The visit of the Nobel Prize winner Jacinto Benavente to Zaragoza

A century ago now, the Swedish Academy awarded Jacinto Benavente (Madrid, 1866-1954) the Nobel Prize for Literature. The news, which occurred on November 9, 1922, caught him in Argentina. He had embarked in March for Buenos Aires as artistic director of the Lola Membrives company. That same year, in June, he had received a tribute at the Belmont Theater in New York, because the English version -starring Nance O’Neil- of ‘ La malquerida’, one of his main works with ‘Los intereses vestidos’, ‘Rosas de otoño’ ‘Señora ama’, to cite some of the best-known texts.

The Swedish Academy said that he was awarded the award, which José Echegaray had previously achieved, for “to have continued with dignity the traditions of Spanish theater”. In the reception speech, the president of the Academy stressed that Benavente “has observed his world with extremely clear and sharp eyes, and what he has seen has been measured and weighed with an alert and flexible intelligence. He has not allowed himself to be deceived by men or by ideas, not even by his own ideas or his own feeling… ”. The curious thing is that Benavente did not go to collect such an important honor nor did he collect the check of 122,482.56 crowns (about 12,000 euros today). However, the diploma, medallion and uncashed check are preserved in the National Historical Archive.

Benavente was a master of theatrical carpentry, he dominated stage and narrative resources like few others, and specialists underline the satirical capacity of his work, his condition as a stubborn critic and fine analyst of the society of his time. In Spain he was already an institution because he had also been a deputy to Cortes and belonged to the Royal Academy of Language, and he already had many books and dramas behind him. The world was different then: on his return from Argentina, Chile and Cuba, where he also stayed, he was the subject of several tributes in different cities in Spain, and among them he also visited Zaragoza on October 25, 1923.

The curious thing is that Jacinto Benavente did not go to collect such an important honor nor did he collect the check of 122,482.56 crowns (about 12,000 euros today). However, the diploma, medallion and uncashed check are preserved in the National Historical Archive.

Nobel visit announced

If one follows the information from HERALDO, it is verified that his visit was taken very seriously, a commission was formed that met on October 8, 1923, made up of authorities (the mayor Fabiani, the president of the Zaragoza Provincial Council), national heroes (Basilio Paraíso) and journalists. It was decided that Jacinto Benavente would inaugurate the Ateneo course. He agreed to do it with the talk ‘Influence of the writer on modern life’; At the same time, in the Teatro Principal, his work ‘El nido ajeno’ was represented with María Ladrón de Guevara and Rafael Rivelles. And it was announced on the front page that “perhaps during this festival the city’s Gold Medal will be awarded to Benavente.”

Benavente leaves the Provincial Council, after being named Adoptive Son.
Benavente leaves the Provincial Council, after being named Adoptive Son.
Lucas Cepero/Photogravure Heraldo.

For several days there were several loose texts in HERALDO about the upcoming arrival of the Nobel and the same day that he came, at night, on an express, a portrait of him was published. It was said: “He has arrived in the Public Works ‘breack’ ceded for this purpose by the Board of Directors, and he will rest there until nine in the morning. The authorities, representatives of Corporations, the Board of Directors of the Athenaeum, students from various Faculties will come to receive him at this time at the station. A mounted section of the Civil Guard will march at the head of the organized procession”.

Jacinto Benavente, who was 56 years old at the time, had a very complete, almost strenuous program prepared for him, which had a break at one o’clock in the restaurant of the Casino Mercantil, and which would have its central act at 8:00 p.m. HERALDO dedicated three full pages to the event. On the cover of Friday, October 26, appeared the ‘Salutation to the eminent comedian Jacinto Benavente’ by Alberto Casañal Shakery, a very popular costumbrista author. He started like this: “Master: This poet who has the high honor / in this beautiful party of being your singer.” The text is long and reads: “And from the misty, poetic and wild / Scandinavian lands / where the Nobel Prize / placed an eternal laurel on your temples / to our sisters / the rebellious and virgin American lands”.

A special day in the life of Zaragoza

At ten o’clock in the morning of October 25, after the mayor Fabiani’s welcome, in the Provincial Palace – “adorned with a profusion of plants, flowers and tapestries”, it is written – President Mariano Pin presented him with the diploma of Adoptive Son of Zaragoza and he, among other things, responded like this: “Zaragoza has always been one of the most beloved cities in Spain for me; I will keep for myself indelible memories; I have visited it many times. I came to her first with my father, then with my holy mother and now that I come alone, that is why I appreciate this demonstration of affection more since I am orphaned of those affections”.

