Myths and stereotypes undone through literature : Brazilian Bilingual Book Club promotes invaluable cultural exchange

The ACLAIIR blog is delighted to welcome Nadia Kerecuk as our guest writer for this piece about the Brazilian Bilingual Book Club, convened by Nadia herself and hosted by the Embassy of Brazil in London. Discussing José Pereira da Graça Aranha’s work ‘Canaã’, (English Title: Canaan), the group found many topical points on issues of migration – particularly pertinent given current events in Europe. For an introduction to the book, including a biography of the author and details of available editions and translations, take a look at Nadia’s excellent article here

Our summer meeting, the eighth in this year of our book club, proved to be a very engaging session. We were also delighted to welcome another three new members to our book club.

The members offered a fabulous selection of their favourite quotes from the novel, which kick-started a fine discussion on the quality of the novel and its relevance. The very topical subject of migration in the novel opened up an opportunity to look back at part of the history of the migrations into Brazil from the first decades of the 19th century.

The discussions also brought to light the fact that there had already been various government initiatives to colonize the vast territory of Brazil by bringing European immigrants (from western to eastern Europe) by mid-19th century and also forward planning aimed at replacing the African slave labour force eventually when the abolition of slavery would be finalized. Inevitably, the emergence of unregulated agents accelerated the number of immigrants that were brought to work on the coffee plantations, railway building, logging of the Araucaria forests in the south and various other activities could be described as a consequence of those earlier policies. More often than not, people that wanted to emigrate from Europe and elsewhere were seduced by the promise of an El Dorado in Brazil and came to be entrapped by such agents, often having to cope with multiple challenges with very little official support.  After WWII, Brazil was one of the four countries in the world that accepted displaced people from the forced labour camps in Nazi Germany. 

Canaan, albeit fictional, will certainly remain a valid source for the history of settlements (‘colonies’) of immigrants in various places in Brazil. Various book club members had not realized that Germans had gone far northward in Brazil, including the state of Espírito Santo.

Our book club members also commented on the exhuberant nature of that part of Brazil along with the realization that it is located in the Atlantic Forest and the Serra do Mar (vast mountain ranges that extend along the coast of Brazil from the state of Rio Grande do Norte to Rio Grande do Sul). The obfuscating glare of the sun, the beauty of sunrise and twilight and in the evenings the glorious lights of glow-worms are some of the lasting images stayed with the readers.

Another common aspect of the life within communities of immigrant settlers is a degree of ghettoization – akin to any other such communities universally. The fact that families bring their own traditions, languages, cultures and manners of approaching life along with memories from their own birthplaces to their new country, triggers off a concomitant process of preserving them for future generations and safe-guarding them from external local influences and the local law.  G. Aranha demonstrated a significant degree of understanding of this phenomenon obviously benefitting from his own experience of being a ‘domestic migrant’ as he was born in the state of Maranhão, studied in Recife, Pernambuco and travelled to work as a judge to Espírito Santo and elsewhere. Inevitably, the legacy of immigrant traditions would get diluted and blended in massive melting pots of the Americas, the new world yet to be built. The author also provided an insightful critique of such communities and of the way that the governments failed to deal with some of their challenges and concerns.


Image credit: Embassy of Brazil

Our meeting has benefitted from the insights and experience one of our members, a descendant of such immigrants in the state of Rio Grande do Sul, in referring to German immigrations into Brazil and the various communities that they set up there.

A relevant aspect was also discussed regarding some Brazilians that had become either enthusiasts or shared some of the values of the 19th century German culture. At that time, those German ideas were perceived as a means of curbing the excessive influence of French ideas in Brazil. For instance, this was the case of Tobias Barreto (de Meneses – 1839- 89), that influenced G. Aranha as his teacher. Tobias Barreto was a philosopher, legal scholar, poet and literary critic that taught law at university.  In his memoirs, G. Aranha extols T. Barreto’s virtues and offers an account of his intellectual contribution to various key Brazilian institutions.

The matter of views on races, which prevailed in the last quarter of the 19th and at the beginning of the 20th centuries was also discussed – Lentz and Milkau illustrate them but there is a broader network of internal dialogue within the narrative. Some of the views expressed by the characters were as repugnant and unethical as they can be and quite common at the time. Discussions on race and ethnicity continue to be most contentious and controversial causing much misunderstanding. Equally, one is also reminded that there is a return to discussions on race and ethnicity in academic circles currently re-enlivened by recent scientific advances in the study and analysis of the human genome.

However, in the fictional universe of the utopia in Graça Aranha’s Canaan, a solution of sorts to this moot point seems to be put forward, which could only be found in the new world, the new ‘promised’ land in the Americas. Apropos, it is worth mentioning that when The New York Times reviewed the novel in 1920 in a long article, immediately after the publication of its translation, the reviewer stated that Canaan ‘views humanity through the telescope of cosmic philosophy, as a baby taking its first uncertain steps toward Utopia.’ [An Epic of Today in Brazil, 11 Apr 1920]. 

Canaan brings various references to thinkers and events in the world at the time it is set. We discussed several references. A young nation seems to require a heroic history based on the local ancient tales and legends. This theme is adroitly introduced with an analogy in the covert reference that the narrator makes to the Ring Cycle (The Ring of the Nibelung) by Richard Wagner (1813-1883) that includes ancient Norse sagas.

