Michael Eaude

Decline & Fall

Private Life

By Josep Maria de Sagarra (Translated by Mary Ann Newman)

Archipelago Books 493pp £14.99 order from our bookshop

Published in 1932, Private Life is one of Catalonia’s best-known works of fiction. In it Josep Maria de Sagarra (1894–1961), himself from an upper-class family, portrays an aristocracy in terminal decline. This is the grand novel of Barcelona’s high society, written with authoritative elegance and rolling, fluent sentences, rooted in the classics. Sagarra achieves a striking contrast between this rich prose and his sordid content. Mary Ann Newman has translated a difficult book with finesse and imagination, for meaning in the original is at times unclear and the language baroque as Sagarra overstretches for obscure vocabulary.

Private Life was one of only three novels that Sagarra wrote. Although criticised on its appearance for its scandalous subject matter, it has become his most famous book on account of its accurate dissection of moral, economic and social decadence and class change. Sagarra had a scintillating literary career in genres other than the novel. He was famous in Catalonia in the 1920s and 1930s as a poet, a translator of Dante and Shakespeare, and a popular author of some twenty-five plays.

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