In 1932, when Josep Maria de Sagarra published Private Life (Proa), he made two things clear. On the one hand, it was not a novel in the traditional sense of the term, but rather a report on what he had seen in Barcelona society. On the other, that the characters that appear, although readers may be reminded of some real people of the time, are imagined, but that the search for verisimilitude may have produced this identification.
Despite these clarifications, the truth is that, when the book was published, readers found more than reasonable similarities between the characters and some members of society that Sagarra knew well. And that, of course, did not like some.
In the book Sagarra, vist pels seus íntims (The Bell), Lluís Permanyer writes: “When he met Mercè Devesa he began to write Private Life. She would finish it in two months: by jet, afternoon and night, at the Ateneu. It was also a scandal book, not so much because it was a testimony of the sins and debauchery of a certain degenerate society, but because it was public and notorious that it was a novel in code. Almost all the characters that he made appear were personalities, well-known people in the city. They would never forgive him for being portrayed in that etching without any kind of makeup”.
And Josep Pla described it as a “social chronicle with excellent adjectives, a malicious book, thoughtful, full of interest, of unquestionable European normality”.
What is undeniable is that Private Life gained momentum even then and, today, is considered one of the great novels of Barcelona. With irony and acidity, Sagarra portrays a society that lives for appearances, although, as in the case of the protagonist family, the Lloberolas, under the façade of a wealthy family of powerful lineage, the ruin has made all their heritage disappear.
The book was published in two volumes, which cover the twenties and thirties of the most intoned Barcelona, which went easily from salons to brothels, and which Sagarra uses to portray the hypocrisy of that society of appearances. The International Exhibition of 1929, on Montjuïc, marks the passage from the end of the dictatorship of Primo de Rivera to the advent of the Republic.
In the midst of these social and political changes, the decline of the Lloberola family occurs, a family of the Barcelona aristocracy ruined by the inability of its patriarch to adapt to the new times. When he dies, the pride of the eldest son, Frederic, makes him unable to maintain his position and will end up asking for alms among those who had previously served him.
Instead, Guillem, the other brother, will try to recover the family's social position without any scruples and resorting to all kinds of dirty tricks. And still, Frederic's daughter, Maria Lluïsa, will fight for her independence, although her circumstances will not help her.
The novel was adapted for the theater by Xavier Albertí, in a version that premiered at the Teatre Lliure in 2010. And Sílvia Munt directed the television adaptation in 2018, in a two-part miniseries produced by TV3 and Oberon Cintematogràfica.
Josep Maria de Sagarra (Barcelona, 1894-1961) was a versatile writer. He was a poet, columnist, playwright of an extensive work, translator and, as we have just seen, he also approached the novel. Today he is remembered for some of his most popular plays (Mar i cel, El cafè de la Marina, L'hostal de la Glòria, La filla del mar...) and, above all, for this novel, which accurately portrays the Barcelona of the time and the private life of some of its inhabitants.
Catalan version, here