‘Del Diestro, Villalobos, Rico’: Unpublished tribute by Javier Marías to Francisco Rico

This is the text dated February 2020 that Javier Marías sent to Luis García Montero to participate in a tribute to Francisco Rico, organized by the Cervantes Institute, and canceled due to the confinement of the pandemic.

Unfortunately, I owe a lot to Francisco Rico, more than his readers and students and his sometimes envious colleagues. Because not only do I owe him, like them, illuminations and insights on the Quixote and the Lazarillo, about Petrarch and Nebrija, as well as some excellent semi-cult poems. I owe him a character, or perhaps several, and quite a few of the funniest and most successful pages I have written, according to many people and, of course, according to himself. He has not been shy about confessing to me that, when I publish a novel, he looks through it in search of his character. If he goes out, he reads his speeches and puts the rest on the nightstand. sine the. If it doesn’t come out, I think the immediate destination of my books is the dusty shelf. I don’t blame him, no one has a reason to read what I shed light on, least of all Francisco Rico, who has little interest in what happens after 1615. He is not for what is temporary, but rather ephemeral.

The first time I featured him in a novel, in 1989, I called him Professor Del Diestro. The second, Professor Villalobos. And here came his protest. Although I already told this conversation in a fake novel from more than twenty years ago, almost no one will remember it for that reason, so it is worth repeating it in this celebration, with variations. He bluntly demanded that if he used it again, it had to be under his own name. In 1998 it was still new, almost unheard of, for real people to be introduced in a work of fiction (today it is already commonplace), so I responded:

-That’s impossible. If we are in a fiction, you cannot appear with your real name, like Francisco Rico. He would break conventions and pacts.

-Why not? What nonsense. In a work of fiction, aren’t you referring to the Prado Museum or the Descalzas Convent? You wouldn’t invent the Palo Museum or the Descamisadas Convent.

—Yes, but those are monuments and institutions, and you are neither one nor the other.

—How not? —He interrupted me instantly, offended. —Of course I am, and of the highest rank. I don’t see why Francisco Rico can’t be present in a fiction. Wouldn’t you call Cervantes “Cervantes”, Dante “Dante” and Machiavelli “Machiavelli”?

—But it wouldn’t make them talk and move, like you. Wow, I don’t think so.

—Because you haven’t seen them and they wouldn’t be credible. But since you have me in front of you; Since you have the model in view and I give you half the job done, your future readers (if there are any, which I highly doubt), are within their right to identify me clearly and without disguises or false names. The opposite would be ridiculous.

—You won’t believe that you are going to be as well-known, in a few decades or a few centuries, as the authors you have mentioned. I see you very optimistic.

—It doesn’t matter, it doesn’t matter. In any case I am unequivocal, almost the creator of an archetype. If a fat, mulatto, mustachioed novelist appears in a French novel, it would be grotesque if it were not Dumas. If in an English woman another person of Polish origin appears, with a strong accent and a pointed beard, it would be an idiot if it wasn’t Conrad. Etc. If I am unmistakably who I am, what’s the point of camouflaging myself? I am and will be recognizable, wherever I go. The pity is that from now on no one will read you. In fact, I’m surprised that anyone reads you these days. Even more so, as many as are counted, and on top of that in several countries: incomprehensible. It must be the strength of the living, of the unbearable present that clouds judgments.

Of course I satisfied his request, and since then, in three or four more of my novels, Francisco Rico was “Francisco Rico.”

My problem is that the flesh-and-blood Rico, whom I see from time to time at the Academy or choosing delicatessen in the stores in the city where he lives, I no longer distinguish well from the one in my novels, or I believe that the latter it is the first one. A contradictory sensation invades me: that of having power over him and dictating situations, phrases and gestures, and that of being at his mercy, because the model is so powerful that it gives me ideas and dictates to me what I write, when I summon it . That, in part, has led me to let go of his character lately. In order not to admit to him that he had me a little “enslaved” in some passages (he would have liked nothing more), I told him this way:

—You don’t give any more of yourself. You have exhausted me. You don’t evolve, you aren’t changeable enough. You lack ambiguities, darknesses, shadows. And well, at the end of the day you were always a secondary character, if not episodic. A “Leporello”. —In reference to the assistant in Mozart’s Don Giovanni.

—Episodic me? Episodic me? How wrong you are, you don’t even know how to read what you write properly. I am the one who saves your novels, I am the salt and the grace, I am the Expected One, the one who makes them rise a little, the dark current that sustains them. And it is Leporello who keeps score, and his song is the most remembered. You will see, but without my help you will sink completely.

The only thing I can add, so as not to dwell on this occasion or tribute, is that perhaps, as often, Professor Rico is right. Del Diestro and Villalobos may even be right, who appeared briefly but are not usually forgotten by readers, respectively, of all the souls y Heart so white, which conversely still exist. And even if I end up completely abandoning Rico in my poor future pages (you never know), the pity is that I already owe him too much, and that is always a pain. So to speak, I owe him several worlds: that of Cervantes, that of Lazarillo, that of Petrarch and that of many others who, without him, would not be the ones we know today, inalienable. And even some much more modest that during a few days of enthrallment in front of my machine, I came to believe that he was mine without anyone’s help.

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