Open Access Te Herenga Waka-Victoria University of Wellington
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Juan Marsé: Broadening the Definition of the Catalan Nation

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posted on 2021-12-09, 10:26 authored by Dana Guisasola

This thesis argues that Catalan writer Juan Marsé (1933-2020) proposes, in a number of his novels, a postmodern construction of concepts of national identity in the case of Catalonia. The novels which are analysed in this study are Últimas tardes con Teresa (1966), La oscura historia de la prima Montse (1970) and El amante bilingüe (1991). Marsé’s innovative and open concept of the nation is presented in these works through three different strategies, which I refer to as discursive, narrative and linguistic. Marsé’s discursive strategies are traced within the framework of textual semiosis, and comprise, for example, certain vocabulary choices over others, or the predominance of adjectives in certain parts of the text. These strategies thus relate to syntactical and grammatical aspects of the texts. Secondly, the author’s narrative strategies are those related to the works’ themes, linked to the analysis of the plot structure and the novels’ settings and characters. The central issue addressed here is the inclusion of the figure of the charnego in the novels selected for study. The derogatory term charnego was coined in Catalonia to refer to people who migrated from the south of Spain to Catalonia during the 1960s. This wave of Spanish-speaking immigration increased the population of Catalonia by almost 1.5 million, and was overwhelmingly seen as negative by locals at the time. The representation of this figure in these novels is examined through an analysis of the physical descriptions and psychological portrayals of these characters, as well as the vocabulary used in these representations. My discussion of Marsé’s narrative strategies also considers the different ways in which he portrays the idea of what it means to be “Catalan”; that is, the habits, traditions or symbols that traditionally provide a basis for identity. Finally, the linguistic strategy that runs through all Marsé’s work can broadly be defined as the choice of Spanish—as opposed to Catalan—as his literary language. This thesis argues that this choice is not only a strategic one in terms of the broader dissemination of his message but is also a key element in his construction of a broader notion of Catalan nationhood. These strategies interweave to present a shifting representation of Catalan national identity informed by postmodern perspectives and in opposition to traditional concepts of nationhood. Over the course of these three novels, Marsé progressively blurs the boundaries between what is traditionally viewed as “the Catalan” and “the Other”. Through his portrayal of certain characters and spaces, and with significant linguistic interference from Catalan in his Spanish, Marsé undermines traditional boundaries between the identities of Self and Other and suggests a more fluid idea of nationhood. This thesis makes three important contributions to existing scholarship. Firstly through its analysis of Marsé’s postmodern construction of Catalan national identity in these three novels. Secondly, this study also comprises a detailed examination of La oscura historia de la prima Montse (1970), which has not been extensively studied by scholars to date. The comprehensive analysis of Marsé’s use of language is a third original component of the study. It opens new possibilities for the linguistic analysis of other novels, both Marsé’s and those of other Catalan writers.


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Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

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Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

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Doctor of Philosophy

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Victoria University of Wellington Item Type

Awarded Doctoral Thesis



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Victoria University of Wellington School

School of Languages and Cultures


Leggott, Sarah; Gilmour, Nicola