Sunday, October 2, 2011

Notes on The Emergent Period (1935-1945)

The years 1935 to 1945 saw the emergence of a significant trend in Philippine literature in English. Jose M. Hernandez describes this period as a time of self-discovery and of rapid growth. Hernandez proceeds by the enumerating the qualities of the period:

  1. The writers consciously and purposefully to create a national literature.
  2. The writers had gained full control of the English language and could successfully manipulate it as a literary medium.
  3. Experimentation with different literary forms and techniques and moods was the fashion.
  4. Three groups of writers emerged:
    • Those who were concerned with social consciousness
    • Those whose main concern was craftsmanship
    • Those who were determined to explore local color. Some of the writers of this group formed the Veronicans. 

There were many factors which lead to the flowering of creative energy in Filipino writing. Nevertheless, Herbert Schneider, S. J. points to the following:

  1. In 1937 the Philippine Book Guild was founded. Its purpose was to produce literature and create a reading public.
  2. In 1939 the Philippine Writer’s Guild was established. The creed of members was to develop a common cultural consciousness among Filipinos.
  3. The Free Press, The Graphic, and the Philippine Magazine followed a policy of providing ample space for literary work in English.
  4. The Commonwealth Literary Awards, established in 1940, gave the first substantial prices to meritorious writers.
  5. The policy adopted by newspapers to issue weekly supplements when literary works were published.
The Japanese occupation of 1941-1945 brought this flowering of Philippine literature in English to an abrupt close. The literary works that were produced were published abroad. Although the Japanese occupation years produced little literary work of significance, the period was to become a rich source of subject matter in the succeeding period.

The period of emergence saw a shift from romantic idealism to romantic realism. This realism reached a climax in the stories of Manuel E. Arguilla, N. V. M. Gonzalez, and Nick Joaquin who wrote effective portrayals of Filipino life evocative of rustic scenes, rising artistic value and significance.

In poetry, the literary output was rather meager although there seemed to be genuine desire to create new poetic modes of expression. The “schoolroom poets” still provided inspiration, and the Romanticists and Victorians offered patterns that Filipino poets followed. The sonnet enabled them to create love lyrics which captured nuances and moods through a more skilled manipulation of language and imagery.

The revolt against traditional values and mores was first felt in poetry. Jose Garcia Villa was charged with indecency when he published “Man Songs.” He was expelled from the University of the Philippines but succeeded in awakening the Filipino poets to their inhibitive realities.

Jose Garcia Villa’s influence on Philippine poetry has been deeply felt. His first book of poems was published in 1933. His second collection of poems, entitled “Poems by Doveglion,” won the Commonwealth Literary Award for 1941.

The inauguration of the Philippine Commonwealth in 1935 gave the Filipinos partial self-rule preparatory to independence in 1946. This brought renewed political ferment into Philippine literature.   

A group of essayist banded together to form the Philippine Writer’s League. They were animated by the belief that “literature conditioned society.” One of the most articulate of this group was Salvador P. Lopez.  In his first books of essays, “Literature and Society,” he insisted that the writer should have a direct responsibility to society.

In the drama, the Western influence continued its firm hold on Filipino playwrights. Although the West has already rebelled against photographic representations of life, the Filipino playwrights in English were not yet at home with representational realism.

The Philippine drama in English lagged behind in development compared to other literary forms. There are several reasons for this. One reason is that nationalistic themes and revolutionary subjects were popular among the general public. Playwrights who adopted English as their vehicle of artistic expression felt neither rebellious nor seditious.

Another reason may have been that movies took over the zarzuela despite the great competition put up by the latter. Dramatic realism could not assimilate unrealistic dialogue and situations resulting from the use of English.
Prominent among the playwrights of this period were Wilfrido Ma. Guerrero and Severino Montano. Guerrero succeeded in establishing a drama tradition in the University of the Philippines and had put up the UP Mobile Theater.

In the field of the novel, Juan C. Laya’s “His Native Souls” won the first Commonwealth Literary Award in 1940. This novel tells of a Filipino repatriate who, having been educated abroad, finds himself a stranger in his hometown. N. V. M. Gonzalez is prolific writer. He wrote “The Winds of April.” He is a regional-realist and gives a down-to-earth portrayal of the farmers and fisherfolk.

Serrano, J. D. and Trinidad M. Ames. A Survey of Philippine Literature in English. 1988.      Phoenix Press: Quezon City, 2000. Print.