The establishment owned by the French PEN Club , at number 66 Rue Pierre Charron, right next to the Champs Elysées, is a welcome centre for all of the Catalan writers going into exile. It is a house, of sorts, where writers can eat or sleep.  It is also where Carles Riba held a meeting, on 11th March 1939, with Hermond Ould, General Secretary of the English PEN Club, who had arrived in Paris to see what could be done to help the writers in exile. The day before, Carles Riba wrote to Francesc Trabal: “I suppose you know via Obiols that Hermond Ould has come to Paris to find out what the English PEN Club can do to help us. Obiols has written to me. Tomorrow I will be at rue P. Charron, meeting with Ould. If you arrive in time, you should come as well. I don’t know where I will stay on Sunday(…) for a number of reasons you can imagine, I have a little uncertainty as to what I’ll do in Paris”[1]. There is no time for supportive measures: Unfortunately, a few months later, the outbreak of the Second World War will hamper their efforts to do so.

The victory of Francoism brings PEN Català’s activities to an end and it is forced into a long period of isolation and exile. Over 34 years, until 1973, the Catalan PEN centre is represented from exile, almost exclusively, by Josep M. Batista who has become a sort of Permanent Foreign Secretary: “In 1939, Joan Gili and I re-established contact with PEN International. Four or five Catalans residing in London attended the memorable International Conference held under Nazi bombardment. Since then PEN Català has always been represented in the Executive Council and at PEN International Congresses”.

Carles Riba continues as President until his death in 1959, when the baton is passed on to Josep Carner. A group of writers from within Catalonia, including Marià Manent, and later on Joan Colominas, Osvald Cardona, Josep M. Poblet and Rafael Tasis, will maintain regular contact with Batista i Roca. From his refuge in Cambridge, Josep M. Batista, a history professor at Trinity College, attends the congresses and becomes the Catalan voice in exile at all of PEN’s assemblies. He denounces the Francoist regime, how Catalonia is being subjected to persecution and how there is the systematic intention of annihilating its culture and language. In Dublin in 1953, he reads the following message from Pau Casals, addressed to the members assembled at PEN’s 25th Congress:

“The reason for my exile is none other than my fidelity to the freedom of spirit. I would like to take this opportunity, in this formal session, to remind you of the sad situation which the whole of Spain is in and, especially, regarding my home country Catalonia (…) In Catalonia, the regime is ruthlessly trying to destroy the heritage of a millennia-old culture and language. If we are to feel abandoned by so many so-called democratic governments, let us hope that at least we shan’t lack the encouragement of free writers. There are no boundaries on the realm of the spirit; if one does not fight evil where it lies, it will run over and corrupt it all. Freedom is also indivisible.”

One of the most notable testimonies from this time full of hardship is the letter, sent by Batista i Roca in Oslo to Marià Manent. Dated 2nd July 1964, written during the PEN International congress, the letter goes over some aspects of the Catalan PEN Centre’s history and activities, whilst also providing a secretive model for a political strategy. An interesting detail in the letter brings to light the traps set up by Franco’s diplomacy in order to silence the voices of Catalan literature in exile. The poet Jose Luis Cano (1911-1999) is amongst the participants of PEN’s Congress in Oslo, in order to organise the creation of the Spanish PEN club: “For many years Cano has been trying to form a Spanish PEN in Madrid, just as David Carver, the General Secretary, has kindly taken interest and consulted me on the matter.  My point of view is very clear:  bot PEN Català and the General Secretary must provide all of the help necessary to allow Spanish writers to establish their own PEN club. Nevertheless, I have always highlighted two risks: that of the Francoists infiltrating the Spanish PEN from within and distorting its principal characteristics; and that of the authorities consenting to the existence of a PEN in Madrid, more or less under their control, in order to use it as proof of a certain ‘liberalisation’ of the regime(…).” [2]

[1] Marià Manent, El vel de maia. Edicions Destino. Barcelona, 1975 (p. 223-224).

[2] This text is part of a letter written by Batista i Roca a Marià Manent, in Oslo, 2nd July, 1964, during a PEN Congress.