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by Bamber Gascoigne



Spanish essayist and novelist, one of the most important social philosophers in the 1890s in Spain, member of the literature circle 'La Cuerda granadina'. Ángel Ganivet committed suicide at the age of 33. In his doctoral dissertation Ganivet descibed Spain as a divided country where ideas are used as destructive political weapons – a view which already predicted the bitterness of the Spanish Civil War. Ganivet himself was a divided character: he was deeply religious but at the same time a sceptic, a diplomat but known for his blunt openness, optimistic in Idearium español (1897), but pessimistic and unhappy in his private life. Central theme in his work was the spiritual regeneration of Spain.

"I don't find the Finnish woman aesthetically attractive, because she is too little feminine. Here are young women, not much, who are called dockor, dolls. Ibsen's play Et Dukkehjem (A Doll's House) has made popular the characterless type of woman, who decides to become emancipated by abandoning her child in order to have more time for amusements." (from Cartas finlandesas, 1898)

Ángel Ganivet was born in Granada into a modest family of millers. His father, Francisco Ganivet, an amateur artist in his spare time, committed suicide in 1875, leaving his wife, Angeles García de Lara y Siles to take care of their five children and to look after a mill and a bakery. However, the business prospered and she managed to give her children the best possible education. Ganivet's relationship with her mother was close one. After leaving home, he corresponded with her until her death in 1895.

From early on, Ganivet was interested in languages. A former classmate recalled that he had an unusual aptitude for Latin. In the secondary school he was enrolled in the French and German courses. He then studied at the Institute of Granada (1880-85) and University of Granada, where he took up the study of Arabic and Greek, receiving degrees in the arts and law. To pursue academic work, he enrolled in the University of Madrid. Along with his other studies, he became interested in the Sanskrit research.  After receiving his 1890, Ganivet entered the Archives, Libraries and Museum Service. On his spare time he taught an illiterate woman who had cleaned his room in a boarding house to read and write. (Angel Ganivet by Judith Ginsberg, 1985, p. 20)

A permanent state position gave Ganivet financial independence from his family. Ganivet's first doctoral thesis, España filosófica contemporánea, was rejected by Don Nicolás Salmerón, the chair of his doctoral committee. Undaunted by the failure, he completed a second dissertation, Importancia de la lengua sánscrita, which was accepted in the fall of 1889. Both Ganivet and the philosopher Miguel de Unamuno (1864-1936) competed for the chair of in Greek at the University of Salamanca; Unamuno was the one who succeeded. Although they never met again, Ganivet and Unamuno started to correspond publically in the pages of journals and periodicals. The correspondence was first published in the newspaper El Defensor de Granada, and later in book form, entitled El porvenir de España (1912).

Fluent in five languages, Ganivet's talents drew the attention of the Spanish consular service. He first worked for the Diplomatic Corps in Antwerp, Belgium (1892-96), Helsinki, Finland (1896-98), and Riga, Latvia. Compared to his education and remarkable intelligence he had shown through his university studies, Ganivet's career started in relatively modest way. In Antwerp Ganivet experienced an intellectual and spiritual crisis. Like the French poet Charles Baudelaire in Pauvre Belgique (Poor Belgium), written in Brussels, where he had fled in 1864 to escape his Parisian creditors, Ganivet didn't have much good to say about the Belgians and their culture. What becomes of the consulate, the chief secretary was caught for embezzling consular funds. An exception was the Belgian dramatist Maurice Maeterlinck, a future Nobel laureate. His collection of essays, Le Trésor des Humbles (1896, The Treasure of the Humble), Ganivet found worthy of praise.

The Finnish publisher and bookseller Wentzel Hagelstand wrote that Ganivet was least of all people a diplomat – he was open, unpretending, and did not try to please. Noteworthy, his female friends saw him in another light – they described him as an introvert.

His observations about the life in exotic Finland Ganivet published in letters, which were published in El Defensor between October 1896 and July 1897. Later these 22 short essays were collected in Cartas Finlandesas (1898).  Ganivet discovered that compared to his compatriots, the Finns know considerably more about the rest of the world. They are fascinated by progress, telephones are common, and telephone wires are in some places "as dense as the wires of a sieve." Moreover, he found Finnish women better educated than their Spanish counterparts, but basically he preferred the Spanish style "familia sentimental" to the Finnish style "familia intellectual." Upon reading the Finnish national epic, the Kalevala, he realized that there was not a scene that he would recognize as a love scene.

