CULTURE

Xenopoulos: Tireless man of letters

Grigoris Xenopoulos was such a prolific writer, with 60 novels to his credit, and such a noted author of his «Athenian» novels that some intellectuals disdained his work. But this hardworking man, full of love and respect for life, is a landmark in modern Greek literature. In his book «Grigorios Xenopoulos 1867-1951» (Periplous, 2001) Dionysus Mousmoutis traces the life and work of this popular Greek author. Excessive devotion to critical analysis sometimes makes us forget the charms of reading for pleasure. Xenopoulos made a lavish contribution to a reading public that he himself created through his tireless professionalism. From his headquarters at 38 Evripidou Street, where he lived and worked, he participated in every aspect of Athenian life. He was the first who dared acknowledge the value of C.P. Cavafy’s poetry (in his study «A Poet» in Panathinaia magazine) and of Gryparis’s work. He artfully combined the Demotic and the purist form (katharevousa) of Greek in his folklore and popular Athenian novels. Unlike some of his contemporaries, he took into account the taste and common sense of ordinary people. And he was one of the first to introduce Ibsen to Greece, despite the criticism this sparked. The productivity, imagination, modest humanity and subtle eroticism that mark his work can be traced in his life. His father was a merchant from Zakynthos, an eloquent and honest man who had never studied. His mother was a wise and refined woman from the Phanar in Constantinople, where the author spent his childhood and adolescence, before going to Zakynthos. He came to Athens as a student and lived there till his death. The three cities and three cultural spheres each had their impact on his work. Xenopoulos never left the Greek world but his mind traveled by means of the languages he learned: Italian, French and German. He read the European classics, philosophers and scientists in the original, and went on to study physics, mathematics and philosophy at Athens University. The culture of the Ionian Islands, Italian theatrical tradition, romantic novels from the West, together with the life and variety of Constantinople and the intellectual and literary vibrancy of Athens at that time are all reflected in his work. Xenopoulos made contributions to a wide range of literary fields, writing short stories, novels, plays, serialized fiction, criticism and adaptations. His first texts, «The Three Hundred Drachma Prize» and the Athenian novels «The Man of the World» and «Nikolaos Sigalos,» which were published by the Korinna press, were written in purist Greek. He also read his own prose at various literary salons and clubs. He began to write in Demotic Greek in 1891 when he published the children’s novel »My Little Sister» in the magazine Diaplasis ton Paidon. A professional writer, perhaps the only one in Greece, in contrast to the West, where writers such as Dickens and Flaubert earned their living exclusively by their pen, Xenopoulos published most of his work in serial form. He collaborated with numerous periodicals (such as Korinna, Rambayas, Diavase Me, Panathinaia and Ionios Anthologia) and newspapers: Athinaiika Nea, Neon Fos, Icho tis Ellados, Eleftheri Gnomi, Ethnos – where he was appointed novelist in 1913 – and Kathimerini, where he started publishing his literary comments and memoirs under the name «Palios.» These articles later continued at Espera newspaper, and Xenopoulos started working with Kathimerini again in 1926, publishing his novel «The Descent» in serial form. After an abrupt halt, the serialization was continued in Nea Poreia. His novels were known for their simple, lively and lifelike characters. His plays, first acted by the leading ladies of the Greek theater, Marika Kotopouli and Cybele, are still extremely popular, though some critics accused them of shallowness. Xenopoulos himself knew what kind of works he was writing, as is indicated by the title of a lecture he gave in 1935 to the Parnassus Literary Club: «The Art of Entertainment.» In 1896 Xenopoulos started publishing his Athenian Letters in Diaplasis ton Paidon. They were to become enormously popular with readers of all ages and he had written 2,000 of them by the time he stopped in 1947. In 1927 he began publishing the literary journal Nea Estia with Ioannis Kollaros as editor, a project that continued until Xenopoulos’s death. In 1931 Xenopoulos became president of the National Theater and a full member of the Athens Academy.