This novel gained another accolade from one of the leading French authors at the time, Anatole France (1844-1924), that hailed Canaan as ‘The Great American Novel’. Yet, despite all of the positive reviews, claims that it was a first Brazilian international best-seller, with rather excessive hype, the novel fell into oblivion so much so that it was only recently that it was reprinted.

Our book club members agreed that it is a fine novel. In fact, it is a significant classic considering what other authors in various cultural and intellectual centres were writing at the time. It is a very ‘modern’ novel in the way that it approaches its main themes. Therefore, no surprise that this author and diplomat would subsequently become a leading cultural activist in the 1922 Week of Modern Art in São Paulo.


Nadia Kerecuk, Convenor, Brazilian Bilingual Book Club

The book club has featured in a recent article in The Linguist: Pages 12-13 and further details including upcoming books for discussion can be found on the Embassy’s website

The book club meets once a month. If this article has whet your appetite and you are interested in joining, please e-mail Nadia:




Basque and Georgian – are they related?

Basque, the only non-Indo European language in Western Europe, is an isolate, a language unrelated to any other living or dead. Nonetheless attempts have been made to demonstrate a relationship with a variety of languages including ancient Iberian, Pictish, Etruscan, and Berber. The most consistently proposed kinship has been with the Kartvelian family of Caucasian languages, in particular with Georgian.

The origin of Basque has been bound up with theories about the origin of the Basque people themselves. Greek and Roman historians referred to the region corresponding to modern Georgia as eastern Iberia, as distinct from western Iberia, i.e. Spain and Portugal. The Greek geographer Strabo referred both to the Iberians of the Caucasus and to the ‘western Iberians’ (Geographica, bk. XI, ch. II, 19). Appian of Alexandria later wrote ‘some people think that the Iberians of Asia were the ancestors of the Iberians of Europe; others think that the former emigrated from the latter’ (Historia Romana, bk. XII, ch. XV, 101). However, he continued ‘still others think that they merely have the same name, as their customs and languages are not similar’. The Georgian language was also known, confusingly, as Iberian.

In the 16th and 17th centuries, Basque historians adopted the prevalent Spanish legend according to which after the Flood, Tubal, a son of Japheth, was the first settler in the Peninsula, but they added that he settled first in Cantabria, i.e. the Basque region. Esteban de Garibay (born 1525) found evidence for this claim in similarities between place names in northern Spain and in Armenia, e.g. Mount Ararat (in modern Turkey) = Aralar, the mountain range in Gipuzkoa and Navarra. He also links the Basque Mount Gorbeia  to an Armenian peak ‘Gordeya’. He considered Basque the first language of the whole Peninsula and, presumably, the language of Tubal. Other writers followed Garibay, notably Andrés de Poza and Baltasar de Echave. Garibay’s identification of similarities between toponyms, however fantastical, can be seen as a forerunner of the Basque-Caucasian hypothesis.

Esteban de Garibay, Los XL libros del Compendio historial… de todos los reynos de España (Antwerp, 1571) British Library C.75.e.4.

Esteban de Garibay, Los XL libros del Compendio historial… de todos los reynos de España (Antwerp, 1571) British Library C.75.e.4.

In the early 20th century philologists developed more scientific arguments for a link between Basque and Caucasian languages. Typological similarities certainly exist between Basque and Georgian. For example both are ergative languages. Put at its simplest, this means that the subject of a transitive verb appears in the ergative case (or ‘agentive’), while the object is in the absolutive case and is unmarked. Thus, in Basque we have ‘gure aitak etxe berria erosi du’ (‘our father has bought a new house’) contrasted with ‘gure aita Donostian bizi da’ (‘our father lives in Donostia’).  In Georgian, ‘father’ in the first sentence would be rendered by ‘mamam’ and by ‘mama’ in the second. However, the ergative construction would not be employed in subject-direct object-verb constructions in all tenses and aspects. In Basque the ergative is more regularly employed.

Another notable similarlity is that the verb morphology of both languages is pluripersonal, i.e. the form of the verb may encode not just the subject of the sentence, but any direct or indirect objects present. In Basque this is illustrated in the examples:

Nere semeak kotxe berri bat erosi du = My son has bought a new car
Nere semeak bi kotxe erosi ditu = My son has bought two cars.

The infix it in the auxiliary verb in the second example agrees with the plural object bi kotxe. However, the verb morphology of Georgian is extremely complex and functions very differently from Basque.

Typological parallels are all very well, but ergativity and pluripersonal agglutinative verbal morphology are not exclusive to Basque and Georgian, and doubt concerning possible kinship between them arises when lexical coincidences are cited. According to Basque philologists today, the majority of those seeking similarities have cast their nets very wide, claiming cognate fish when most should have been thrown back. Cognates with Basque have been sought among several Caucasian languages, although a genetic relationship between the Northern and Kartvelian groups remains unproven. Furthermore, in many cases proto-Basque forms have not been matched with proto-Georgian forms; many coincidences are thus anachronistic. The philologist R.L. Trask also stressed that the Basque, in its hypothetical early form, had a vastly impoverished consonantal system in contrast to the wealth of consonants of the Northern Caucasian groups in particular. Today, Georgian has 28 consonants, Basque 21.

The 36 letters of the Georgian alphabet according to Alphabetum ibericum, sive georgianum… (Rome, 1629); 621.c.33.(1.)

