Ada Martí (1915-1960)

Ada Martí (1915-1960)

Maria de la Concepción Martí Fuster, known better as Ada Martí, was born in Barcelona on 1 July 1915 into a middle class family. She became an anarchist, a highly cultivated intellectual and a writer of great fluency in Spanish as well as in Catalan. A university graduate, leader of the Federación Estudiantil de Conciencias Libres (Student Free Thought Federation). Active in the Mujeres Libres, she impressed and charmed the youngsters of her own generation with her beauty, intelligence, wide reading, educated conversation, intellectual passion, her flowing dark hair and white clothing.

In the fighting in October 1934 she was wounded while defending the CADCI building alongside Jaume Compte. She was well versed in and could quote from Kierkegaard, Unamuno, Freud, Reich, Romain Rolland, Gide and Rabelais … She corresponded with Pío Baroja, looking upon him as her mentor. In 1936 (in April and again in October) she published two stories in the Novela Ideal series published under the auspices of the Revista Blanca. She lived in Poble Sec (Pueblo Seco) in a room crammed with books. And was a regular frequenter of the get-togethers held every afternoon on the fourth floor of the Casa CNT-FAI, get-togethers conducted by González Pacheco, founder of the Teatro del Pueblo, and in which Simón Radowitzky, Vicente Torne, Antonio Casanova (one of the founders of Argentina’s FORA) her friend Dolores (Eva) Cascarte and others took part, over a Paraguay tea. It was at such get-togethers that Ada fell in love with Lunazzi, a militiaman from the Durruti Column, before severing all connections with him the day he showed up in a military uniform.

Towards the end of 1937 she spoke at the congress in Valencia that saw the launch of the FIER (Federación Ibérica de Estudiantes Revolucionarios/Iberian Revolutionary Student Federation), publisher of the review Fuego, of which Ada was the director. She stood up to manipulation by Serafín Aliaga from the Peninsular Committee of the Iberian Libertarian Youth Federation (FIJL) on the basis that she thought that the FIER should be more than just a sort of forum for pointless philosophical discussions and should be an active anarchist and trade union body.

She was to the forefront of the tremendous education drive by the Workers’ Institutes, the object of which was to make further education accessible to young workers; even though they were short-lived, surviving from 20 December 1937 until the Francoist push against Aragon, at which point many of those youngsters enlisted.

During the civil war, Ada published lots of articles in the most diverse publications: in Estudios, Evolucion, Esfuerzo, Ruta, El Amigo del Pueblo (mouthpiece of the Friends of Durruti), Libre Estudio, Tierra y Libertad, Nosotros (paper of the Valencia FAI), Mujeres Libres, Acracia, and the one-off publication Fuego, etc.

Ada was as flighty and volatile with her lovers as she was uncompromising and radical in her thinking. During the civil war she espoused an anti-collaborationist line that earned her the label of “piel roja” (redskin). A non-conformist and iconoclast, she repudiated the cult of personality and penned an article opposing the deification of St Durruti and St Francisco Ascaso. Her series of pieces on the role of women in the revolution, as published in Libre Estudio, are both provocative and level-headed, identifying woman as a person with a duty to liberate herself and to educate herself as a free individual, quite apart from her female gender.

From a very early age she identified with nihilism and existential pessimism, which she had imbibed from the works of Schopenhauer and Nietzsche. She argued that “anarchism is like silence; merely to speak of it is to deny it.”

During the Second World War she led a nomadic, semi-clandestine existence, trying to help Spanish refugees and was a member of a number of agrupaciones, without ever taking part in the French resistance, looking upon it as overly nationalistic. Despite unwavering support from Antonio García Birlán (aka Dionisios) and Gaston Leval, she took it very badly when she was stopped from rejoining the CNT in 1946: this has never been adequately explained; maybe it was down to her refusal to collaborate in the fight against the Nazis with the Stalinists who had murdered the revolution in Spain or because her sex life, which acknowledged no taboos or rules, offended the moral code then prevalent within the CNT. This led to a painful parting of the ways. Isolation was the price she paid for her freedom.

A voracious reader, she developed an interest in the existentialism of post-war Bohemian circles in Paris; and for the Café Flora and Edith Piaf, and her letters urged people to read Sartre, Camus, Beauvoir, Breton, René Guénon, Robert Brasillach (shot as a collaborator), the Pole Milosz, Meister Eckhardt, Taoism, Ernst de Gegenbach, Mazo de la Roche …

In 1946, in response to a frantic appeal for help received from a friend, Dolores (Eva) Cascante who back in 1943 had made a trip to Vienna in the company of a Nazi officer who had fallen in love with her, she vouched for Dolores as an antifascist. Not only do Eva’s unsettling letters confirm their common love of literature but also a close personal relationship that went beyond mere friendship and mutual love and point to a sort of sentimental “tyranny” based upon their shared determination to be free and looking past any repressive or possessive Christian morality; this seems to bear out that Ada felt an obligation to render Eva whatever help she sought. Ada and Eva revelled in the tricky art of seduction, bestowing upon their on-off lovers an unforgettable, extraordinary experience that satisfied and enhanced them. On pages 167 and 168 of his book Entre la niebla, Abel Paz offers a masterly account of his own brief one night of romance with Eva in Bordeaux back in 1941.

