November 11, 2017

SOME FEATURES OF THE ALBANIAN NOVEL


»Albania today« Nr. 1/1984. The article is reprinted of historical reasons, BA

SOME FEATURES OF THE ALBANIAN NOVEL

by Dritëro Agolli

Chairman of the Writers and Artists' League of Albania

Albanian writers have always asked themselves: does the content of their works respond to the tasks the country is solving, the economic, social, ideological and political tasks our socialist state has to cope with? That is why they have not allowed themselves to be attracted by petty ordinary themes, but by the great theme of the revolution and the building of the new society

THE NOVEL EMERGED RATHER LATE ON THE HORIZON OF THE ALBANIAN LITERATURE. WHEN THE ALBANIAN WRITERS BEGAN TO WRITE NOVELS IN THEIR MOTHER TONGUE, THIS GENRE OF LITERATURE HAD EMERGED AND REACHED ITS COMPLETE MATURITY CENTURIES AGO IN EUROPE. THE DEVELOPMENT OF THE EUROPEAN NOVEL, WITH ITS PEAKS IN FRANCE, BRITAIN, RUSSIA AND OTHER COUNTRIES, COULD NOT GO UNNOTICED BY THE ALBANIAN WRITERS OF OUR NATIONAL RENAISSANCE, BECAUSE THEY WERE CULTURED PEOPLE WITH BROAD INTERESTS. BUT AT THAT TIME, IN THE 19th CENTURY, THE NOVEL COULD NOT BE WRITTEN IN ALBANIA, BECAUSE THE ALBANIAN LANGUAGE STILL HAD NOT ITS OWN ALPHABET; THE ILLITERATE PEOPLE WERE LANGUISHING UNDER THE YOKE OF THE OTTOMAN EMPIRE, THE MEN OF LETTERS HAD TO SOLVE MORE IMMEDIATE PROBLEMS CONCERNING THE AWAKENING OF THE NATIONAL AWARENESS BY MEANS OF POLITICAL AND TEACHING PAMPHLETS, POEMS AND ARTICLES, ASSEMBLIES AND OPEN AGITATION, ORGANIZATION AND DIRECTION OF THE PATRIOTIC MOVEMENT, WITH PLEASANT READERS FOR THE PUPILS, AND SO ON.


It is true that, at that time, the gap left by the lack of the novel was filled to some extent by the poems and poetry which were composed in the form of a long narrative with a fable and characters. The poet De Rada, for example, published the long poem, »The Songs of Milosao« in 1863, which may be called the first novel in verse of the Albanian literature. Nevertheless, we still cannot speak of the novel in the true sense of the word. At that time in place of the novel we had narratives about the popular fighters, legends about extraordinary events and supernatural heroes, rhapsodies about the valiant knights and the songs to heroes. Just as we today have the radio novel, at that time they had the long stories of their grandfathers and grandmothers, which were transmitted by word of mouth. Our grandmother and grandfathers were George Sand andDumas. This was the craddle in which the future Albanian novel was rocked, though not on paper, a novel which, even when it was born, would always retain a tinge of the strange narrative of our grandmothers and grandfathers.

