Montserrat Roig: Ramona, adéu! (Goodbye, Ramona)
Ramona is, in fact, three people in this book, three generations of Catalan women, all called Ramona, though also called Mundeta, a family variant on Ramona. We follow their different stories, jumping from one to the other and back again. The first marries the widow Climent’s nephew Francisco Ventura. (Climent is not a widow; her husband ran off with a Parisian dancer but she is called a widow.) This take place at the end of the nineteenth century, though her story continues well into the twentieth century.
Ramona 2 is alive during the Spanish Civil War, living in Barcelona while it is under attack by Francoist forces. Her husband is called Joan and he seems to be involved in dubious currency speculation during the war. Ramona 3 is contemporary (i.e. living in the 1960s) and, unlike Ramonas 1 and 2 seems intent, at the age of seventeen, on losing her virginity. Jordi is her beau, a man who needs no-one but himself. (I have used numbering for the Ramonas but the book uses their maiden names, Jover, Ventura and Claret). The book is not told in chronological order but jumps between the different stories and within the stories.
All three women (and other women in the book) struggle with their lives and, of course with their men and the patriarchy. Starting with Ramona 1, we find, early in the book, that she marries Francisco Ventura. I’m not sure why I’m getting married. It’s so hard to understand what fate has in store. A woman needs a man by her side for fear of ending up alone or of becoming a laughing stock. She has romantic notions, obtained from novels (which she is strongly discouraged from reading) and from stories from her grandfather. While there is affection at the beginning (her mother watches them like a hawk when he visits before their marriage), the marriage is not a particularly happy one
The couple honeymoon in Paris but she is not overly impressed with Paris. (One of the themes of the novel is that all three Ramonas have a love-hate relationship with Barcelona. They want to live there but complain about changes and/or about various faults with the city.)
The couple settle into a routine. Eventually they will have separate beds. She finds life boring and hates housework. (There is little my life worth talking about. As I leaf through my diary, I am embarrassed by the mediocrity it exudes ). He patronises her, not telling her about his business dealings as she would not understand. However, she does (almost) break out. She is attracted to a young student and the feeling is reciprocated.
Ramona 2, as mentioned, was around during the Spanish Civil War. We know that Barcelona got battered during the war and we see evidence of this in her story. Early in the book, Ramona 2, learns that her husband is off to a meeting – neither she nor we know why – though he does seem to be involved in some dubious currency speculation. As with her mother, Ramona does not know the details of what her husband does. She knows he is meeting someone at the Coliseum. When she hears that a lorry carrying dynamite has exploded in front of the building, killing and injuring many, she naturally is very concerned. She does not like going out, worried about being assaulted and hating the sight of damaged buildings. However, she does go and even visits the morgue. She finds a body who might be her husband but learns that three other women have also identified the body as their husband.
Her marriage to Joan does not seem particularly happy either. She did have a relationship before meeting him and that seemed to be the love of her life but it did not work out. She does have a friend, Kati. Women secretly envied Kati, her way of vivre sa vie and being independante. She is thirty, single, lives on her own and parties. Just as her mother was watched, Ramona 2 has a chaperone when she goes out to the cinema, though she manages to escape.
Ramona 3 is not surprisingly more liberated but still has man problems. At the age of seventeen, she is determined to lose her virginity (it was a troubling annoyance). She has a boyfriend, Jordi, and both are involved in politics (anti-Franco). Inevitably, things go wrong with Jordi, not least because he is a man who needs no-one but himself. He, of course, is also patronising – Jordi says Sometimes it seems like you’re a caged bird who wants to fly away but doesn’t know how while her father says to her even when you are alone you dress everything up as literature and the cheapest kind at that. There is also a Kati equivalent in the form of Anna, who has multiple relationships.
Though not key, religion and politics play a role. The Catalan woman has always been the most loyal keeper of our faith and of our land’s traditions, you must understand that this is your racial virtue, Ramona 2 is told. While politics comes more to the fore with Ramona 3 and Jordi, as they oppose Franco, there is the Spanish Civil War in the Ramona 2 story and some political discussion in the Ramona 1 story. However, it is only with Ramona 3 that women are deemed worthy of being involved, albeit playing second fiddle to the men.
All three of our Ramonas make a life for themselves but, all too often, are not very happy, either with their boyfriends/spouses, the city in which they live, their families or their lives. They feel repressed by the role that women are expected to fulfil. Though the patriarchy is certainly to blame, it is often their mothers that try to rein them in and make them follow the right path for a well-bred Catalan woman, which simply means marriage and motherhood and nothing much else.
Roig herself did have a fulfilling life as an author and journalist and she was also very much involved in politics but she was clearly aware that for many women, life was not fulfilling and women were very much constrained.
First published in 1972 by Edicions 62
First published in English in 2022 by Fum d’Estampa
Translated by Megan Berkobien and María Cristina Hall