The novels of Ġużè Cardona
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The novels of Ġużè Cardona

On March 7, 2019, SKS Publications will be launching a set of two novels by Ġużè Cardona (1922-1988). One of them is Manwel Ġellel (Emanuel Gellel) which was first published in 1961 and the other is a posthumous novel called Żmien il-Qerda (The Time of Destruction). The idea is not to let a Maltese author be forgotten or lost in the mists of time. Since there are many who never heard about Cardona, I will start by giving a brief biographical note of him. Then in the second part I will say something about his two novels.

Life and works

Cardona was born on March 30, 1922 in Qormi and studied at St Aloysius College, Birkirkara. In 1944 he started a pharmacy course at the Royal University of Malta but eventually he dropped out of it and set off on a career as a teacher. He began teaching in government primary schools (1948-1959) and then he taught Maltese at the Lyceum (1959-1964). He won a scholarship to study Maltese at the University from where he obtained his BA (Hons) in 1964 and his MA in 1967.

In 1965 he was appointed lecturer of Maltese at the Junior College, then from 1968 to 1974 he lectured at the two training colleges for teachers, and from 1974 to 1976 he gave lectures to sixth-formers as well. In addition to all this, from 1964 to 1975 he carried out duties as a part-time lecturer with the Department of Maltese at the University.

Cardona was a member of the Akkademja tal-Malti and was appointed its secretary from 1960 to 1963. He was also vice-president of the Għaqda tal-Malti (Università) from 1963 to 1973. In 1963 he was one of the co-founders of the Qormi Civic Council.

In the field of academic research he contributed a detailed study on the National Poet of Malta: Dun Karm – Ħajtu u Ħidmietu (1972, Dun Karm – Life and Works). He also wrote several historical studies, religious biographies, plays, poetic drama, poetry, and the two novels mentioned above. In his poetry he manifested a great love for family and God. And towards the end of his life he had a great wish to become a priest, but this was never fulfilled.

He died on February 15, 1988.

Cardona’s fiction falls under the historical popular novels. In Manwel Ġellel and Żmien il-Qerda he gives us period novels of the early years of the 19th century when Malta had just got rid of the oppressive and despotic French. As novels of a period they hold a collective memory within their covers and they show that Cardona was a serious moral thinker to whom history seems to have been a generative force.

The novel of action and intrigue was mainly a vehicle for moralising upon the failings of humanity

For Cardona narrative was an event of communication with an intentional direction. He made literature a mode of teaching. So in the novels he was committed to teach and to please.  In Manwel Ġellel the story deals with Gellel’s deceit and treachery. Gellel is a man full of guile and through his deceit he manages to be promoted to a high position in his locality. He abused his authority by violence and corruption, and some fell victim to the wiles of this unscrupulous rogue. However, the novel’s guile and wile are balanced by patriotism and generosity coming mostly from the Maltese historical figures who within the bounds of the collective memory are held to be noble of heart. The novel also includes a love plot between two young people who resign themselves to the Christian will so that their love is pure and sincere.

The other novel, Żmien il-Qerda, too contains a negative element balanced by a rather positive one. The foreigner Polugrosis is the unscrupulous rogue who deceives people, steals from them, and even kills some of them. On the positive side there is Captain Ġorġ from Qormi with his loyalty and heroism. To complement the novel’s atmosphere there are the two beautiful girls: one targets the destruction of the evil in Polugrosis’s heart and the other seeks Ġorġ’s honest heart. And most of these adventures take place during the plague of 1813.

For Cardona the novel of action and intrigue was mainly a vehicle for moralising upon the failings of humanity. And history gave him a sense of belonging and coherence. He made use of historical narrative to organise his ideas which he could popularise through the telling of a story because the average readers enjoyed reading a story. The novel, for him, was one of the most important ways in which moral ideas and standards could be made accessible and comprehensible to the general public.

It could include discussions of, and sometimes even digressions about, principled human behaviour. And for these discussions he needed the external narrator whose rhetoric presented a narrative form that apart from suggesting fictionality added to the sense of humanity as explored by Cardona. His narrator acts as an agent of perception that helps to produce a disciplined Christian attitude.

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