Benavente with the mayor Fabiani and other authorities in the Zaragoza City Council: he has just been awarded the Gold Medal.
Benavente with the mayor Fabiani and other authorities in the Zaragoza City Council: he has just been awarded the Gold Medal.
Lucas Cepero/Photogravure Heraldo.

The delegation visited “the provincial Hospice”, where they showed them the dining room, said that they would send a copy of all their signed books to the library, and at the end a young woman “greeted them effusively offering them a handful of flowers”. Later he was in the Girls’ Sanatorium and, at 12:00, in the Zaragoza City Hall they awarded him the Gold Medal of the City; The secretary, Mr. Berdejo, and then the mayor, Mr. Fabiani, spoke at the event, who said, among other things: “You are welcome to Zaragoza; thank you, sir, for your grace; continue to enlighten the Spanish people with your healthy literature, with your marvelous star”.

From there they went to the Palafox Archive and then to the Pilar (“the eminent writer prayed briefly before the patron saint of Aragon ‘offering’ her a beautiful bouquet of flowers”, says the HERALDO chronicler) and, finally, after resting a bit at the hotel and change clothes, ate at the Casino Mercantil.

HERALDO announces: “After dessert there was a moment of great emotion; the one in which Santiago Lapuente accompanied his beautiful disciple Felisa Asensio on guitar, who interpreted with an excellent voice and great style and several jotas “. The secretary of the Ateneo, Pedro Galán, read a poem where he said: “That the flowers wither / I say that it is not true. / There are some ‘Autumn Roses’ / that will not wither”. In the afternoon, Jacinto Benavente was in the Reformatory for Juvenile Delinquents, in La Caridad and in the Gascón y Marín school group. In all of them there were various endearing and funny anecdotes. In Gascón y Marín, Guillermo Fatás, grandfather of the historian, writer and former director of HERALDO Guillermo Fatás, “He made the figure of the outgoing writer stand out, but that he was not forgotten in the memory of the children. An orfeón of girls, directed by Inocencio Legaz, sang the Anthem of Aragón of the same and several jotas in chorus, with two beautiful girls acting as soloists , Mercedes Navarro and Monica Gomez Segura”.

In the Athenaeum and in the Principal Theater

In his conference at the Athenaeum, where he was interrupted on several occasions, he talked about many topics: World War I, Dante and Shakespeare and the way to configure characters, the relationship between theater and the public, etc. And he affirms: “The influence of the writer as a popularizer and popularizer of ideas is undeniable, although sometimes the truth has to distort it a bit, and aside from this influence, individually, how many emotions, how many sensibilities aroused!” And later he added: “As Shakespeare said: put into the sea all the treasures of the world that will be trifles when drowned and lost in its immensity.”

A young woman gives Jacinto Benavente a bouquet of flowers at the Cabezo Cortado Sanatorium.
A young woman gives Jacinto Benavente a bouquet of flowers at the Cabezo Cortado Sanatorium.
Lucas Cepero/Photogravure Heraldo.

Later, he dined at the mayor’s house and attended the gala performance of ‘El nido ajeno’ at the Teatro Principal, with the piece already begun. At the end of the function, Rafael Rivelles read, “admirably” the poem ‘Salutation’ by Alberto Casañal, which he came out to greet. Fernando Porredón “said Benavente’s beautiful ‘Immoral Tale’ with great grace, and the beautiful Felisa Asensio once again sang some allusive jotas, awarded with standing ovations”, this newspaper noted.

Jacinto Benavente still had to go out to say hello at the Teatro Principal. And by way of culmination, “he wonderfully recited the prologue to ‘Los intereses vestidos’”. Then, accompanied by his hosts, he went to the station and got on the express to Madrid.

Jacinto Benavente still had to go out to say hello. And by way of culmination, “he wonderfully recited the prologue to ‘Los intereses vestidos’”. Then, accompanied by his hosts, he marched to the station and got on the express to Madrid. He was sure that he had in his head some verses by Casañal: “… the greeting of the Ebro that acclaims you as you pass, / the kiss of the Pilar / and the endearing embrace of the people of Aragon”.

It was not the first time that the city hosted a Nobel Prize winner. In March of that year, without going any further, Albert Einstein had spent 50 hours in Zaragoza.

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The visit of the Nobel Prize winner Jacinto Benavente to Zaragoza