From 1892 Ganivet involved himself in a liaison with Amelia Roldán Llanos, a Cuban. They had a daughter, Natalia, who died of tuberculosis in infancy, and son, Angel Tristán. According to contemporary accounts Amelia  had extraordinary dark eyes and a lovely singing voice. While Ganivet was in Antwerp, she had a brief affair in Barcelona. The news of her infidelity hit Ganivet hard, but he did not end their relationship.

Moreover, Ganivet himself fell in love in Helsinki with his neighbour, Marie (Mascha) Djakoffsky, who gave lessons in languages and introduced him to the work of the Norwegian writers Jonas Lie, Bjørnstjerne Bjørnson and Henrik Ibsen. She possibly inspired his French poems, the Pensées melancoliques et sauvages.  Amelia became so jealous that Mascha had to escape abroad – she died in 1934. In Finland Ganivet learned Swedish, the language of the cultural and economic élite. However, the majority of the population was Finnish-speaking – also the size of the Finnish-speaking educated class had expanded. Ganivet read Swedish newspapers and literature and gave French lessons. The painter Hanna Rönnberg, who lived in the same building as Ganivet, made his portrait in December 1896 .

Most of his major work's works Gavivet wrote abroad. Idearium español (tr. Spain: An Interpretation, 1946) was dedicated to his father. Even before its publication, the book received favorable attention, though it came out without Ganivet's name attached. In the aftermath of the defeat in the Spanish-American war, it  offered a cathartic examination of the true spirit of Spain. Granada la bella (1896), which had also appeared anonymously, went unnoticed by the press. "My Granada is not the one you see today," he stated at the very first page, "it is the one it could be or should be, the one I am uncertain it will ever come to be. (Andalucia: A Literary Guide for Travellers by Andrew Edwards and Suzanne Edwards, 2016)

Unamuno said in the essay 'Ganivet, Philosopher,' written for the occasion of the fifth anniversary of Ganivet's death: "Read his Beautiful Granada and you will realize how clearly he saw that without the inner beauty of a free and harmonious life, ham and eau de cologne can become merely forms of barbarism." (Selected Works of Miguel de Unamuno, Volume 3: Our Lord Don Quixote, 1967, p. 371)  After Ganivet's death Granada la bella became "a clarion call to young men of Lorca's age and outlook." (Lorca - a Dream of Life by Leslie Stainton, 2013 , p. 33)  In 1896-97 Ganivet wrote La conquista del reino de Maya por el último conquistador español, Pio Cid, depicting the conquest and colonial rule of an imaginary country, Maya, which was set in the East Africa.

Ganives' sisters moved to Finland in 1898 but he became more and more unsociable. After leaving Spain he did not have any close frieds. In 1896-97 Ganivet wrote La conquista del reino de Maya por el último conquistador español, Pio Cid, depicting the conquest and colonial rule of an imaginary country, Maya, which was set in the East Africa. Los trabajos del infatigable creador Pío Cid was partly autobiographical novel. "Cid" (Conqueror) refers to a man of action; "Pío" (Pious Man) to contemplation and discussion. Uniting these two sides, the author's alter egos, a true soul can be born. Many members of the Confradía del Avellano, an elite group of Granada's artists and writers, were portrayed thinly disguised in the work.  

Ganivet left Finland when he was appointed canciller of the consulate in Riga. Against his wishes Amelia followed him to his new post. On the day of her arrival, on November 29, 1898, disillusioned in love, Ganivet drowned himself in the Dvina River, nearly failing in his attempt: he was first rescued but managed to throw himself into the river again. Ganivet had contemplated suicide for several years and he had suffered from progressive syphilitic paralysis. He might have contracted the syphilis while a student in Madrid.

"I see no great difference between life and death, for I believe that it is the idea alone which truly lives," Ganivet argued in the Idearium. "But the individual too must live, for he creates ideas, as must the species which preserve them." (Machado: A Dialogue With Time by Norma Louise Hutman, 1969, p. 12) After Ganivet's death, his friends and admirers, among them Navarro Ledesma and Nicolás María López, published obituaries in the Madrid newspapers. His verse drama El escultor de su alma appeared posthumously in 1899 and was performed first time in Granada on March 1 in the same year. Many of his letters were lost or destroyed in the hands of his family. Ganivet's remains were moved from Riga to Madrid and then to Granada in 1925.

Ganivet was a precursor of the Generation ´98, an intellectual and moral colleague of Antonio Machado, Azorín (pseud. of José Martínez Ruiz), Pio Baroja, and the educator, philosopher Miguel de Unamuno, who was the most prominent personality of the movement. A celebration to commemorate the fifth anniversary of Ganivet's death was organized in 1903. The participants included Unamuno, Martínez Ruiz, Ramiro de Maeztu, and the twenty-year-old Ortega y Gasset, but he was not overly enthusiastic about Idearium.