The 36 letters of the Georgian alphabet according to Alphabetum ibericum, sive georgianum… (Rome, 1629); 621.c.33.(1.)

The case for a relationship between Basque and other languages intensified in the early 20th century with the philologists Hugo Schuchardt, C.C. Uhlenbeck and Alfredo Trombetti. Much of the debate was conducted in scientific periodicals, particularly the Revue Internationale des Etudes Basques (P.P.4331.aeb.). We might add here the Georgian linguist Nikolai Marr who developed the so-called Japhetic theory linking Kartvelian with Semitic languages and subsequently the theory that all languages had a common origin. He also found parallels between Kartvelian languages and Basque.

Marr (third from right) with a group of Basques, reproduced in Nikolai Marr, Basksko-kavkazskie leksicheskie paralleli (Tbilisi , 1987) YA.1991.a.23022

Marr (third from right) with a group of Basques, reproduced in Nikolai Marr, Basksko-kavkazskie leksicheskie paralleli (Tbilisi , 1987) YA.1991.a.23022

The case for possible Basque-Caucasian cognates continued to be advanced in the second half of the last century by linguists such as René Lafon and Antonio Tovar. However, later scholars, notably Luis (Koldo) Michelena and Trask, firmly rejected the Caucasian link.  This has not stemmed the tide of speculation, which in fact has widened to include Basque in a macro-language family (Dené-Caucasian) and even beyond in the hypothetical single language of the so-called proto-world. This notion seems to bring us back to Nikolai Marr. These last speculations find approval also among those still hoping to prove a common ethnic origin for the Basques and the Iberians of the Caucasus. Given that the Basque language remains alone in a class of one, it is wisest to conclude that the case for a link remains unproven.

Geoff West, Former Curator Hispanic studies and Anna Chelidze, SEE Cataloguer Russian/Georgian


Itzia Laka, A Brief Grammar of Euskara ([Vitoria-Gasteiz], 1996); available at

Juan Madariaga Orbea, Anthology of Apologists and Detractors of the Basque Language (Reno, 2006). YC.2007.a.857.

R.L. Trask, The History of Basque (London, 1997). YC.1997.b.547

José Ramón Zubiaur Bilbao, Las ideas lingüísticas vascas en el s. XVI. Zaldibia, Garibay, Poza (Donostia, 1989). YA. 1993.a.5626.

La Prensa Iberica interview with Davit Turashvili:

This piece was originally posted on the British Library European Studies blog. See the original post here. 

Father Oriol Maria Diví : Catalan master in bookplate design

This piece was originally posted under the title ‘A Benedictine bookplate designer’ on the Cambridge University Library European Languages blog. The original post can be seen here. Many thanks to the librarians at CUL for kindly allowing us to repost this on the ACLAIIR blog.


The origins of the European exlibris or bookplate lie in the woodblock prints of fifteenth-century Germany, while the first known British bookplate records the gift of books by Sir Nicholas Bacon to Cambridge University Library in 1574. The Library’s collections contain many thousands of diverse examples, intended as a record of ownership but ideally also a sign of the personality and tastes of the user and the artistic abilities of the designer and printer. Sadly a very small proportion of the Library’s holdings are recorded on Newton and a few thousand only on a card index kept in the Rare Books Room.


A recent addition to the Library is a volume depicting bookplates made by the Benedictine monk Father Oriol Maria Diví, who is regarded as a Catalan master in the art of woodblock printing. Only 200 copies of this volume were produced. (F201.a.8.1)

When I was a child, Esplugues, my home town, was agricultural. The seasons of the year displayed themselves in all magnificence. The fields, vineyards, olive trees, wheat, poppies … The robins and swallows … The trees stripped bare and then dressed themselves again. Everything made my heart pounce … my bookplate prints remind me of all this.

Father Oriol entered the Benedictine community as a novice on July 3rd 1956, and given his great aptitude for drawing, he was enrolled at the Conservatorio de las Artes del Libro, where he learnt the art of engraving under Antoni Ollé Pinell. He travelled extensively in Europe in 1969 and 1970, and during this period established many contacts with artists and collectors of bookplates.


This volume gathers together and reproduces chronologically some 572 bookplates made by Father Oriol between 1960 and 2011, 499 of them being woodcuts from boxwood. 25 bookplates printed from the original wooden blocks are also inserted. In addition there are three short introductory essays – one on Father Oriol, another on the art of the bookplate and a third on xylography – in Catalan with translations in Spanish, English, German and Italian.

Brian Jenkins and David Lowe

Making Our America Visible. J.M. Cohen (1903-1989): El Transculturador

A bibliography by Vladimir Alexander Smith-Mesa dedicated to Professor Isabel de Madariaga. (Based on the Cohen Collection, Old Library, Queens’ College, Cambridge University.)

Allen Ginsberg, José Lezama Lima, J. M. Cohen, Nicanor Parra & Jaime Sabines/ the Jury of the Casa de las Américas Poetry Prize of 1965. El Premio Literario Casa de las Américas is a literary award given by the Cuban cultural institution Casa de las Américas (Havana). Established in 1959, it is one of Latin America’s oldest and most prestigious literary prizes.

