Vicente Blasco Ibanez. The success of the film The Four Horseman of the Apocalypse was incredible and a wave of popularity for Ibanez swept across America.
Many people associate literary creation with a certain bohemian lifestyle along with living a socially excluded, marginalized and dark existence in poverty. This image is fixed in the minds of many these literary authors. Everyone admires and is touched by the figure of the poor writer, lost among his papers, living in his world of ideas and poetry—suffering to create a work of art. When, in the case of the successful writer, one produces best sellers that are adapted to the big screen that person seems to lose that aura of respect of being a writer and they are relegated to a place where their work is considered to have less artistic "value".
This can be the case of the person I'm writing about today: Vicente Blasco Ibáñez. This prolific writer saw some of his works transformed into movies filmed in the United States. A politically active radical, he was an elected deputy in the legislature and for this, most likely, many of his contemporaries who formed part of the Generation of 98 never accepted him nor valued his narrative capabilities.
Part of the Generation of 98
Vicente Blasco Ibañéz was born in Valencia in 1867 to a family of merchants. He studied law, a field in which he never practiced, but in his student years he was politically active taking part in anticlerical and republican activities. In his native Valencia he participated in Federal Republican Party meetings and it is there where he discovered his talent of persuasion and an oratorical capacity gained the attention of the public. These talents he would use to denounce the abuses and poor conditions found in Valencia. Because of his participation in various outcries for justice he had to abandon the city and move to Paris from 1890 to 1891. In Paris, he discovered his journalistic side by writing for some newspapers. Upon returning to Valencia he wrote La Araña Negra (The Black Spider), a novel directed against the Jesuits that created problems for Ibáñez and forced him to defend himself in court. Continuing with his political activities, he founded the El Pueblo newspaper in which he constantly published articles as well as writing folletones or serialized novels. These novels reflected the world of his readers and ended up becoming very successful and popular. He would also publish Arroz y Tartana ("Airs and Graces") y Flor de mayo ("mayflower").
For his unpatriotic activities against the Spanish-American War he had to flee to Italy where he wrote one of the greatest travel guides: En el País del Arte (In the Country of Art).
The naturalist style of Blasco Ibáñez is clearly shown in his novellas valencianas like La Barraca (The Hut), Entre naranjos (Between Orange Trees) y Cañas y barro (Reeds and Mud). He also wrote some novellas with a social leaning like La cathedral (The Cathedral), La bodegay La horda (The Horde) which was published by Editorial Promoteo (Prometheus), the publishing house which he co-owned with a friend. His publishing house also printed the books of Emile Zola, Tolstoi, Dumas, Hugo, Poe, Voltaire, Darwin and Marx.
From 1898 to 1905 he was a deputy in the Spanish Parliament in Madrid where he started a friendship with the Beinllure brothers, Mariano (a sculptor) and Juan Antonio (a painter). He would also meet other well known people loke Santiago Rusiñol and Emilia Pardo Bazán.
After this time, he dedicated himself completely to literature and the promotion of his publishing house. In 1908 he wrote one of his most well known works, Sangre y Arena (Blood and Sand), which would later be adapted by Hollywood to the silver screen in a movie starring Rudolph Valentino. He travelled to Argentina to participate in a conference and also passed through Chile. From this trip was born the work Argentina y sus Grandezas (Argentina and its Grandeur), another one his great travel guides. During this time in America he tried to create a colony of Valencian farmers in the area of Paraná. There, he founded the colonies of Nueva Valencia and Cervantes but failed in his intent and returned to Spain practically bankrupt. Ironically, these colonies have turned into the most important rice growing regions in this South American country.
Upon returning to Europe right before the outbreak of WWI in 1914, Vicente Blasco Ibáñez began to write. With the war now as his source of inspiration he began a trilogy of the "Great War": Los Cuatro Jinetes del Apocolypsis (The Four Horseman of the Apocalypse), Mare Nostrum and Los Enemigos de la Mujer. The first of these didn't receive any attention in Europe and was outshone by the book All Quiet on the Western Front by E.M. Remarque. But in the US, his Four Horsemen achieved a level of success not seen since the publication of Uncle Tom's Cabin. The book, The Four Horseman of the Apocalypse, premiered in 1921 and starred Rudolph Valentino. The success of the film was incredible and a wave of popularity for Blasco Ibáñez swept across America.
After this success, he returned to Europe and moved into a house he owned located along the Côte d'Azur that he named Fontana Rosa en memory of the Malvarrosa beach in Valencia. During this time he wrote books upon commission (he would earn an advance of $50,000 for each one). Not being satisfied with this lifestyle he decided to take a trip around the world which would later be the inspiration and source for another book: La Vuelta al Mundo de un Novelista or The Trip Around the World of a Novelist.
He directly confronted the dictator Primo de Rivera and the figure of King Alfonso XIII with the publication of some flyers: Una nación secuestrada (El terror militarista en España); Lo que será la República española; Por España y contra el rey (Alfonso XIII desenmascarado). These flyers were well received by the French Republic as well as a lawsuit (which did not prosper) filed by the Spanish government claiming slander. Blasco Ibáñez created and financed the magazine España con Honra (Spain with Honor), a bulletin of the opposition in exile to the dictatorship of Primo de Rivera. Blasco Ibáñez also renounced his candidacy to form part of the Royal Spanish Academy and began to work on his autobiography, La juventud del mundo which remained unfinished due a pneumonia which led to his death in Menton, France. He passed away in this beloved Fontana Rosa on the eve of his 61st birthday.
His remains were repatriated back to Spain during the time of the Second Republic, but the mausoleum designed by Santiago Benllure was never constructed due to the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War. The biography of this author published by the Blasco Ibáñez Foundation ends with this:
"His memory was erased, his books banned, his family persecuted and his holdings confiscated. The work done to this point on his mausoleum was destroyed and the area where his grave was located, a privileged area of the municipal cemetery, was used years later for the construction of a crematorium. Regardless of all of this, his remains remain intact and are resting in an ordinary niche, almost anonymously, in the civil cemetery of Valencia."