euros. It is published on April 7.
Eddie is an Australian news reporter with over 9 years in the industry and has published on Forbes and tech crunch.