When one thinks of the great literature of Spain, names such as Marquez and Lorca – who both deal with heavy social and philosophical matters – are bound to come to mind. Thus it may come as a surprise to discover that in 1962 Corín Tellado, a Spanish author known for her lighter ‘novelas rosas’ become the most read Spanish author behind Cervantes, according to UNESCO.
Her never ending bibliography, a result of her ability to ‘write a novel in two days’, is comprised of around 5,000 individual works which have sold at least 400 million copies world wide in various languages – for this, she holds the Guinness World Record (1994) for selling the largest number of books in Spanish. Commonly centering around themes of loss, redemption and, of course, love, her work is often perceived as the Spanish equivalent of ‘chick-lit’, and therefore literary critics did not take her seriously for the majority of her writing career.
In retrospect, albeit her work is ‘lighter’ than the likes of Borges, the most fascinating aspect of Tellado’s work is the fact that her career straddled some of the most notable political changes in Spanish history: the starting of Franco’s dictatorship and the subsequent return to democracy. These changes in society and culture are evident in her novels, through the various matters tackled, with contrasting language and sexual morals, over the decades.
For example, at the age of 18 Tellado’s first novel was published – 7 years after Franco’s victory. As a result of the strict censorship at the time, eroticism was banned from books – and thus Tellado’s novel didn’t contain any. Yet the eradication of censorship was also reflected in her work in the latter years of the 1970’s when she wrote 26 erotica novels – in addition to exploring heavier subjects in other books, like rape and abortion.
Moreover, her novels were incredibly popular among women during the oppressive years of the dictatorship (1939-75). They permitted an escape from the poverty, tensions and expectations present at the time and were novels to which the everyday Spanish woman could relate. They are often cited as ‘realist’ novels for their majorly authentic portrayal of life – but perhaps not the types of lives that Franco wanted to encourage. Tales consisting of females working and driving cars (not to mention the kissing) connected to the dreams of many women who were constrained by the expectations of Catholic society and it was these novels that were often rejected by the censors. She claimed that in one month “the censors rejected four novels’ because she ‘told things clearly’. She went on to say that ”censorship taught me to imply things.”. Nevertheless, as the country returned to democracy, her books began to include these matters more and more explicitly.
Tellado is a strong female figure in Spain not only for her novels but for the stories behind their creation – after her separation from her husband, she supported her children with her work. Looking back on her career one can surely admit that although Tellado’s works were frequently used as escapism, they still held incredibly important messages. It is likely that she played a key role in sustaining hope in Spanish women during the often sexist times – igniting the idea that, one day, women would be able to work without prejudice or drive a car without suspicion.