November 30, 2010

Vargas Llosa admits to agreeing to censor himself in order to get published in Franco’s Spain


The young Mario Vargas Llosa

The young Mario Vargas Llosa

Literature’s newest Nobelist, Mario Vargas Llosa, has admitted that he censored his 1963 novel The City and the Dogs and other early work for publication in Spain “after being invited to lunch by the chief censor, Carlos Robles Piquer, who wanted the novel published but was worried the army would object.”

According to a story in The Guardian by Giles Tremlett, the discovery was made by Spanish newspaper El Paí­s, while researching the archives of the Franco government’s censorship office, the “Section for Bibliographical Orientation.”

Vargas Llosa, who splits his dual citizenship between Spain and his native Peru, does not deny that he “agreed to replace sections considered too rude for readers under Franco’s national Catholic regime or likely to upset the powers of the day.” But he did protest. As the files reveal, he wrote to Robles Piquer after their lunch, saying, “I want to meet my duty of courtesy to you, given your kindness, but that does nothing to change my opposition to the principals of censorship, convinced as I am that literary creation should be a totally free act, with no limitations beyond those of the writer and his own conscience.”

As to what, specifically, the censors didn’t like, here’s what the files revealed one said about The City and the Dogs: “The most common words are ‘shit’, ‘balls’, ‘fuck’ …. It is all generally repellent and refers throughout to not only to general immorality but to poofery, and that says it all.”

It certainly does.

Dennis Johnson is the founder of MobyLives, and the co-founder and co-publisher of Melville House. Follow him at @mobylives