Solitude, by Caterina Albert i Paradís

Caterina Albert i Paradís wrote Solitude under the absurdly patriotic pen-name Victor Català; – it was published in 1905. It tells the story of a woman, Mila, who marries a lazy fat clergyman who’s just, at the novel’s beginning, got a job looking after a hermitage perched halfway up a mountain. Mila sets about cleaning and looking after the hermitage, while her husband goes out begging, gambling and generally associating with ne’er-do-wells. Luckily there’s an old shepherd who acts as a kind of guide and mentor for Mila, showing her round the mountains and telling her the local myths. Mila forms a few bonds with some of the locals, but generally, aside from the shepherd, finds herself alone. There is little fulfillment either to be found in running the hermitage: – when there is a festival and everyone climbs up the mountain for the service, the place gets trashed in an orgy of drunkenness.

The blurb compares Albert’s portrayal of female sexuality with Lorca and DH Lawrence (both men), but what this book reminded me of most – perhaps for the particular rural setting, as much as for the sexuality – were the writings of Grazia Deledda. The two women were both writing about the same time about places (Catalonia and Sardinia) which don’t seem so very far removed. The sexuality in Albert’s book is never particularly explicit; it exists for the most part as a persistent sense of vague longing for something indefinable; with the sense too that, within this rural society, married to a useless man for whom she feels only contempt, Mila has no opportunity to explore any of her feelings and must instead repress them.

The book is published by Readers International – which I think was a publishing arm of Amnesty International; – and has a tendency to publish books either by writers suffering oppression or about such oppression. In general this seems to lead to books of varied quality – since quality is not the prime motivation of the publisher – but Solitude is unquestionably my favourite so far of all their publications I’ve read.