restricted access The Illness of the Environment: Nature, Culture and Human Life in The Time of the Doves
In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

The Illness of the Environment:
Nature, Culture and Human Life in The Time of the Doves

The Time of the Doves is a Catalan novel by Mercè Rodoreda published in 1962. She wrote this novel during her exile in Geneva in the years of Franco’s dictatorship. In the prologue she expresses her desire to write in Catalan and to bring the culture of Catalonia to foreign lands (Rodoreda 8). This is important because one of the reasons for her exile plays a central role in the novel: the Spanish Civil War. The treatment of the war in her novel is not political, however, but rather is highly personal. The reader experiences the war through Natàlia’s (Colometa’s) eyes, and this perspective is a very individual one: it is the vision of a mother alone in the middle of a violent conflict. There are almost no political features in this novel; instead the emphasis is on the emotion and subjectivity that make it possible to live humanely, even during war. Several aspects in The Time of the Doves are ripe for analysis: love, elements of premonition, which appear throughout the novel (the reason for the name “Colometa”), and narrative style. However, this article will focus on the war and its consequences on the environment, and will only refer to such topics when necessary. There are three main aspects to the relation between war and the environment.

For Natàlia the foremost problem is that food resources are greatly diminished as a result of the civil war. That is, her life now has the single purpose of procuring the food necessary in order to feed her children. After her husband dies in the war this problem becomes much more acute. This situation has one main consequence: no non-material, cultural goal, such as education, has any place in her life due to the misery in which she lives. As if she were in a third [End Page 27] world country, war reduces everything to the primal instinct to survive. As a result, the destruction of material resources brings about the destruction of culture and the relationship between human beings and their culture suddenly breaks down. Secondly, the novel presents a unique treatment of Natàlia’s physical surroundings. For instance, as she says in the novel, the city suffers from an “illness.” She employs this noun, proper to living beings, to refer to the condition of the city. This illness has killed everything and everyone; after the war there is only death in the streets. The last salient feature of her environment is its relationship with Natàlia’s inner state. Sadness and the lack of resources, as well as happiness and the possession of them, are closely related. In this sense, the novel develops a relation between the protagonist’s inner state and the external state of nature, showing the dependence between human beings and the natural world, to which, the novel suggests, they belong. The ecocritical approach that I will employ in this article treats the environment as an entire system consisting of human beings and the rest of living beings. In addition, my interpretation of the apocalyptic signs present in the novel will relate the personal experience of war to a universal perspective.

The Spanish Civil War (1936–1939) held the democratically elected Second Spanish Republic captive to an uprising of military conspirators. Very quickly the radical left wing movements began to take to the streets in response (Esenwein 64–65). In Catalonia, especially in Barcelona, revolutionary groups such as the anarcho-syndicalist FAI/CNT gained great popular strength. Barcelona experienced some of the most violent consequences of the activities of these radical groups, including the burning down of churches and the rape of nuns, among others. In The Time of the Doves, Natàlia recounts how she can see churches on fire and smoke everywhere as one of the firsts signs of war (114). Later, she goes to the house where she is working as a cleaning woman and her employer tells her how a group of revolutionaries wanted to kill her husband thinking that he was a priest (116). In Catalonia, revolutionaries...