The history of the Albanian novel has some specific phenomena which it would be of interest to mark out. The theme of our history was treated by European novelists even before Albanian writers took it up. In the 16th century the Italian Antonio Posenti was attracted by the figure of Skanderbeg and wrote his novel »Terror of the Turks« in 1548. Later, in 1644, the French writers Y. Chevreau wrote »Scanderbeg«, just as his contemporary I. Chevier did in 1732 writing the novel »Scanderbeg or the Adventures of the Albanian Prince«. The figure of Skanderbeg and later that of Ali Pasha of Tepelena attracted the attention of many European writers of the 19th century, of whom we may mention the Englishman G. Lodlow who wrote »The Captain of the Jenissaries«, the Italian A. Gioconda (»Scanderbeg«), the Pole T. Jeszi »About Life« and many others. Our men of culture, who had been formed in schools abroad, or who lived in emigration, were glad that the European writers found an inspiration in the Albanian history and life and used the Albanian material to write novels and stories, but, at the same time, they could not but be sorry that they could not do themselves what the foreigners were doing. At this point, another important phenomenon in the history of our novel occurred. At the time when the Albanian theme was cultivated by foreign writers, the Albanian writers began to write their novels in foreign languages, on the local material of their own country. Without doubt, these no veils are the fruit of the labour of beginners, but they are important for our culture. The first novel of this kind was that written by Sami Frashëri, »Telat's Love for Fitnet«, published in Turkish in 1872, for which he based himself on the works of Göte [Goethe], Hugo and Lamartine, who, as he admits: »sang to true love, truth, freedom and humanity instead of religious fanaticism«. However, the most valuable work written by the Albanian writers in a foreign language is Pashko Vasa's »Bardha of Temal«, written in French and published in Paris in 1890 under the penname of Albanus Albano. The novel reflects aspects of the Albanian life in the past century through the vicissitudes of two young lovers at the time of the Ottoman rule. The writer emphasizes the pride and valiance of the Albanians, their customs and noble virtues, without overlooking the serious social ulcers such as the blood feud, fanaticism, religious strife and the deplorable state of the Albanian women.

It is true that the novels written in a foreign tongue by our writers could have no great response among the readers abroad and were read at a relatively late time in Albania. Nevertheless, they prepared the ground for the emergence of the true Albanian novel. At the beginning of the 20th century, when shortstory writers began to appear and some books by foreign writers were translated, the first novels in the Albanian language were published. The year 1913 saw the publication of the novel of Ndoc Nikaj, Betrothed from the Cradle or Ulqin Captured" and »Shkodra Besieged«. Before he turned to the novel, the writer had published some historical studies written in a narrative vein. Since 1902 he had published the bocks »The History of Albania«and »The History of Turkey«. In 1914 Zef Harapi published the historical novel, »The Traitor's Rifle«, and in the period 1909-1919 Foqion Postoli published »For the Defence of the Homeland« and »The Flower of Souvenir«.

The first novels in Albanian were, thus, written in the second decade of our century, in the period 1913-1920, which is the time of our national independence. It was a period charged with dramatic tension and full of heroic events, in which the destiny of Albania was decided. Albania, which had just won its independence and was liberated from the five hundred-year old yoke of the Ottoman Empire, became the token of barter for the big imperialist powers and was in danger of being partitioned by its neighbours, Serbia, Greece and Italy. The reactionary governments of the neighbouring countries, aided and abbetted by the imperialist states, and encited by a savage traditional chauvinism swooped on the Albanian territories, committing unexampled attrocities. In these turbulent times which stenched of blood, which were full of threats to and dangers for the national existence, the true popular patriotism and heroic spirit stood out in full splendour. Precisely in this period the first Albanian novelists emerged in the arena of the Albanian literature. Therefore, they placed in the centre of their novels the spirit of patriotism and the Albanian drama of the time, the theme of the defence of the land and honour, the theme of the enhancement of the national awareness. The first steps of our novel were taken right in the ashes and ambers of the burned down houses, in the devastated fields and ruined villages. The first novels may lack some of the perfection and lustre which come from mastery and style, they lack psychological insight, spiritual struggle and meditation, but they are full of the pathos and total involvement in the patriotic movement, which is the main characteristic of these novel. We pointed out this because the patriotic movement set the tone to the political struggle, the life of the country, culture, literature and the whole superstructure. In Europe the novel is the creation, of the bourgeoisie, of that new class which wanted transformations in the social life, which wanted new forms in art. The novel of that time in Europe reflected the social life, analysed the society and centered on the personality of the man. In various manners and forms it reflected the class struggle of that time. Whereas our novel, which developed in its own specific conditions, could not make the analysis of society, but reflected only the patriotic movement of the time and the clash of the democratic and progressive sections of the population with the foreign occupiers. Our novel would tackle social problems and study the personality of the man at a much later period, in the 30's of this century, wdth the generation of new novelists such as Haki Stërmilli with his novel »If I Were a Boy«, andSterjo Spasse with »Why?«. They tried to reflect the difficulties of the man against the background of the obscurantist regime of Ahmet Zog, the suppression and curb on the personality of the man and, especially, of the Albanian woman. Poetry and the short story were working on same lines at that time.

