The Floral Games were Catalan literature’s most important launching pad in the third quarter of the nineteenth century, and an axis about which revolved a large proportion of the literary creation of the ‘Renaixença’ period. Different lines of thought can be found at the root of its conception: the ‘troubadour’ genre fashion, the discovery of a Barcelona medieval competition in books and, probably, the influence of the Rousillon writers Josep Tastú and P. Puiggarí.
The project, which would finally result in the celebration of the Floral Games in 1859, thanks to A. de Bofarull’s tenacity and the support of Barcelona’s Town Hall, would first be tried out by the ‘Acadèmia de Bones Lletres’ (ABL) [The Academy of Good Writing] (1841/1857). The competition would restore the figure of the adjudicator (A. de Bofarull, J. Cortada, V. Amer, Milà Fontanals, J. Ll. Pons Gallarza, J. Rubió and V. Balaguer). However, this re-establishment of a tradition of literary contests should be seen more as a historically guaranteed essential adaptation, more than a restoration of an old custom which would find an essential social complicity. For this reason, Barcelona’s ‘Consistori de la Gaia Ciència’ would be appealed to and, by coincidence, the name ‘Floral Games’, which corresponds to the literary competitions held in Toulouse since 1515, would be adopted. The historical feel of the contest would upset the members of some literary sectors, who would delight in parodying them and calling them old-fashioned: Santiago Rusiñol would satirise them in ‘Lo Niu Guerrer, els Jocs Florals de Can Prosa’ [War’s nest, the Floral Games of Prose’s House].
In spite of the above, the Floral Games would become a first class cultural and social event: if we examine the list of the contest’s presidents, adjudicators or assistants we can see that practically all of the classes of Catalan society of the time had some part to play with the games. Even those who had delighted in criticising the idea would eventually take part, more or less with enthusiasm, from 1866 onwards. The Floral Games would also become a focal point of reference for all of the artistic creation of the Region. The creation of the Floral Games of ‘Lo Rat Penat’ (1879) in Valencia, or the proliferation of floral contests all over the Catalan Region, were very good indicators that the project was well accepted in the society of the time.
The progressive consolidation of the contest also enabled the inception of a series of prizes that would greatly contribute to the encouragement of participation and the writing of other genres, different to the well-known triplet: faith, fatherland and love. At the same time, this consolidation would mean that the aesthetical tenet of the Games would widen and develop in accordance with the Catalan literary models and movements, as can be seen if we review the list of different masters in ‘Gai Saber’: Balaguer, Guimerà, Verdaguer, Costa Llobera, Maragall, etc. Furthermore, the social projection attained by the Floral Games favoured the recovery of readers of the new literary works written in Catalan, and would also favour a series of incipient editorial ventures coupled with a certain amount of commercial endeavours: the annual volume of the ‘Jocs Florals’ [Floral Games], ‘Lo Gay Saber’, and ‘La Renaixença’.
|Floral Games edited in Mèxico during repression|
The Floral Games became a competition that promoted the continuity of Catalan culture, enabling it to face many difficult moments. Thus, as a result of its suspension, ordered by the military authority in 1902, the Floral Games were held in Sant Martí del Canigó; later on, during Primo de Rivera’s dictatorship, they found refuge in Toulouse (1924) and in private households. Only the Civil War would manage to put an end to the historic continuity represented by the Games which, after 1941, would be reconstituted, in exile, under the name ‘Jocs Florals de la Llengua Catalana’ [Floral Games of the Catalan Language], and would be continue to be held until the present time in different European and American cities. The last Games celebrated in exile were held in Munich (1877); the following year they were again celebrated in Barcelona, coinciding with those that, since 1941, were to be held clandestinely in that city, although since 1971, publicly. With the changes introduced to the original conception of the Games in 1992, they have become a part of the ‘Setmana de la Poesia de Barcelona’ [Barcelona’s Week of Poetry].