Under John Galsworthy’s presidency, the eleven centres that make up the PEN International Club are meeting. One of these, the Catalan PEN centre, is represented by Pompeu Fabra and Josep Millàs-Raurell. They are witness to the early stages and uncertain initial steps of a complex process in which agreements need to oil the cogs of a machine which is already in motion. It is more difficult than it seems, and the congress sessions are carried out with an undercurrent of unrest. Although PEN International has stated it is apolitical, there is an internal tension in the air from the very first day.
Belgian writers have refused to take part if the Germans are to be invited and the French centre, presided over by Anatole France, is unhappy because the English PEN centre has nominated Romain Rolland, Nobel Prize winner for Literature, as the Congress’ honorary president. The wounds of the First World War have not yet completely healed, and are easily reopened. During the war years, Romain Rolland distinguished himself for his energetic commitment to peace and, from the oasis of Switzerland, appealed to several French and German intellectuals asking them to collaborate in favour of peace. His essay Au-dessus de la mêlée (1915), has won him some enemies amongst French writers at the same time as being the launchpad for his entry into the exclusive club of Nobel Prize-winning laureates. Although more or less buried, controversy and tension will nevertheless continue throughout the 1920’s and heighten during the 1930’s. PEN International will take the wise decision to maintain a certain distance and autonomy from states and political parties and align itself, in a general manner, to the defence of human rights.