Allen Ginsberg, José Lezama Lima, J. M. Cohen, Nicanor Parra & Jaime Sabines/ the Jury of the Casa de las Américas Poetry Prize of 1965. El Premio Literario Casa de las Américas is a literary award given by the Cuban cultural institution Casa de las Américas (Havana). Established in 1959, it is one of Latin America’s oldest and most prestigious literary prizes.

Who was J. M. Cohen?

M. (John Michael) Cohen (5 February 1903 – 19 July 1989) was a prolific translator of European and Latin American literatures. His obituary in The Guardian stated that Cohen did: “more than anyone else in his generation to introduce British readers to the classics of world literature by making them available in good modern English translations (20 July 1989)”. [1] Born in London, J. M. Cohen was a graduate of Cambridge University. In addition to teaching young people, he spent the war years teaching himself Spanish and Russian. He launched his translation career with the first English translation of poems by Boris Pasternak (1946), which garnered praise from American poet John Ashbery in his book Other Traditions (2000). Cohen’s translation of Cervantes’s Don Quixote (1950) has been highly praised. Cohen wrote a number of works of literary criticism and biography. He also edited and introduced programmes for the BBC. In addition to his translations of major works of European literature for Penguin, Cohen edited several important anthologies: A History of Western Literature (1956), Poetry of this Age (1959) and The Baroque Lyric (1963). Alongside E. V. Rieu, he edited many of the Penguin Classics.

Cohen’s interest in Latin American literature began on a visit to Argentina in 1953 when he first met Jorge Luis Borges. From this time, he was in contact with writers (and books) from these countries. For Nuestra America, the 1960s were the age of literary discovery, a period when the major works of the Latin American Literary Boom were published. Certainly, it launched our literature on to the world stage. J. M. Cohen played a key role in the dissemination of the writers of the Boom by translating many of them: Julio Cortázar, Octavio Paz, José Donoso, and Carlos Fuentes, among many others and by bringing the works of Gabriel García Márquez to the attention of his future English publisher.

In Havana, J. M. Cohen was also a member of the Jury of the Casa de las Américas Poetry Prize of 1965 and of the Jury of the Julián del Casal Poetry Prize of 1968, which was won by the Cuban poet and dissident, “the Cuban Pasternak”, Heberto Padilla with his book Fuera del juego. Consequently, Cohen translated pre-Boom writers such as César Vallejo, Gabriela Mistral, Alejo Carpentier, João Guimarães Rosa, Pablo Neruda, Jorge Luis Borges, José Lezama Lima, among many others. Today, all these names sound familiar to everyone, but how did this literature became available? Who translated their works into English? These questions remain a major blind-spot in the bibliography of Latin American and Translation Studies.


The proposed bibliography will make a significant contribution to Latin American, Post-colonial, Comparative and Translation Studies. The requirement for the bibliography can be explained by the lack of reliable information and online data regarding J. M. Cohen the man, the anthologist, the literary critic and the translator of classics. The research is based in the first instance on the Cohen Collection, Old Library, Queens’ College, and Cambridge University. This is the type of bibliographical research that goes beyond European subjects, reaching the so-called Third World, bringing its classics, Nobel Prizes in Literature into the UK bibliographical tradition. As a reference source for a unique period of time in the history of translation and Latin American studies, the proposed bibliography is expected to be of benefit to women and men of letters in the future. It should be completed within a period of no longer than 12 months.

Books certainly define a person’s identity. The present study focuses on the meaning that books and reading have in a life. As we know, Cohen built his collection out of gifts from the authors or purchases he made during visits to Spain and Argentina in the 1950s and to Mexico and Cuba in the 1960s and 1970s. It includes signed copies of works by writers of the first Cuban revolutionary generation and by Latin American women, most of which were previously unrecorded in the West. As a Cuban researcher, established in Britain and currently working as a cataloguer of the Russian collection for UCL- School of Slavonic and East European Studies (SSEES) Library, the Cohen collection has a special appeal. It includes not only an extensive gathering of the pre-Columbian & contemporary Latin American literatures but also of Russian literature; and studies on literary criticism and poetry in general. These highly significant publications are rarely found in British libraries.

The present research intends to be the most comprehensive body of research material relating to the author, anthologist and translator J. M. Cohen anywhere. It will bring together Cohen’s materials – already in the possession of the twentieth-century special collection in the Old Library, Queens’ College – with other materials, currently located in private, national institutions in the UK and abroad. It will include resources such as foreign editions of his books, audio-visual materials, tape recordings from the BBC, and Cohen’s correspondence with foreign writers and publishers.

Description of the proposed bibliography

Manuscripts: may include literary notebooks, diaries, radio scripts (copies lent by the BBC for example) and manuscript and typescript materials.

Personal Papers: materials such as his birth certificate, passport, driving licence and family letters, identity card.

Correspondence: The Cohen collection holds original letters by Cohen. It will include letters in the possession of Cohen’s correspondents held in other collections in UK and abroad. The correspondents include a great number of European, Latin American intellectuals and writers, many of them Nobel laureates in Literature such as Gabriela Mistral (1945), Pablo Neruda (1971), Vicente Aleixandre (1977), Gabriel García Márquez (1982), Octavio Paz (1990), among many others.

Original background material: This section may contain material from other sources, which shed light on some aspect of Cohen’s life. It may include papers relating to the various organisations with which Cohen was linked, letters about Cohen (both contemporary and posthumous) and a collection of personal reminiscences and interviews with people who knew Cohen.

