Professor of Spanish, Emeritus
A long adventure in the realms of thought and action ended on July 10, 2005, with the death of Luis Monguió, professor of Spanish, emeritus.
Luis Monguió Primatesta was born in Tarragona, Spain, on June 25, 1908, of Catalonian and Piedmontese ancestry. After beginning university studies in Barcelona, he graduated with a law degree from the University of Madrid at the age of 20 and soon joined the Spanish consular service, first in Chile and then in French Morocco, where the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War found him in 1936. In 1938, as a volunteer in the army of the Spanish Republic, he briefly saw action on two fronts before being ordered to continue his consular and intelligence work in Morocco and Gibraltar. Upon the collapse of the Republic in 1939, Luis Monguió accompanied his American wife, Helen Arnett Monguió, to the United States. He never returned to Spain until after the death of General Franco.
When Monguió decided to turn his long-standing literary avocation into a vocation, Spain’s misfortune became, in his case as in many others, the good fortune of Hispanic studies in this country. He became a graduate student in the University of California, Berkeley’s Department of Spanish and Portuguese, where his passion for Spanish American literature, born in his undergraduate years, was nurtured by Arturo Torres-Rioseco, one of the major figures in this field in the United States. Monguió earned an M.A. in 1941 and began a stream of publications that was to continue for six decades. In 1942 he joined the faculty of Mills College (Oakland, California), but soon thereafter interrupted his academic career by volunteering for the U.S. Army. He was assigned to military intelligence, promoted to master sergeant, and granted U.S. citizenship. He then returned for another decade at Mills College before being appointed professor of Spanish at Berkeley in 1957.
By this time Monguió had become a significant Latin Americanist, having published numerous articles and two pioneering books: César Vallejo (1892-1938): vida y obra, bibliografía, antología (1952, first published in a journal in 1950) and La poesía postmodernista peruana (1954). The first of these is a study of one of Spanish America’s major twentieth-century poets, whose complete works had only become available in 1949. The second, an outgrowth of the first, more broadly explores the development of poetry in Peru in the twentieth century. Its interpretation of texts and its judgments are still admired after half a century. Monguió’s interest in Peru is also evident in his later books, including a monograph on poets of the colonial period (1960), a study of the Peruvian experience of the Spaniard José Joaquín de Mora (1967), and an edition of the poetry of Felipe Pardo y Aliaga (1973). Reviewers praised Monguió’s thorough documentation and critical acumen, as well as his ability to combine erudition with empathy, intellectual seriousness with a clear and pleasing expository style. In numerous articles, as well as in papers read at scholarly meetings in this country and abroad, he explored the literature of several Spanish American countries and of different periods, as well as Spanish literature of the eighteenth, nineteenth, and twentieth centuries.
Don Luis, as he was respectfully called by students and colleagues alike, regularly taught important undergraduate and graduate courses, including the survey of Spanish American literature and specialized studies of Spanish American poetry, generally to substantial enrollments. He expected hard work in his classes and left no doubt as to who was in charge. He directed at least a dozen doctoral dissertations. Former students fondly and admiringly remember his abundant stock of knowledge, his dynamism, his humor, his personal warmth, and his readiness to listen and to help. The same qualities were shown in his relations with his colleagues, whom he consistently encouraged and supported. He served on several committees of the College of Letters and Science and the Graduate Division, and on just about every departmental one. For many years he was his department’s graduate adviser; as chairman from 1965 to 1968, he provided a steady hand in troubled times.
The University’s regulations forced Don Luis to “retire” in 1975, but they could not curb his activity as teacher and scholar. He continued publishing well into his nineties; and he taught at Berkeley, at Bennington College, and at SUNY Albany, stopping only in 1994. Helen Monguió died in 1977; in 1980 Don Luis married Alicia de Colombí, a distinguished Hispanist, who survives him.
Don Luis Monguió’s scholarly achievements were recognized by appointment to an honorary professorship at the University of Lima and by honorary doctorates from Mills College, the University of Lima, and the University of San Marcos (also in Lima). A Festschrift dedicated to him appeared in 1997. He was a Guggenheim Fellow and president of the International Institute of Ibero-American Literature.
In an oral history prepared for The Bancroft Library in 1996, Don Luis expressed his gratitude to a country that “has allowed me to make a living by paying me for doing what I enjoy,” something that would have been difficult in Spain and, for him, after 1939, impossible. A true humanist, he believed that “the critic is not the non plus ultra … The non plus ultra is Cervantes or Dante or Petrarch or Corneille. We are the ones who try to reach them and explain them, to help the reader to understand them.” With characteristic humor and modesty, after speaking at length about his life, his career, and Hispanic studies, Don Luis concluded: “I don’t think one should take these things too seriously, because if we take ourselves too seriously we turn into insufferable bores.” That he certainly never was. His strength of character, his lively mind, and his generosity won for Don Luis Monguió the respect and affection of his students and colleagues, at Berkeley and wherever his teaching and his scholarship took him. In 2005 we say of him what in 1476 the great Spanish poet Jorge Manrique said of his father:
dio el alma a quien gela dio,
el cual la ponga en el cielo
en su gloria,
y aunque la vida murió,
nos dexó harto consuelo
Which Longfellow rendered as:
His soul to Him Who gave it rose.
God lead it to its long repose,
Its glorious rest!
And, though the warrior’s sun has set,
Its light shall linger round us yet,
Bright, radiant, blest.