Despite the efforts of our progressive writers, our novel remained almost at the initial phase. It marked only little progress and its forms were naive. It was perfected as a genre after the National Liberation War in the conditions of the new socialist society. It was raised to higher levels by such novelists as Sterjo Spasse,Jakov Xoxa, Fatmir Gjata, Ali Abdihoxha, and later by writers of the younger generation such as Ismail Kadare, Dhimiter Xhuvani, Sabri Godo, Teodor Laço, Skënder Drini and others. The novels of these writers who are well-known in our country, treat the themes of the socialist revolution and the past of our people, the new social life and its problems, the man and his personality. The new novels reveal the national life through the clash of views, the world out-look and ideas of the characters, in conformity with the aims of the author and his social and aesthetic ideal. The success of the novel of Ismail Kadare, »The Great Winter«, lies precisely in the strength of ideas and views, the new psychology and morality of the characters and in the manner in which the problem is raised and solved: Will the communist ideals and progress win in a complicated situation? The answer is in the affirmative, but the road is long. The dialectic of the morality and psychology of the central character, Besnik, speaks of the difficulty and complexity of the situation, the turbid situations and clarity, the dilemma and the resolve which lead ham to conquer his own weaknesses for the sake of the great cause. This dialectical clash of the ideas in complex situations is not realized through a simple narrative. The narrator is something different from the true novelist. The former narrates the feats of his heroes, the foolish acts of the stupid, the stratagems of the cunny. Whereas the novelist uses the narrative in order to reveal something else, to reveal the history of man in the given conditions of society.

Characteristic of our novel are high-tensioned events full of contrasts and ups and downs like the barbarian hordes which swept the country and were routed, which temporarily won and then lost; events like the patriots' bands or the partisan detachments in the gorges and valleys of the country; events like the craggy mountains and the narrow plains of Albania. The plot of our novel is frequently interrupted and its characters wait impatiently for time to end. It is like the Albanian landscape with little scape for endless voyages. It is no landscape for the characters travelling for months on end across steppes and deserts. In our landscape all travel comes up against a mountain. And there are inns and innkeepers, there are inviting café-kespers and malissoris. So the measure of time itself is changeable. Days are short. Nights are long, with conversations and talks. Days invite to shorter journeys. Nights, with their stories and narrations, make journeys longer. Take our novels and draw a diagrame of time and space in them and you will see how characters describe distances and how long days and nights last. This is due to such national peculiarities as hospitality, loyalty and respect for guests. And guests need conversation not during the day, but during the night. Take the novels »The Awakening« by S. Spasse and »The General of the Dead Army«" by I. Kadare and you will find there what I am saying in these few lines. And this stems not only from the peculiarity of space in our country, but also from the culture of its people. In the night, the heroes of our legends fall into profound thoughts about their tomorrow's travels. As a foreign critic says, the reins, the stirrup, the harness and the horse itself are made ready during the night. In the night the hero also falls into meditations. Perhaps more than in the literature of other countries, this aspect is better preserved in our literature, especially in the prose, but also in poetry. Why? Because industrialization has not spoilt tradition, because respect for tradition continues to be great in our country. Socialism itself has taught us to honour tradition. Socialism considers tradition as the basis on which innovations strike root. We are nearer to legends than many other peoples. We preserve them, for otherwise great dangers, which are known to all, would be threatening us. And this has had an influence on all our literature, especially, the novel.