Articles and Reviews by/on Cohen: A collection of Cohen’s known published articles and all major articles on Cohen and his writings; the creation of a numbered list and author index for this, classified according to the specific work by Cohen or aspect of his life.

Printed Books: There is a classified catalogue for this section, which includes those volumes in the Cohen collection – Old Library, Queens’ College, Cambridge – which are traceable on the library’s on-line catalogue system. New additions will be foreign publications and translations of Cohen’s works and critical and background books.

Audiovisual materials: Radio recordings, video tapes of film and television productions, if it is possible accompanied by scripts. The creation of a classified card index for this section. Photographs by Lotte Meitner-Graf and those held in other institutions such as the National Portrait Gallery in London and the Casa de las Américas in Havana, for example).

[1] See also “J. M. Cohen, Gifted translator of foreign prose classics” (Obituary), The Times (London), 22 July 1989.

“Obituary of JM Cohen: An opener of closed books” (Obituary), by M.C. and W.L.W., The Guardian (London), 20 July 1989.

The Spaniards in Peru : a discovery at Senate House Library

This post is republished with the kind permission of Senate House Library. View the original post here.

Historia General del Peru
Garcilaso de la Vega
Cordova: Widow of Andrés Barrera, 1616
Ct [Vega] fol. SR

First impressions can deceive. A Spanish book recently came to light in the BOLSA (Bank of London and South America) collection which initally looked dusty and ordinary, but soon turned out to be intriguing. Its author was born in Cusco (Peru) in 1539, and was one of the earliest Hispanic American intellectuals recognised on both sides of the Atlantic. His real name was Gómez Suárez de Figueroa, son of the Spanish conquistador Sebastian Garcilaso de la Vega and an Inca princess, Isabel Suarez Chimpu Ocllo, who was the granddaughter of Inca Túpac Yupanqui, and niece of Inca Huayna Capac. Because his father had a privileged position, he later inherited his father’s name to become known as Inca Garcilaso de la Vega – despite the fact that the law stipulated that noble Spaniards should only marry Spanish women. Sebastian did in fact marry a Spanish woman – but he made a provision in his will for his illegitimate son to be educated in Spain. During his childhood, Inca Garcilaso de la Vega’s education took in both his Spanish and Inca heritage, a mix which is reflected in his writing.

His best-known work was Comentarios Reales de los Incas, where he describes the history, culture and traditions related by his Inca relatives during his childhood. The first part was initially published in Lisbon in 1609. Considered seditious and dangerous, it was banned in the American colonies as of 1781, following the rebellion led by Túpac Amaru II against the Spanish in Peru in 1780. However, it continued to be published in Spain.



The second part of the Comentarios Reales covers the history of Peru from the arrival of the Spaniards in 1531 to the execution of Túpac Amaru I in 1572, and sets out to justify the Spanish conquest. The work was finished in about 1613. The printing process took longer than expected and three years later, on 22 April 1616, Inca Garcilaso de la Vega passed away. The work was posthumously published in 1617 under another title, Historia General del Peru. According to some versions the change in title came from the authorities in Madrid, according to others, from the publisher, who did not think the original title very inspiring.

In itself, even the 1617 imprint is not common; Copac lists six copies in Great Britain from that year. The Senate House Library copy is one of very few with an earlier date of 1616 in the imprint. Of the six copies dated 1616 that we have so far located around the world, only one, at the Complutense University of Madrid, has the same title page as ours – a rare and valuable book indeed.


En la colección Bolsa (Bank of London and South America), salió a la luz un libro en castellano. La primera impresión era que no pasaba de ser otro libro más, probablemente con cierto nivel de información a la vez que polvoriento y sin representar un interés particular.

Sin embargo primeras impresiones pueden dar lugar a equívocos. Apenas apareció la portada con su título quedó demostrado que se trataba de una publicación antigua, con el agregado de que el autor que allí figura fue uno de los primeros mestizos de Hispanoamérica que fue reconocido por sus atributos intelectuales y literarios en ambas orillas del Atlántico. Su nombre de bautizo fue Gómez Suárez de Figueroa y la historia lo recuerda como el Inca Garcilaso de la Vega, hijo de un conquistador español, Sebastián Garcilaso de la Vega, y de una princesa incaica – Isabel Suárez Chimpu Ocllo – quien era nieta del Inca Tupac Yupanqui y sobrina del Inca Huayna Capac.

Gracias a la privilegiada posición de su padre, más tarde pudo llevar su apellido, a pesar del hecho de que la ley estipulaba que los nobles españoles debian casarse con mujeres españolas (y de hecho, él se casó con una peninsular). Sin embargo, al morir, dejo previsto que su hijo fuese educado en España. Durante su niñez, el Inca Garcilaso de la Vega, tuvo una educación donde se mezcló lo hispánico con lo indígena y esa particular cosmovisión fue reflejada en su vida y en sus trabajos.

Su obra cumbre fue Comentarios Reales de los Incas, donde describe la historia, cultura y tradiciones que sus parientes indígenas le transmitieron durante su infancia a través de relatos e historias familiares. La primera edición de lo que se convertiría en la primer parte de este título fue publicada en Lisboa en 1609. Cabe mencionar que después de la rebelión encabezada por Tupac Amaru, el libro fue prohibido de publicarse en las colonias americanas, porque se consideró que podía usarse para incitar sediciones y por lo tanto, muy peligroso. Sin embargo la prohibición no fue aplicada a la península Ibérica.

