The Selected Stories of Merce Rodoreda
“Guinea Fowls” is from The Selected Stories of Merce Rodoreda (Open Letter, 2011), translated by Martha Tennent. Tennent provided the following commentary on the story and the author.
Merce Rodoreda (1908-1983) is generally regarded as the most outstanding twentieth-century Catalan writer. An only child, solitary and timid, Rodoreda received only three years of formal education–all of it in Spanish–but she was a voracious reader all her life. In 1928, she married her uncle, who was fourteen years her senior, and in 1929 she had her only child, a son. As a young woman, she contributed articles to periodicals and began to write fiction in the 1930s. After the Spanish Civil War (1936-39), she abandoned her husband and child to live with her lifelong partner in exile between Paris and Geneva. Supporting herself primarily by sewing, with little time for producing longer works, she focused on writing short stories, some of which were published abroad in magazines edited by exiled Catalan writers. In her letters of the 1940s Rodoreda alludes frequently to the influence of James Joyce, D.H. Lawrence, Faulkner, Hemingway, Virginia Woolf, and especially Katherine Mansfield. Their work contributed decisively to her formation as a modernist writer.
Once settled in Geneva in the mid-1950s and living in less straitened circumstances, she began writing the novels that would bring her acclaim. She often worked eighteen hours a day during this period, believing always that she had things to say, things that should be said in Catalan, although in a 1972 interview she confessed that: “To write in Catalan in exile is like wanting flowers to bloom on the North Pole.” Rodoreda returned to Spain in the 1970s.
Due to the trauma of war and exile, together with the dire consequences of Franco’s dictatorship for the Catalan language and culture, none of her work appeared in her native country for twenty years.
Although Merce Rodoreda is best known for her novels–her most famous, La plaça del Diamant, (The Time of the Doves) has been translated into more than thirty languages–yet, her short narratives were seminal to her formation as a writer. The short story form was a laboratory of experimentation for her, a place to develop her style and to explore her characteristic themes. The innovations that distinguish her novels were all developed in her short pieces. Most of the early stories are written from a woman’s point of view.