Don Quixote, Tirant lo Blanc and Arthurian knight Sir Percival will all be feeling somewhat orphaned this week, following the death of philologist, Cervantes expert and dean of the Royal Academy of the Spanish Language Martí de Riquer at the age of 99 in Barcelona.
“I’m surprised that you are interested in talking about me,” he told the 300-strong audience who attended the presentation of his biography in March 2008, in what was to be his last public appearance before he shut himself away in his home, languishing as wisely as he did silently, with his ever-present pipe and faraway gaze.
Perhaps within those walls he reawakened his marvelous imagination, which as a child he had showed off from a very young age. He was born in Barcelona in 1914, grandson of the artist Alexandre de Riquer and son of Emili de Riquer, whose early death drew him toward his mother’s side of the family, which explains the fact that Castilian Spanish was his first language. “Bilingualism is convenient and advantageous,” said Riquer, who as a young man had shown himself to be more of a supporter of Catalan autonomy, although always more in the cultural rather than the political sense.
Like Quixote, De Riquer, who was a member of the 17th generation of an aristocratic family (whom he wrote about in the delightful Quinze generacions d’una família catalana in 1979), lived a notable life. Despite studying business, the only thing to which he was able to devote himself were the literary classics, to which he was introduced via a collection of tales he received as a Christmas gift. This explains his incursion into literature at the start of the 1930s with such sharply humorous works as the play El triomf de la fonética and, what would become his first great philological work, L’humanisme català.
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