Less than a decade ago, the name of Luisa Carnés and the title of her best novel, Tea Rooms. working women, Only a handful of scholars (few) of Spanish literature of the Second Republic knew about them, and those who had delved into the ruptures of the Spanish exile. It was not in university literature programs, almost no one had read it.
In a few days, that name, Luisa Carnés, will roll every afternoon in the final credits of the new TVE soap opera, in the style of To love in troubled times, because the public channel will premiere La Moderna tea room, a serial that is expected to last a long time, based on Carnés’s 1934 novel. In addition, many high school students who have just started the course will find themselves with Tea Rooms as one of the mandatory readings.
It reflects the atmosphere of Madrid in the 1930s, based on her experience as a waitress in a tea room.
That trip, the definitive entry of Luisa Carnés into the canon of 20th century Spanish literature, has been as anomalous as it is inevitable. It is hardly surprising that a self-taught author, a woman, a communist and an exile, one of the Sinsombreros who were hidden by the usual list of the generation of ’27, was relegated to oblivion. And it is equally unsurprising that she now arouses enormous interest.
To begin with, what is Tea Rooms. Working women? where does it come from? The book, a choral and coming-of-age novel in which Carnés drew on her own experience as a waitress in a tea room in the center of Madrid (in the first edition, it was described as a “reportage novel”), was the third of those that would arrive. to publish the author before the Civil War and exile cut short her path. The book is in the form of a choral portrait and has clear political intentions, denouncing the employment conditions of those women who earned three pesetas a month, an insufficient salary, and who also had to endure subordination to the master, in their homes and in the workplace. job. Matilde and the other waitresses in the tea room were the ones who served snacks to the distinguished women who went to the Lyceum of Madrid and who appear in Elena Fortún’s novels, although later the war and exile reduced everyone, the Carnés and the Fortún, to the same ostracism.
Her main work is a feminist novel from the 1930s, which has taken 90 years to find its audience.
Published in 1934, Tea Rooms It was not published again in Spain until 2014, in a tiny print run by Lance, the label of second-hand booksellers in Madrid, and thanks to the efforts of a high school teacher and historian, Antonio Plaza, who knew Carnés’ work and was in contact with his family. Two years later, in 2016, the critic and university professor David Becerra, another early admirer of Carnés’s work, spoke of Tea Rooms to the editors of the Asturian label Hoja de Lata. “We got a copy and were amazed by what he proposed, with the strength he had, with the validity of many of his ideas. We saw that Tea Rooms It had a clear interest for a general audience and we contacted the family to obtain the rights,” explains Daniel Álvarez, from Hoja de Lata. His intuition was not wrong. With the push of contemporary authors such as Marta Sanz, who in an epilogue says of her that “Carnés contradicts the axioms of a literature written at the dictates of power,” demonstrating that a communist woman can write “better” than a “man who shows off of a neutrality that places him next to the gods” and that “a self-taught person can write better than a university student from the Student Residence”, Tea Rooms It became one of the surprises of the 2016 Madrid Book Fair.
Since then, the label has made 15 more editions, including a commemorative one, and has sold some 25,000 copies. “Every year we have to reprint it, it is our long seller. The canonization is being done correctly, without haste and without forcing. We are very grateful to the teachers who are including Luisa Carnés in the syllabi. Literature had a historical debt with her,” says Álvarez.
Many high school students find ‘Tea Rooms’ as mandatory reading this year
One of those teachers is Rosa Linares, a teacher of Spanish literature at the María de Molina Institute in Madrid and co-author, along with Guadalupe Jover, of a reading itinerary that she has shared on networks and who was part of the writing of Lomloe, the last educational law. The idea is to start from Tea Rooms to talk about feminism and political commitment in the Silver Age, the Civil War and Clara Campoamor, and then lead to other authors, such as Carmen Martín Gaite. “Last year, I offered the book in a second year high school module, they could choose between Bohemian lights and Tea Rooms and I was surprised that the majority opted for Carnés,” explains Linares. “The students, above all, told me that they had the sensation of reading a current novel. It took 90 years for an audience to be born that understands the ethical and moral space from which Carnés wrote,” she says. There were some gender reading differences in the class. “The girls told me: ‘That’s great, we always read men.’ And the boys empathized a lot with the character of the waiter whose son is killed by fascists in Italy, because he is one of the few important male characters in the novel. Will it help this year that TVE will be broadcasting a series based on the book? “I don’t know, if it were Netflix it would be something else. But it will surely contribute to spreading the word about Carnés.”