In our novel live all the forms of the narrative: the narrative manner, the narrative-meditative manner and the manner of the interrupted narrative. And here lies the originality of our novel. I say this that, while expressing itself in all these forms, it is a rich, not monotonous, novel. Our novel has revived the classical forms of the novel with the new ideas and thoughts of the time. Its forms sound new because of their great social thoughts. At times they are fresher than vain format experiments. Our novel has set out on the road of its revival and perfectioning, of finding new forms for expressing new ideas. Apparently today it is drawing ever more closer to musical works, with sounds and echoes, with distances and contiguities. It is like a polyphony. In our presentday novel man never descends to the level of things. Man is the master of things and objects, so the novelist does not number things and objects as the symphony does. If he did so he would make the hero the slave of things. The modern novel is the concentrated history of one or several heroes. Being a history, every character is a type and an individual at the same time. The hero of the traditional novel goes through many external adventures. The hero of the modern novel sees these adventures take place more in the consciousness or thoughts of the character. The more time goes by the more autobiographical the novel becomes, because the writer lives himself intensely with the life of society, lives among the people. The more the time goes by the more the author and the hero resemble each other. Why? Because the author does feel no great difference of social position from the character he represents. The author does no speak »ex-cathedra«.

Being the characters the masters of things and not their slaves or their contemplative observers has had an influence not only on the plot, but also on the time it develops, the time of narration. Time in the traditional novel is measured by hours, by the calendar, while the modern novel introduces this time, these calendar hours into the consciousness from which it takes them out again. So, the modern novel does not leave time out of the consciousness, does not leave it only in things. That is why in our modern novel time is not reflected always on one line. We say so because every character has his own time, his own biography, and biography does not develop outside time.

As I dwelt on the problems of space, time and narration as well as on some aspects of the changes of structure the novel has undergone, I want to add also something about some other elements of the enrichment of the expressive means of the novel.

A peculiarity of our novelist is that he is more and more accentuating his irony towards negative phenomena. This makes the novel more lively and more intelligent while at the same time strengthening its dialectics. Such a peculiarity is a sign of intelligent people, of intelligent characters who do not feel themselves satisfied with everything a milieu or time gives them, because, along the major social advance, there are still inhibitive phenomena. We see this ironical stand in the prose of I. Kadare, T. Laço, F. Gjata, Jakov Xoxa, K. Kostaand others.

On the other hand, the language of the novel has become livelier and subtler, with strange surprises, at times in the form of oddities. The surprise interventions like those of the old woman Nica in »The General of the Dead Army« or of some characters of F. Gjata's novels not only make the language of the novel more dynamic, but also step up the evolution of events and break the monotony.

Now let us deal with the dynamization of events. The novel cannot live a full and true life without, what I might call, the spring which pushes action ahead and, together with it, thought, too. If the spring of the novel slackens, the reader is bored and reading time seems to him longer. But, speaking in figurative term, this spring does not consist in the subject which lies at the foundation of the novel. This spring is the dialectics of the author's thoughts, it makes itself felt in their clash and opposition, in original assertions and negations. The boring and unreadable novels resemble the watches which lag behind because their springs have slackened.

I tried to express some opinions about the Albanian novel. Of course, our novel is faced with many problems which have to do with its content and form, its structure and language. In its process of development it affects ever broader spheres of society and people's destinies, revealing ever new or less treated aspects of the life of our people. The construction of socialism in Albania has enriched the spiritual life of people and produced a new man, a man of advanced and lofty social ideals. This man is being reflected ever more fully in our novel. And this is due to the method of socialist realism. 

Our writer never forgets that the conditions of living created by a society exercise a powerful influence on people's ideas, morality, and passions, just as economic and cultural achievements or the rights a social order secures the individual. This influence is expressed in the novel itself, which if followed step by step, enables you to recreate the history of society, to single out the main lines of its development, to imagine the ethics, tastes and behaviour of people, to discover their psychology and world outlook.

Albanian writers have always asked themselves: does the content of their works respond to the tasks the country is solving, the economic, social, ideological and political tasks our socialist state has to cope with? That is why they have not allowed themselves to be attracted by petty ordinary themes, but by the great theme of the revolution and the building of the new society. Proceeding from these Lofty aims they have continued to make broad summings-up of the National Liberation War, of the past and present history of our country and treated monumental tableaus worthy of the epoch of socialism. At the same time they have introduced new themes, uncultivated so far, into the horizon of art, such as those of work and the joy of work in which the possibilities, abilities and high moral qualities of man are revealed. So, there are many broad tableaus of the struggle and work of our people which have remained artistic documents of the years when they were written and enjoy great popularity among all the Albanian readers.