La segunda parte la finalizó, aproximadamente, en 1613. Pero su publicación se demoró mucho más de lo esperado y 3 años más tarde, el 22 de abril de 1616 el Inca Garcilaso moría en Córdoba, España. El libro terminó siendo publicado en 1617 con otro título “Historia General del Perú …” Algunas versiones afirman que el cambio fue decidido por las autoridades de Madrid, otras que lo decidieron en la casa editora porque se entendió que el original no era atractivo.

Hasta aqui, la copia que es actualmente preservada en Special Collections podría ser considerada como una pieza valiosa de la primera edición. Sin embargo, esta copia en particular tiene un agregado que la hace aún más peculiar, la fecha es de 1616.

Ya la edición de 1617 no es muy común. Haciendo una búsqueda en los catálogos online de algunas de las mayores bibliotecas de Europa, Sudamérica y Estados Unidos, en muy pocas de ellas apareció este título con el año mencionado. En COPAC solo se ha podido encontrar 6 ejemplares con esa fecha en toda Gran Bretaña.

Del año 1616 otros 6 más, pero a nivel mundial. De los cuales solo uno tiene la portada similar, en la Universidad Complutense de Madrid. A pesar de que es un tema no concluído, se puede afirmar, que este ejemplar es una valiosa y extraordinaria adición al patrimonio de la biblioteca.

Julio Cazzasa, Senate House Library


Recovering Past Modernities: El Cuento Semanal

Libraries evoke images of books: fragrant leather-bound tomes, anthologies with furtive underlining by generations of undergraduates, popular paperbacks with now threadbare spines, imposing indexes holding court from heaving shelves. Such romantic evocations, etched firmly in popular imagination, can leave the wrong impression of how people actually learned to read. Or rather how reading spread beyond the narrow privileged circles it had occupied for centuries and became a mass phenomenon in the 1800s and beginning of the 1900s. Very few of these new readers could afford a leather-bound tome. Instead they eagerly consumed serialized novels published in newspapers, with the option of having all the sections collected in a rather expensive book at the end, a luxury not everyone could afford. These folletines or serialized novels would later be overtaken by the so-called short novel, sometimes used interchangeably with cuento, relato and other terms depending on context.


Founded in 1907 and the brainchild of Eduardo Zamacois, El Cuento Semanal galvanized the publishing fortunes of the short novel and contributed to its status as a household format in the first decades of the twentieth century. Despite its name, the success of El Cuento Semanal helped consolidate the popularity of the novela corta in Spain, and would span other collections with varying degrees of longevity. These include Los Contemporáneos, La Novela Corta, La Novela Semanal, La Novela Contemporánea, El Libro Popular, La Novela de Bolsillo, La Novela para Todos and many others. Adjectives like ‘contemporáneo’, ‘corta’, ‘semanal’, ‘popular’ allude to the distinguishing characteristics of this format: modern, accessible and brief.

Unlike serialized novels, the new novela corta did not rely on newspapers or other existing media outlets, but had its own publication platform. It provided editors a greater freedom to tailor it to the needs of its target public, middle-class city-dwellers, that translated into lucrative margins. Every aspect of the operation had been designed for rapid consumption, from the lower quality paper, a length that rarely exceeded forty pages, and the equal billing enjoyed by the illustrators responsible for the artwork that broke the walls of text.


A low price, normally 30 cents, made them attractive to a growing demographic of readers, while their regular publication guaranteed a new source of income to writers. As its name indicates, El Cuento Semanal, was published on a weekly basis. To keep up with demand and ensure a steady supply, many editors would employ successful collaborators, who effectively gained the status of journalists, with a steady income and who were often encouraged to follow a house style. Even established writers like Benito Pérez Galdós, normally associated with elaborate sagas, praised the reach of the short novel and its pecuniary awards to the author:

“Habéis logrado el milagro de que el pueblo se apasione por las novelas. De rechazo nos habéis beneficiado a los escritores de mis tiempos, porque también vendemos bastante más…¡Yo os estoy muy agradecido, muy agradecido!”

(Quoted in F.C. Sainz de Robles (1975), La promoción de « El Cuento Semanal», 104)

Other canonical authors were less impressed with the meteoric rise of the novela corta. It might have disrupted the dissemination of literature and popularized reading, but it was precisely this commercial and democratic nature that tarnished its image. Repelled by the success of the erotic short novel, a subgenre known as novela sicalíptica or galante, Azorín writes in 1910 that:

“La nueva generación…está completa y desenfrenadamente entregada al más bajo y violento erotismo; no transcurre una semana sin que aparezca en las librerías una nueva novela pornográfica; se ponen a estos libros los títulos más provocadores y llamativos; se los anuncia con grandes carteles por las esquinas; se describen en ellos las más torpes aberraciones humanas.”

(quoted in Kirsty Hooper (2008), A Stranger in My Own Land, 110)

IMG_0277_editedSome of these novels – particularly the ones penned anonymously – make Fifty Shades of Grey seem as tame as a Dulux catalogue. However, as Hooper points out, Azorín seems to be as affronted by the crass commercialism that lead to giant posters as by any explicit content (Hooper, 110). Less risqué enterprises were equally profitable. In some cases the short novel even provided new and profitable platforms for women writers such as Sofía Casanova, Blanca de los Ríos and Carmen de Burgos, the latter penning close to a hundred. Their subjects varied from frivolous escapades to overtly political stories such as El Artículo 438 (1921), in which Burgos denounces the atavistic barbarity of a clause that exonerates men from murder should they catch their spouse committing adultery.

