Lorca fought with some determination to
establish himself as a poet and found himself frustrated in his mid-twenties
when his play Mariana Pineda ran into
trouble with Primo de Rivero’s censorship. The end of the summer 1926 finds Lorca
at an impasse. His father is angry with him for what he sees as the lack of
direction in his son’s life, with little apparent promise of any artistic
success. He threatens to put an end to his idle versifying. “Summer is coming
to an end and I’m left stranded without the least sign of any start to my work
as a dramatic poet in which I have so much faith and which would bring me such happiness,”
he writes to the theatre empresario Eduardo Marquina in the hope that this man might
yet rescue Mariana Pineda for him.

Such is his desperation that he begins to toy
with the idea of getting a proper job. At the beginning of September, he writes
to his friend Jorge Guillén that he has decided to do the exams for the Chair
of Literature. He tries hard to convince himself that he has a vocation for the
academic life. “Tell me what I have to do,” he asks Guillén, who has just
been appointed to the Chair of Literature in Murcia. “Remember I’m neither
intelligent nor hard-working. A lazy-bones!”

Guillén’s good humoured and humorous reply
seems to be designed to put the aspiring poet off from embarking on any
academic career. “First, you must read a lot”, he says. “Not only poetry and
prose, but also all the books that have been written about those poetry and
prose works. And you must make notes of what you have read.” “But that’s not half so bad,” he continues,
“for then you need to keep a file so that you can find all the notes that you
have written. As a first step, buy a box to file your notes. That will impress
your father no end and show him you are serious about your new academic bent.”

Salvador Dalí, for his part, is equally
scathing about his friend’s new-found academic ambition. “Dear Federico, you’re
not going to do exams for anything,” (he
wrote laconically). “Persuade your father to leave you in peace to publish your
books, that is what will make you famous … “

“If Mariana
were to be performed, I would win over my father once and for all,” Lorca
predicted. And indeed he was right. The success of Mariana Pineda, when it was performed in Barcelona in June 1927,
combined with the publication of Canciones
also in 1927, and then followed by the extraordinary success of the First Gypsy Ballad Book, published in
1928, marked the literary break-through Lorca was seeking and after that
parental pressure let up. Lorca’s father came to accept his son’s literary
vocation, and the poet was spared further traumas of having to look for a
proper job.


Final note: As with other books published in
his lifetime, Lorca gave all his friends and family copies of The Gypsy Ballad Book with a dedication
inside the front cover. In the copy he gave to his parents, and only in theirs,
he added in brackets after his signature the word “poet”, a telling gesture,
asserting his finally achieved independence as a creative writer.