Valvanuz Vega, also a teacher at the Jorge Manrique de Tres Cantos Institute in Madrid, has also incorporated it into her syllabus, breaking with the inertia that leads many centers to always offer the same degrees to students: “The road, The hive, The house of Pascual Duarte…”, lists Vega. “I finished my degree in 1999 and I had teachers who finished the 20th century in Lorca,” he denounces. This explains why many of these professors have to first face their own departments, which are not very fond of changes in the syllabus and who did not study Carnés’s work during their university years. The first time Vega dared to Tea Rooms In class he clashed with a second-year high school group that was “very sanitary” and unenthusiastic about literature, but last year he joined a “very demanding” high school arts group. “It made for an enormously rich debate in class, the students detected things that have not changed so much. They were very interested in the abortion plot, which costs the life of one of the protagonists.”
The publishing house Hoja de Lata, which rescued the title, has 16 editions and more than 25,000 copies sold
“Oh, imagine reading Tea Rooms in high school,” commented the writer and journalist Anna Pacheco recently on X, the old Twitter. They gave it to her “two Sant Jordis ago” and she didn’t read it until this year. “Despite being a work of fiction, the truth is that Tea Rooms It can be read as a kind of ethnography of a distinguished tea room in Madrid. It is impossible not to notice that the author knows what she is talking about, she has worked there. I was very impressed by the very fine look and how critical he is towards the forms of domination towards the boss, the husband or God. There was no condescension, there was no worker essentialization,” she points out. Although Pacheco has in mind what Alejandro Zambra says in Do not read against compulsory reading at school, he also remembers having had “quite fascinating” literature teachers and celebrates that students now find themselves with this offer.
Meanwhile, Luisa Carnés’s own family, who has an account with her name on Juan Ramón Puyol is the grandson of the writer, whom he barely remembers (he was two years old when the whole family suffered the traffic accident that cost Carnés his life in 1964) and he dedicates himself body and soul to disseminating his grandmother’s work. just as his father asked him before he died. “What the high school teachers are doing is revolutionary, having the courage to dip their toes into the canon, bringing Luisa to the classrooms… is a Copernican change,” says this retired photojournalist, who was born in exile, in Mexico, and He arrived in Madrid in 1972, “dressed as a hippy, with flared pants and fringed jackets.”
The negotiation for the audiovisual adaptation of Tea Rooms It has been long and complex. The family still hopes that a film can be made that is a more faithful adaptation of the novel. The series that will premiere shortly (there is no confirmed date yet, but it is known that it will be in September), co-produced by RTVE itself, Boomerang TV and the French company Mediawan, will be different. Of necessity, the scriptwriters will have to invent new plots and characters to fill the many episodes that these serials last when they work well. “It’s another level, another dimension,” admits the author’s grandson. “It will definitively remove the work from scholarly circles. Madrid in the 1930s is fascinating and we are very curious to see what things they add and what things they recreate.”
A singular life
Hatter and Hatless
Born in the Literary neighborhood of Madrid, in a working family, Luisa Carnés did not have much time to train. At the age of eleven she started working as a milliner and later she was also a typist, telephone operator and worker in a pastry oven. While she was doing all this she was active in the PCE and in the cause for women’s suffrage. And she read the press serials and also Cervantes, Tolstoy and Dostoyevsky. She published her first book, ‘Pilgrims of Calvary’, a collection of short novels, when she was only 23 years old, and before she was 30 she established herself with ‘Tea Rooms. Working women’. By then she was already a regular in the left-wing press. During the war she dedicated herself to political propaganda – she premiered the militant play ‘This is how it began…’ at the Lara Theater – and in 1939 she had to go into exile. The story of her escape is collected in the book ‘From Barcelona to French Brittany’, which the Sevillian publishing house Renacimiento recovered in 2014. That label also published ‘The Missing Link’, her novel of exile, in which she narrates the generational rift between the losers of the war and her children, who grew up hearing about a Spain that did not exist. In Mexico, Carnés continued to work as a journalist, often signing under the pseudonym Clarita Montes. On March 8, 1964, the family went to celebrate Women’s Day and suffered a car accident in which Carnés died, aged only 59. “It was a very painful topic, my father had a hard time talking about it,” explains her grandson Juan Ramón. He estimates that there is still 40% of her work to be published and republished. Among this unpublished material is a novel that only saw the light of day in Mexico about maquis. Although she was not part of the intellectual cenacles of the 1930s, she is often included in the group of Las Sinsombrero, which renewed literature before the war.