De: The New York Times
Francisco Ayala, a Spanish Novelist and Literary Scholar, Dies at 103
By MARGALIT FOX and ANDRÉS CALA
Published: November 5, 2009
Francisco Ayala, an eminent Spanish novelist whose work explored societies in which there is much despotism and little benevolence, died on Tuesday at his home in Madrid. He was 103.
His death was confirmed by Rafael Juárez, director of the Francisco Ayala Foundation in Granada, Spain.
Considered one of 20th-century Spain’s most distinguished intellectuals, Mr. Ayala was routinely mentioned as a contender for the Nobel Prize in Literature. Besides being a novelist, he was a poet, critic, essayist, lawyer and academic sociologist. Much of his work was banned in Spain during the Franco era, and Mr. Ayala spent those years in exile, teaching in the United States and elsewhere.
Among many laurels, Mr. Ayala was awarded the Cervantes Prize, the Spanish-speaking world’s highest literary honor, in 1991. In 1998 he received the Prince of Asturias Award for Literature; often described as the Spanish Nobel Prize, the award honors world-class achievements in a range of fields.
Though Mr. Ayala wrote close to a hundred books, his work is little known in the United States. Much of it, both fiction and nonfiction, examines abuses of power, the nature of morality and the often irreconcilable tension in societies between the needs of the individual and those of the collective.
Only a few of his books have been published in the United States in English translation, and they are out of print. Among them is “Death as a Way of Life” (Macmillan, 1964; translated by Joan MacLean), originally published in Spanish in 1958 as “Muertes de Perro” — literally, “Deaths of a Dog.” An ironic satire, the novel is set in a fictionalized Latin American nation ruled by a dictator widely assumed to be modeled on Juan Perón, the former Argentine president.
Another title, “Usurpers” (Schocken, 1987; translated by Carolyn Richmond), first appeared in 1949 as “Los Usurpadores.” A collection of short stories, it explores the lives of people forced to submit to the will of others. Among the book’s best-known stories is “El Hechizado” (“The Bewitched”). A Kafkaesque allegory, it centers on a man’s urgent petition for aid from King Carlos II, the late-17th-century Spanish monarch, portrayed by Mr. Ayala as a drooling mental defective. No aid is forthcoming, nor, the story makes clear, will it ever be.
Mr. Ayala’s other works in Spanish include “La Cabeza del Cordero” (“The Lamb’s Head”), a story collection first published in 1949, and a memoir, “Recuerdos y Olvidos” (“Remembrances and Forgotten Things”), published most recently in 2006, when he was 100. He also wrote nonfiction books on law and sociology as well as volumes of film and literary criticism.
Francisco Ayala García-Duarte was born in Granada on March 16, 1906. He began writing poetry as a boy, and by the age of 19, in 1925, he had published his first novel, “Tragicomedia de un Hombre sin Espíritu” (“Tragicomedy of a Man Without Spirit”). He received a doctoral degree in law from the Universidad Complutense de Madrid in the early 1930s and afterward joined the faculty there.
After the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War in 1936, Mr. Ayala’s father, a midlevel bureaucrat in Burgos, in northern Spain, was jailed by Franco’s forces, along with one of Francisco’s brothers. Both were later executed.
During the war Francisco Ayala held several high-level posts in the Republican government and represented it as a diplomat in Prague. After the government fell to Franco’s forces in 1939 he went into exile, first in Argentina, then in Puerto Rico and, starting in the 1950s, on the United States mainland.
In the years that followed, Mr. Ayala taught at a series of colleges and universities in the United States, among them Princeton, Rutgers, Bryn Mawr, New York University, Brooklyn College and the University of Chicago. He resettled in Spain permanently in 1978.
Mr. Ayala’s first wife, Etelvina Silva Vargas, died before him. He is survived by their daughter, Nina Ayala Mallory; his second wife, Carolyn Richmond, a scholar of Spanish literature and the translator of “Usurpers”; one grandchild; and three great-grandchildren.
In an interview with The Associated Press in 2006, Mr. Ayala reflected on his long, eventful career as an observer of social derangement.
“It’s not often someone witnesses a century of life, and especially with a conscience more or less alert,” he said. “This is a privilege which nature has bestowed on me.”
Margalit Fox reported from New York and Andrés Cala from Madrid.