Benavente: 100 years of the Nobel Prize

Don Mariano Benavente was a renowned Madrid pediatrician (although born in Murcia), closely related, due to his specialty, with the entertainment families. Don Mariano has a monument in the parterre of the Retiro. The good doctor had three children with his wife, Doña Venancia Martínez-Treceño. Jacinto was the youngest and was born in the family home on León Street on August 12, 1866. For much of his life he would live very close to there, on Atocha street, next to the Calderón theater.

Jacinto premiered his first work –alien’s nest– at the Teatro de la Comedia in 1894. The lukewarm reception by the public did not foreshadow that he would become the most commercial and prolific playwright of the first half of the 20th century. works like Vested Interests, Lady Loves, La Malquerida, Autumn Roses either the happy city Y confident were some of his hits. He premiered more than 170 comedies. The first actresses of each era disputed their works because they always had great brilliance papers. Rosario Pino, María Guerrero or Lola Membrives were his great divas.

the laureate

In 1922, Jacinto Benavente was already a consecrated figure in Spain and Latin America. It was not a good year personally because his mother, to whom he was very close, had passed away. He also had his run-ins with critics and with his colleagues, so he put the land in between and left for America. On November 9 of that year 1922, the Swedish Academy announced that he had been awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature: “For the fortunate way in which he has continued the illustrious traditions of Spanish theater”. The telegram informing him of the news arrived at a stop in the middle of the Argentine pampas. The company of which he was artistic director would not return to Spain until July 1923. Then a great tribute was paid to him, despite the fact that his award caused quite a few rejections in the literary circles of the Capital. The press reported that Benavente would receive some 230,000 pesetas, a fortune at the time. José Echegaray was the first Spaniard to receive the Nobel, in 1904, and later Ramón y Cajal would obtain it in 1906.

Undoubtedly that award, which was beginning to have repercussions, although without reaching the current levels, did nothing but consolidate the prestige of the writer from Madrid. Already he had been elected, in 1912, a member of the Royal Academy replacing Marcelino Menéndez Pelayo. He never delivered the obligatory commencement speech.

Caricature of Benavente (Author: Fernando Fresno)

the final years

At 56 years old, and with a Nobel Prize, don Jacinto tirelessly continued to premiere. He only had a hiatus during the Civil War. At the beginning of this he was detained for a few hours in Barcelona. Surely his captors were not aware of who they were arresting. After being released he moved to Valencia, where the government of the Republic was installed, and there he spent the entire war, enthusiastically collaborating with all the activities that were proposed to him. When Franco’s army entered that capital, Benavente is supposed to have been contrite for the past years. Even so, the victorious regime was not initially convinced by his repentance and, for some time, his works were advertised as “by the author of La Malquerida”. The last years of his life were spent with Luis Hurtado’s family, his children and his daughter-in-law, actress Mary Carrillo. He was theatrically protected, or almost ‘kidnapped’ by Arturo Serrano and Isabel Garcés. He died in Madrid on July 14, 1954. The entire nation dressed in mourning and tributes were paid to him from the four cardinal points. And in his death, one of the darkest issues in his life was uncovered: the existence of a daughter.

Today the Benavente theater has disappeared from the billboards. It has been more than twelve years since a work of his has been performed, vested interests. The Spanish Theater, of which he was a businessman in the twenties together with the actor Ricardo Calvo, celebrates this centenary without much enthusiasm. Until November 14 it is represented in the Margarita Xirgu room The enchantment of an hour, a short piece published in 1892. Between November and December there will be dramatized readings of Pinpricks, The alien nest, The happy and confident city Y Titania.

I am not aware that the City Council is also going to commemorate the centenary of the award of a Nobel Prize to a Madrilenian.

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Benavente: 100 years of the Nobel Prize