The judges at Jocs Florals d’Olot in 1898 reacted in shock when they discovered the author of the prize-winning short story Infanticide was in fact a woman, Catalina Albert i Paradis. It was simply unheard of that one of youth and privilege from the pretty L’Escala in coastal Empordà (Catalonia) could be capable of broaching such distressing subject matter. Its account of atrocious behaviour came through highly-innovative blunt and complex language. What’s more, it was an internal monologue: the gender match of author and character obliterating the distance between the two, affronting the reader with more than one uncomfortable truth about maternity…
More than 120 years on there is still significant bias against authors based on gender, the label ‘women’s writing’ continues to exist (if now appropriated) as a kind of sub-genre as patronising as ‘fantasy’, ‘crime’ or ‘young adult’ fiction, as if it were something to be nodded at encouragingly rather than be taken seriously.
Puncturing the prejudice
La Víctor C. is a visually-luxurious, poetic and precise theatrical ode to the works of Catalina Albert. Subtitles in English were available on one night; sit on rows 14 to top to take advantage of this essential feature, finally offered in half-a dozen productions this season. Written by Anna Maria Ricart Codina and directed by Carme Portaceli, Lluïsa Castell plays Albert, who spends most of the production in bed where the author was said to have spent years of her later life. After the Jocs Florals furor she adopted the amusingly masculine pen-name of a character in her book, Victor Català, to deflect attention.
Català in English
Until recently, Solitude, Albert’s most famous novel from 1905 and a staple of the Catalan school syllabus, has been the only book available in English in a 1992 translation by David H. Rosenthal. Infanticide, the 1898 monologue that propelled Albert to fame, is included in the 2018 collection Silent Souls and Other Stories, translated by Kathleen McNerney. The stories Portico and The Windfall are available for free download. (Infanticide has also been reinvented as an electronic opera and can be experienced at the TNC from 4 – 7 November). In January 2022, Albert’s novel A Film is also available in English in a translation by Peter Bush.
For a total novice to her books, the personal approach to the text and the visual narrative that incorporates clips of her hard-nosed rural stories, such as L’Aleixeta, offers more than enough to be engaged and awaken a desire to read more. It’s a further credit to the theatre piece that the subtitles are unusually sophisticated. It’s not easy to deliver a literary line in translation that can be read in the short space available. To open a linguistic window into a complex literally word of a widely unknown authoress is by far the best way to ensure that Catalan language, literature and theatre have a healthy future, locally and internationally.
La Víctor C. / Infanticida
Teatre Nacional de Catalunya, Barcelona
both productions run until 7 November 2021 (in Catalan only)