From its marketing to its distribution, from its content to its expanding pool of both readers and writers, the short novel is thus an eminently modern medium. Ironically, like many of the serialized novels published in the press, short novels have also been victims of this ephemeral modernity. Published on fragile cheap paper that made them so accessible in the first place, much of this production was never collected in expensive leather tomes. Instead for decades they remained within the walls of libraries and archives, accumulating dust.

A recent surge in interest can be ascribed to two main factors. Firstly, we have a revisionist wave propelled by shifting approaches to the cultural production of the time, with an increasing interest in seemingly more ‘ephemeral’ or ‘transient’ literature such as magazines or pamphlets, rather than the novel, traditional repository of nineteenth-century culture. ???????????????????????????????Secondly, this new expanded perspective goes hand in hand with new scanning technologies that have digitized many of these publications, so that they are more accessible and not bound by their physical location (I can navigate online archives from the comfort of my home).

Such developments have enabled us to search through an increasing set of preserved memories with great speed and accuracy. It is our modernity, our ability to navigate through all this digitized information, that has enabled us to  search through these preserved memories with greater speed and accuracy. In other words, our own modernity has provided us the means to asses more comprehensively the remains of past modernities. Next time you find yourself in a library, why not have a closer look at some of these short novels? Or you could browse through some of its digitized versions from websites such as the Biblioteca Nacional’s Biblioteca Digital Hispánica, the Cervantes Virtual Library, the Hathi Trust Digital Library and Issuu.

These are some of the sitesI have found useful in my own research, although if you are looking for a particular novel, it sometimes pays to just Google for it. Often they will have been digitized by sources that had not occurred to you. It also depends on the author, in the case of Carmen de Burgos for example, the Biblioteca Virtual de Andalucía has scanned quite a few of her works because she was born there. But that might not be the case for authors hailing from other regions. You can also buy your own copies. Many of them are still surprisingly affordable on secondhand book sites such as IberLibro.

Rocío Rødtjer, King’s College London

All photographs of El Cuento Semanal are from the bound volume held in the Taylor Institution Library, Oxford, Vet.Span.IV.C.36.

If you enjoyed this post, take a look at Rocío’s first piece for the ACLAIIR blog.

Barcelona and the Avant Garde

This post is reproduced with permission from the British Library European Studies blog:

Barcelona was more open to outside influence in the late 19th and early 20th centuries than the Spanish capital, Madrid. It witnessed the flowering of modernisme, the Catalan variant of art nouveau, whose most notable exponent was the eccentric architect Antoni Gaudí. He continued his most extravagant project, the Sagrada Familia, until his death in 1926.

However, by 1906 modernisme was considered overly aesthetic and had given way to noucentisme. Initiated by Eugeni d’Ors, this cultural and intellectual movement, literally ‘of the new century’, was urban, middle-class and distinctly nationalist both politically and culturally. In the visual arts and literature, noucentisme can be seen as a return to order, to Classicism and social cohesion after the individualism of modernisme. In fact, Catalan artists and writers were influenced by movements from elsewhere in Europe, but remained true to local traditions, spirit and language. The avant-garde movement in Barcelona should be seen against the background of noucentisme, sometimes emerging from it, at other times provoked by it.

Spain’s neutrality in the FirstWorld War brought a number of foreign artists to Barcelona. They included Serge Charchoune and Hélène Grunhoff, Albert Gleizes, Robert and Sonia Delaunay who went to nearby Sitges, and most notably Francis Picabia who published the first four issues of his Dadaist periodical 391 in the city in 1917 (1960 reprint, British Library X.902/721). Picasso returned from Paris to Barcelona  the same year, while Joan Miró continued to study and work in the region.

The key figure in the contemporary artistic life of the period was Josep Dalmau, who had opened his Galeries Dalmau in 1911. The following year he organized the first avant-garde art exhibition in Spain there, the ‘Exposició d’art cubista’ and also exhibited paintings from Picasso’s Blue Period. Dalmau mounted Miró’s first one-man show in 1918. However, with the end of the war, most of the foreigners left the region, while native artists were free again to travel abroad.

The first properly avant-garde movement in Catalonia can be dated to 1916 and the appearance of the first issue of Troços (‘Pieces’), founded by Josep Maria Junoy, a poet and art critic closely associated with Dalmau. Its content set a pattern for similar publications with its mixture of art criticism and verse, often calligrammatic and related thematically to the visual arts.  Junoy published a collection of poems, Poemes i cal.ligrames (RB.23.b.6900), in 1920, including a version of his earlier visual poem ‘Oda a Guynemer’ in memory of the French air ace Georges Guynemer.  The work earned him the praise of Guillaume Apollinaire.

