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Nationalism, National Identity and Territory: Jacint Vedaguer and the Catalan Renaixença

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John Etherington

This research forms part of a wider reflection on the centrality of the rural mountainous hinterland in the Catalan national imagination – or at least in its conservative form. If we ask the Catalan population where the essence of the nation is to be found, we inevitably end up talking of the interior, of places like Montserrat, the plain of Vic and the Pyrenean mountains. The objective of this research, then, was to identify the origins of this sentiment in time and to explain the reasons for its emergence, since far from being something natural or primordial, like all identities, it seemed to me to be the result of a complex interaction of forces and specific social circumstances.

 

John Etherington

This research forms part of a wider reflection on the centrality of the rural mountainous hinterland in the Catalan national imagination – or at least in its conservative form. If we ask the Catalan population where the essence of the nation is to be found, we inevitably end up talking of the interior, of places like Montserrat, the plain of Vic and the Pyrenean mountains. The objective of this research, then, was to identify the origins of this sentiment in time and to explain the reasons for its emergence, since far from being something natural or primordial, like all identities, it seemed to me to be the result of a complex interaction of forces and specific social circumstances.

 

Thus, the article focuses above all on the Renaixença, the cultural and literary movement that , during much of the 19th century, tried to give a national form to cultural and literary expression in Catalonia. Through the study of several authors and events – the els Jocs Florals being one example – we see how one of its leitmotifs is the construction of the dichotomy between the corrupting modernity of urban life and the purity of rural life and its people. Of all the figures of the Renaixença, Jacint Verdaguer, stands out, due in no small part to his magnum opus, Canigó, in which Verdaguer would take up the themes of his predecessors and combine them in a foundational allegory of the Catalan nation. Thus, an image emerges of a Catalonia going back over a thousand years, whose essence is to be found in the rural areas and in the values of the people who live there.

 

In terms of explaining this centrality of rural Catalonia in the national imagination, the paper addresses a fundamental question: Independently of its literary merits, what is it that makes Verdaguer and his poetic vision of Catalonia so dominant in his own and in future eras? The answer, it is argued, is to be found in the complex web of class relations to be found in late 19th-century Catalonia. During this period, Catalonia went through a triangular conflict between the industrial bourgeoisie, the industrial proletariat and those sectors, to be found mostly in rural Catalonia, who had fought in three Carlist Wars in favour of the traditional order against capitalist modernity. Catalan nationalism, promoted by the industrial bourgeoisie, thus emerges as a means of forging an alliance between that bourgeoisie and the rural traditionalists against the threat of working-class radicalism. These traditionalist sectors of Catalan society were attracted to the cause precisely because the new national identity constructed by Verdaguer and his fellow writers was a mirror image of them.

 

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Etherington, John (2010) “Nationalism, National Identity and Territory: Jacint Verdaguer and the Catalan Renaixença”, Ethnic and Racial Studies, 33, 10, pp. 1814-1832.