Ganivet wrote his major essays in Finland, among them Spain, an Interpretation, which examined the political situation of the country. In this examination of  the core of Spanishness,  the characterizations of nations are drawn according to their geographic identification as an island, peninsula, or continent. Spain is an exception – it is a peninsula that has adopted behaviours appropriate to an island nation. Is has also mixed Arab, Jewish, and Castilian heritage, which are ideal for the creation of a contemplative culture. Ganivet suggest that Spain's past was an error, a deviation of its true nature. Spain must realize her true mission and give birth to a great nation and culture. In his dissertation Ganivet argued that Spain's mission is corrupted by materialism and egotism. Ganivet's arguments are drawn from 19th-century debate over Catholicism, positivism, imperialism, and rationalism, but he uses them creatively, changing flexibly from topic to topic.

The publication of Francisco García Lorca's Angel Ganivet: Su idea del hombre (1952), Miguel Olmedo Moreno's El pensamiento de Ganivet (1965), and Antonio Gallego Morell's Angel Ganivet, el excéntrico del 98 (1965) created a new interest in his oeuvre. Lorca's brother Francisco remarked that Granada la bella "was the only work  of Ganivet Federico ever paid any attention to". (The Culture of Cursilería: Bad Taste, Kitsch, and Class in Modern Spain by Noël Valis, 2002, p. 265)

For further reading: Vida y obra de Ángel Ganivet by Melchor Fernández Almagro (1925); Juicio de Angel Ganivet sobre su obra literaria by L. Seco de Lucena Paredes (1962); 'Alkusanat' by Kaarle Hirvonen in Angel Ganivet: Suomalaiskirjeitä (1964); El pensamiento de Ganivet by Miguel Olmedo Moreno (1965); Ángel Ganivet, el excéntrico del 98 by Antonio Gallego Morell (1965); Ángel Ganivet, un iluminardo by Javier Herrero (1966); Ángel Ganivet's 'Idearium español': A Critical Study by Herbert Ramsden (1967); Temas, fomas y tonos literarios by Mariano Baquero Goyanes (1972); The 1898 Movement in Spain by Herbert Ramsden (1974); 'Ganivet, Angel' by J.H. [Javier Herrero], in Columbia Dictionary of Modern European Literature, ed. by Jean-Albert Bédé and William B. Edgerton (1980); Angel Ganivet by Judith Ginsberg (1985); Ángel Ganivet (1865-1898): la intelignecia escindida by Nelson R. Orringe (1998); La vertigine del nulla: nichilismo e pensiero tragico in Ángel Ganivet by Armando Mascolo (2010); Ángel Ganivet, crítico de la modernidad y la postmodernidad: la educación como mejora by Manuel E. Orozco Redondo (2013) Note: Ángel Ganivet Institute is situated in Granada.

Selected works:

  • España filosófica contemporánea, 1889 (doctoral dissertation)
  • Importancia de la lengua sánscrita y servicios que su estudio ha prestado a la ciencia del lenguaje en general y a la gramática comparada en particular, 1889 (accepted thesis)
  • 'En torno al casticismo', 1895 (in the journal La España Moderna)
  • Granada la bella, 1896 [The Beauty of Granada]
  • Idearium español, 1897 - Spain: An Interpretation (translated by J. R. Carey, 1946)
  • La conquista del reino de Maya por el último conquistador español, Pio Cid, 1897
  • Los trabajos del infatigable creador Pío Cid, 1898 [The Labors of the Tireless Creator, Pío Cid]
  • Cartas Finlandesas, 1898 - Angel Ganivet’s Finnish Letters (a translation by Jennie A. McConnell, 1969) - Suomalaiskirjeitä (suom. Kaarle Hirvonen, 1964)
  • Libro de Granada, 1899
  • Hombres del Norte, 1905 [Men of the North]
  • El escultor de su alma, 1906 [The Sculptor of His Soul]
  • El porvenir de España, 1912 (The Future of Spain; with Miguel de Unamuno)
  • Epistolario de Ángel Ganivet, 1919 (2. ed.)
  • Obras completas, 1923-30 (10 vols.; 2 vols., 1943)
  • Poesías, 1940 (ed. Juan del Rosal)
  • Correspondencia familiar de Ángel Ganivet: 1888-1897, 1967 (ed. Javier Herrero)
  • Cartas de Ángel Ganivet, 1979 (ed. Pedro Gan Giménez)  
  • Cartas de Ángel Ganivet, 2001 (foreword by Nicolás María López)
  • Epistolario, 2008 (ed. Fernando García Lara)  

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