It was the presence of Miró, the Catalan Uruguayan Joaquín Torres-García and the Uruguayan Rafael Barradas that gave greatest impetus to this first expression of the avant garde in Barcelona. All three contributed to the publications initiated by Joan Salvat-Papasseit, arguably the most significant Catalan avant-garde writer in spite of his early death at the age of 30. JoanSalvat-Papasseit2

Joan Salvat-Papasseit, statue in Port Vell, Barcelona (picture by Tommykavanagh from Wikimedia Commons)

In 1917 Salvat-Papasseit founded the periodical Un enemic del poble (‘An Enemy of the People’, 1917-19) whose subtitle Fulla de subversió espiritual (‘Leaflet of Spiritual Subversion’) is indicative of his political radicalism. Salvat-Papasseit subsequently edited two further periodicals, Arc-voltaic (‘Arc-Lamp’; one issue, 1918) and Proa  (‘Prow’; two issues, 1921). In all three there is a similar collaboration between text and image, already manifest in Troços. A female figure by Miró appeared on the cover of Arc-voltaic, while the drawing by Barradas on an inside page is an example of his vibracionismo, a variant of Italian Futurism, illustrating the pulsating dynamism of the modern city. The texts included Italian and French versions of Torres-García’s ‘Art-evolució (a manera de manifest)’, a call for individuality and constant change in art which had already appeared in Catalan in Un enemic del poble the previous year. Salvat-Papasseit himself contributed a calligrammatic poem describing the city of Barcelona. The following year he issued Contra els poetes amb minúscula. Primer manifest català futurista (‘Against Lower-case Poets.  First Catalan Futurist Manifesto’), a call for an unspecified modernity in poetry. (Arc-voltaic, Un enemic del poble and Contra els poetes amb minúscula are all reprinted in the 1994 facsimile edition RF.2009.b.12.)

Barradas’ ‘Vibrationist’ image from Arc-voltaic

Another volume of avant-garde verse, L’irradiador del port i les gavines (‘The Harbour Light and the Seagulls’), appeared in 1921, and also included a number of visual poems. The poet who showed most clearly contemporary influences from France and Italy was Joaquim Folguera who published Catalan versions of Italian futurist poems and works by Apollinaire in the noucentiste journal La Revista (1917; P.903/309).  Some of these were republished in his posthumous Traduccions i fragments of 1921 (YF.2009.a.11345).

Joan Salvat-Papasseit, L’irradiador del port i les gavines (Barcelona, 1921). YF.2009.a.11418

The early Catalan literary Avant Garde ended with the military coup  of 1923 that imposed the dictatorship of Miguel Primo de Rivera and effectively suppressed Catalan nationalism. Dalmau meanwhile continued his work in Barcelona, mounting an exhibition by Picabia in 1922 and Salvador Dalí’s first one-man show in 1925. Miró moved to Paris and Dalí to Madrid, but neither ever severed their links with Catalonia. After the premature deaths of Folguera and Salvat-Papasseit, J.V. Foix remained as the sole major writer of the Catalan avant garde. The author of Gertrudis (1927; 1983 edition YA.1986.a.4647) and KRTU (1932; 1983 edition YA.1987.a.14346), both illustrated by Miró, he also had a key role in the important contemporary journal L’Amic de les arts (Sitges, 1926-29; 2008 facsimile at LF.37.b.135).

Two of the collaborators on L’Amic de les arts were the art critic Sebastià Gasch and the writer Lluís Montanyà.  In 1928, together with Dalí, they produced the most strident of avant-garde manifestos in Catalan, the Manifest antiartístic català, but generally known as the Manifest groc (‘Yellow Manifesto’) because of the colour of its pages. It championed modernity: cinema, jazz, contemporary architecture, photography, motor cars and ocean liners, and contemporary figures: Picasso, Gris, Le Corbusier, Stravinsky, Tzara…  Its targets however were specifically local, for it attacked modern Catalan poetry and music, while venerable cultural institutions such as the music society, the Orfeó Català, were rubbished as old hat, lacking in boldness and invention.

With the advent of the Second Spanish Republic  in 1931, Catalan nationalism and cultural life were revived in the visual arts and architecture. Most prominent among the artistic organisations was ADLAN, Agrupació ‘Amics de l’Art Nou’ (‘Association of Friends of New Art’) which was founded in 1932 and became the major champion of the Avant Garde. Its members included Dalí, Miró, Foix, Gasch, the composer Robert Gerhard, the architect Josep Lluís Sert and other members of the association GATCPAC (Grupo de Arquitectos y Técnicos Catalanes para la Arquitectura Contemporánea). ADLAN mounted three Miró exhibitions, the first Picasso retrospective (1936) and the Exposició logicofobista which included almost all avant-garde Catalan artists. It also organized shows devoted to leading figures of the wider avant garde: Alexander Calder (1933) and both Hans Arp and Man Ray in 1935.  Concerts of contemporary music, especially jazz, cinema showings, poetry readings (by García Lorca, for example) figured in their other activities. In 1934, ADLAN and GATCPAC were responsible for the special issue, devoted to twentieth-century European art, of the classy cultural magazine D’ací i d’allà (ZA.9.d.386). Miró designed the cover and an accompanying pochoir.  All this creative energy and enterprise was crushed by the Fascist uprising of 1936 and the ensuing Spanish Civil War.

Geoff West, Lead Curator Hispanic Studies

This is an edited version of my article in Breaking the Rules. The Printed Face of the European Avant Garde 1900-1937, ed. Stephen Bury (London: the British Library, 2007), pp. 71-73. YC.2008.b.251

You can find out more about the arts in Barcelona at our event  ‘Barcelona Kaleidoscope’, on 27 February.