Category Archives: 19th century

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.

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Image credit: Embassy of Brazil http://culturalbrazil.org/

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.

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Nadia Kerecuk, Convenor, Brazilian Bilingual Book Club

The book club has featured in a recent article in The Linguist: http://thelinguist.uberflip.com/h/i/119188544-the-linguist-54-4 Pages 12-13 and further details including upcoming books for discussion can be found on the Embassy’s website http://culturalbrazil.org/category/books/bookclub/.

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

 

 

 

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.

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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.

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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.

Early Photography in Spain

This post is reblogged with kind permission of the author, and was originally posted on the BL European Studies blog: http://britishlibrary.typepad.co.uk/european/2014/06/early-photography-in-spain.html 

The Spanish National Library in Madrid (Biblioteca Nacional de España; BNE) has mounted a small, but representative exhibition drawn from its photographic collections, entitled ‘Fotografía en España (1850-1870)’. In that period, demand for photography grew rapidly as a means of documenting events and of capturing images of landscape, famous buildings, city landmarks, and art works. Photography also became a new medium for portraits of leading contemporary figures and of the family. It was also important for recording infrastructure projects.

Several of the photographers who worked in Spain were foreign. One of them was a Welshman, Charles Clifford (1819-1863), who set up business in Madrid in late 1850. He produced a considerable body of material over a short period of time, including the album Voyages en Espagne (1856), consisting of some 400 images of famous civil and ecclesiastical buildings and monuments.

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Charles Clifford. Palacio de la Reina, Barcelona (1860).  BNE.

Clifford’s success brought him the patronage of the Queen Isabel II. He recorded some of the construction projects being undertaken in her reign, notably that of the canal which brought a secure supply of fresh water to Madrid and which bears her name.  In fact ‘Canal de Isabel II’ is still the name of the water utility of the Madrid region. He also accompanied the Queen on her royal journeys around Spain.

Another leading photographer, the Frenchman Jean Laurent (1816-1886), began his career in Madrid before Clifford. He too specialised in city views, buildings and monuments, and also in photographing works of art. The BNE exhibition includes his photograph of the Congreso de los Diputados  and also of Velázquez’s Las Meninas.

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Jean Laurent. Congreso de los Diputados, Madrid (1855-60). BNE.

Both Laurent and Clifford produced images of the Alhambra, considered probably the most picturesque (in the literal sense) site in Spain and an undoubted draw for the growing number of travellers in the second half of the 19th century. Another favourite destination was Santiago de Compostela, and the exhibition includes a photograph of the Pórtico de la Gloria by another British photographer, Charles Thurston Thompson (1816-1868).

The exhibition includes a number of other subjects. There are portraits, e.g. of Pedro Antonio de Alarcón (author of The Three-Cornered Hat), the actress Adelaida Fernández Zapatero and the painter José María Castellanos; a female nude; and various ethnographic scenes.

The British Library does not systematically collect photographs. However, a number of special collections are held. Among these is a relatively little-known collection of photographs of Spain by British photographers. There are 230 photographs by Clifford, gathered in three albums, two of topographical and architectural views and the other of images of armour from the Real Armería  in the Royal Palace in Madrid. It is probable however that some of the photographs contained in this last album were the work of his wife, Jane, although they are generally attributed to Charles Clifford. Jane Clifford was an accomplished photographer in her own right and maintained the studio after Charles’s death. One of the albums of views (shelfmark 1785.c.1) was part of the bequest to the British Museum in 1900 of Henry Spencer Ashbee, the noted collector of works both of Miguel de Cervantes and of erotica.

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Charles Clifford. Calle de Alcalá, Madrid , with the Cibeles fountain (ca. 1857). BL, 1785.c.1, no. 57.

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Charles Clifford. West door of Salamanca Cathedral (ca. 1858). BL 1704.d.9, no. 65.

The Library also holds 39 photographs by Charles Thurston Thompson, some of the cathedral of Santiago de Compostela, the rest of the monastery church of Santa Maria da Vitória, Batalha, in Portugal. These are held in two albums. Thompson held a post as photographer of art works at the South Kensington Museum (now the V&A). In 1866 he travelled to France, Spain and Portugal on a photographic expedition on behalf of the Department of Science and Art.

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Charles Thurston Thompson. Pórtico de la Gloria, Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela, with the statue of the Saint (1866).  BL 1811.a.18, no. 4.

Geoff West, Lead Curator Hispanic Studies, British Library

Bibliography

Lee Fontanella, La historia de la fotografía en España (Madrid, 1981). LB.31.b.6876

Lee Fontanella, Clifford en España. Un fotógrafo en la Corte de Isabel II (Madrid, 1999). LF.31.b.5746

See also the British Library’s historic photographs feature: http://www.bl.uk/onlinegallery/features/photographicproject/index.html and the  online catalogue of photographs: http://www.bl.uk/catalogues/photographs/

– See more at: http://britishlibrary.typepad.co.uk/european/2014/06/early-photography-in-spain.html#sthash.Jh6bUPzL.dpuf