Ada’s heady love life despised the notion of marriage, but, paradoxically, she married a Danish teacher-writer, the father of her son Frédéric, born in February 1948. In September that year she divorced and was awarded residency of her son, despite the father’s protests; after that he lost interest entirely. In the 1950s Ada settled in Paris.

On 30 November 1950 she wrote her girlfriend Adora (Adoración Sánchez) “the struggle for material things has done for whatever there once was that might have been passed on. All that remains is a sensitivity to suffering.” Separation from her son, whom she was unable to see because she could not afford the trip to the boarding school he was attending, tormented her to the point of desperation. “What’s the point of having children if you can’t be with them?” She was very aware of her unselfish nature which did not fit with her inability to seek or accept any personal favours. Her backwardness and ineffectuality when it came to grappling with the problems of day to day living and the prospect of a slow death inside, a living death, lorded it over her spirits: “Everything essential, the only things that really matter, appear to have died in me”; she also uttered this dark musical comparison: “The strings have snapped and the harp plays no more.”

She fell in love with a Russian, Boris, a bookseller who was fairly well to do and with whom she shared an apartment in the Boulevard Raspail. Boris bought her a “place” on the banks of the Seine and hired a “house-keeper”. Her domestic problems now in hand, happiness and an appetite for life returned to her. As she shuttled around buying books she bumped into Ginés Alonso in Toulouse; he was an old friend of hers and, briefly, her lover in Barcelona during the civil war and she had maintained an on-off correspondence with him since then. She also had a daughter by Boris, Claudia, born in 1953 and that appears to have sent her over the edge. Boris left her. Once again day to day problems became an unbearable torture. Nightmares and insomnia further complicated matters.

In August 1956 her friend Ana Sánchez, then living in Barcelona, paid her a visit in Paris, while consulting a specialist in relation to heart problems. In her girlfriend’s opinion, Ada was carelessly dressed in loose, men’s clothing. She was now living in Saint Germain des Prés with Roland, a cultivated, well-educated accountant. Her children were living in a guest house. Out of the blue, Ada asked Ana to adopt her two children and threw a tantrum when Ana declined for the time being. The following day there was a sham suicide attempt. Ana returned to Barcelona, disillusioned: the legend of her younger day had crumbled. Roland left as well. 

In the autumn of 1957 Abel Paz happened to bump into her at his second hand bookshop. Ada was now living with the Hungarian exile Georges Villa in a gloomy, dark apartment at 115, Nôtre Dame des Champs, right beside the Boulevard Montparnasse. It was sparsely furnished and littered with unfinished literary drafts. Ada’s children were still boarding. Her work as a second hand book-dealer on the banks of the Seine, with her kiosk on the Quai des Grandes Augustines alongside the Pont Neuf, packed with Spanish literature, was barely enough to provide her with a living.

In her correspondence, Ada wallowed in nostalgia about family and soil, the sadness of a wretched family life and her separation from her children. The infinite anxiety caused her by defeat and a rootless exile existence, added to her malnourishment, showed itself in an overpowering insomnia that went even further in breaking her already precarious health. She moaned about the loss she had suffered in her usage and command of Spanish and Catalan (the latter her mother tongue) due to being fully immersed in French. She was tormented by the impossibility of giving all her time over to literature whilst struggling to meet the burden of rent payments and maintenance for her two children.

On 29 August 1959 her son Frederic passed away, having failing to recover from the anaesthetic he had been given during a minor operation. The paradox was brutal; her son failed to wake up, she could get no sleep. She placed her daughter in a convent guesthouse. She felt a failure as a writer and made several attempts at taking her own life. Her son’s voice called to her in her nightmares. Her self-analysis was as searching as it was sinister. In her letter she lucidly explained how she was acting out the crazed rebelliousness of the poet who refuses to confront reality and sidesteps it, only to bounce back, reinvigorated, from every suicide bid, with a greater appetite for life each time. She told her friends that in those failed attempts she savoured a total rebellion against the oppressiveness of a life saddled with suffering. 

Her partner, Georges Villa, moved heaven and earth to look after and protect her. On 1 December 1960 she died from an overdose of sleeping tablets following a ghastly night of insomnia, delirium and panic attacks; it ended when she swallowed all the pills left in the pack, in her reasonable and pressing search for rest. Her last words were: “I just want to sleep.”

Her funeral (6 December) was attended by about thirty of her friends, with very few Spaniards or Catalans (Carmen Quintana being one) among the turn-out. Hardly any of the people there had known her in her glory days in far-off revolutionary Barcelona. Her daughter Claudia was taken into a convent and there was nothing her friends could do to prevent it. And so ended, broken, one of the freest, most sensitive and brilliant women of her generation.

Abel Paz immediately set about collecting materials and correspondence from Ada’s acquaintances and friends, with an eye to writing a biography that never saw publication. These biographical notes would not have been possible but for Abel Paz’s outstanding detective work.

From: Translated by: Paul Sharkey.