JOAN FUSTER I ORTELLS
Joan Fuster is the most relevant scholar Valencia has seen in several decades. He was born in Sueca and lived there all his life; from here his books and thought were disseminated. He was brought up in a rural and modest setting, the son of a religious image sculptor, who was also an art teacher and the regional head of the Carlists.
In his village, Fuster went to the Asilo de la Encarnación kindergarten, then the Centro Escolar; he finished his baccalaureate in 1942 at the Colegio Politécnico, where his father taught. Fuster soon showed a great interest in books and reading, local history, the language and culture of Valencia, hobbies which despite living in difficult times he was able to follow through thanks to the invaluable help of his classmate Fermí Cortés, who he remained friends with all his life, and José Albi.
His time in Valencia (1942-1947), where he studied Law, brought him into contact with an atmosphere that was favourable for his cultural yearning, such as literary gatherings, films, concerts and bookshops, especially second-hand ones. At the age of twenty-five, once he had finished his degree, Fuster’s private library already held over a thousand books; he had published articles and poems in Almanaque de Las Provincias and the local magazine Víspera, among others; together with Albi he ran the journal Verbo, Cuadernos Literarios, for which he also translated, drew, reviewed other books, etc., and had established ties which proved decisive, with people from the literary world in Valencia, such as Carles Salvador – from Lo Rat Penat– and Xavier Caspand Miquel Adlert – the directors of Editorial Torre.
On obtaining his degree his started work in Valencia in a company that exported citrus fruits, and opened a lawyer’s office in Sueca, but without the necessary vocation to devote himself full-time to the project. These were times when he lived only for literature, especially poetic creation, and articles about politics, national matters and literary criticism. As for poetry, he wrote his first book of poems, Sobre Narcís, in 1948, published by Editorial Torre. This was followed by Tres poemes (1949), Ales o mans (1949), Va morir tan bella (1951), Terra en la boca (1953) and Escrit per al silenci (1954). He wrote articles as a journalist in the following publications; Nostra Revista and Pont Blau, which certain Catalan scholars published in exile in Mexico. The Valencian newspapers Levante, in 1954, and Jornada, in 1957, included him among their regular article writers; he wrote mainly about cultural affairs. As his financial income was not too high, he tried to earn more from literary competitions and commissions, such as those he undertook from the publishers Barcino, Moll and Selecta.
He was never far from the cultural life in Sueca, although he was never closer to it than in his youth, when, permanently active, he formed part of the organization of the Floral Games held in 1944 and 1952; he collaborated in the Boletín-circular of the Young People’s Catholic Action Association, coordinated by Fermí Cortés; and on the feast day of the Crowning of Our Lady of Sales in 1952, he translated the French play by Paul Claudel (L’Annonce faite à Marie), La Bona Nova a Maria, which was directed by Francesc de P. Burguera and performed by his group of friends
Once he had definitively stopped writing poetry, even though his works were published much later in Set llibres de versos (1987), he set out on a new creative stage, in which he alternated studies on the cultural and linguistic history of Valencia, and humanist essays. Among the former are articles in the Revista Valenciana de Filología, on classical Valencian writers from the Middle Ages, and the monographs La poesia catalana fins a la Renaixença (1954), Pàgines escollides de Sant Vicent Ferrer (1955), La poesia catalana (1956) and El món literari de sor Isabel de Villena (1957). He also published Antologia de la poesia valenciana (1956) and another of Ausiàs March’s work (1959), not to mention Recull de contes valencians (1958) and a selection for reading: Un món per a infants (1959).
Essays were the core and possibly the longest lasting genre in his extensive bibliographical production, where we can see Fuster being lucid, critical, ironic, sceptical and always brilliant, in line with the most outstanding European thinkers. From this first stage we could mention El descrèdit de la realitat (1956), Les originalitats (1956), Figures de temps (1957, Josep Yxart Award) and Juidicis finals (1960).
With his growing prestige, and thanks to his already long list of books published, the literary awards, the public talks, collaborations in journalism, attendance at literary gatherings, etc., 1962 proved to be a decisive year for Fuster, with the publication of Nosaltres els valencians, El País Valenciano, Poetes, moriscos i capellans and Qüestió de noms. The first of these books is the one that has seen most editions. The second led to an intense counter-campaign in the newspapers of Valencia – and from that time on they never asked him to write for them again. All this was the cause of firm support but also firm and long-lasting enmity, which even involved two attempts on his life (in 1978 and 1981).
From that time he started collaborating more with the press in Barcelona – El Correo Catalán, Tele/eXprés and La Vanguardia – and also in Madrid –Informaciones– and in magazines, such as Serra d’Or. In the 1960s he also translated five books by Albert Camus, one by Johan Falkberget and another by Ignazio Silone, some of them with the help of Josep Palàcios.
Also in the 1960s and early 1970s he wrote other fundamental books, such as his studies on cultural history El bandolerisme català: la llegenda (1963), Heretgies, revoltes i sermons (1968) and Literatura catalana contemporània (1972); and the essays Diccionari per a ociosos (translated into English as Dictionary for Idlers) (1964), Causar-se d’esperar (1965), L’home, mesura de totes les coses (1967), Consells, proverbis i insolències (1968), Examen de consciència (1968), Babels i babilònies (1972) Contra Unamuno y los demás (1975). Neither should we forget the first four volumes of the Obres completes (1968, 1969, 1971 and 1975).
Equally important were the studies La Decadència en el País Valencià (1976), Llibres i problemes del Renaixement (1989), and in the field of essays on thought and reflection, Sagitari (1984).
From the point of view of public intervention, with the new perspective that came about on the death of Francisco Franco (1975), Fuster was able to make his commitment to the restoration of democracy and the recovery of national rights for the people of Valencia much clearer: he took part in proposals, contributed ideas, went wherever he was asked to go, welcomed into his house on Calle de Sant Josep people from all socio-political and cultural walks of life, and wrote books such as Un país sense política (1976), El blau de la senyera (1977), Destinat (sobretot) a valencians (1979), Ara o mai (1981), País Valencià, per què? (1982), Pamflets polítics (1985) and Punts de meditació (Dubtes de la “Transición”) (1985). The circumstances of the Transition, however, led to an attitude of rejection, as he believed that the changes made were incomplete. In the end he decided to withdraw from public life, with the intention of devoting all his time to academic activities; he stopped writing in the press and in the colour supplements Por Favor, Jano, Qué y Dónde, El Món, El Temps and Serra d’Or.
Fuster’s relationship with the world of academia was particularly intense in the last years of his life. He was a lecturer and professor at the University of Valencia and was appointed Doctor Honoris Causa by the Autonomous University of Barcelona and the University of Barcelona.
He was a member of the Institute of Catalan Studies, the Valencian Council of Culture and the Valencian Institute of Study and Research; he was also the Director of the Institute of the Valencian Language.
Among the numerous awards that Fuster won we could highlight the Floral Games of the Catalan Language, held in exile (1950), the Award of Honour in Catalan Literature (1975) and the Valencian Literature Award. In 1972, an essay prize was created bearing his name. In 1983 he received the Gold Medal from the Regional Government of Catalonia; a year later the Town Council of Sueca gave him the keys of the city.
When he died in 1992, Fuster left his personal library, consisting of around twenty-five thousand books, to the town of Sueca, together with his newspaper library, his personal archives and those of his father, in addition to a large collection of photographs and a collection of art containing almost two hundred pieces.
J. Antoni Carrasquer Artal and Francesc Pérez Moragón