Category Archives: iberian literature

Don Quixote as Napoleon: propaganda in Spain’s war of independence, II: the print

Part II of our reposting from the BL European Studies blog on Don Quixote as Napoleon. Find the original here: http://britishlibrary.typepad.co.uk/european/2016/02/don-quixote-as-napoleon-2.html 

The Mexico edition of Francisco Meseguer, El Don Quixote de ahora con el Sancho Panza de antaño, was published in 1809, after the Córdoba edition of the same year. It includes a the coloured fold-out cartoon apparently not present in the Spanish editions, which focuses on the situation in Spain in 1808 sometime after the ‘Dos de Mayo’ uprising in Madrid against the French.

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Fold-out caricature from Francisco Meseguer, El Don Quixote de ahora con el Sancho Panza de antaño (Mexico, 1809) British Library 9180.e.6.(30)

The main caption reads: ‘El Quijote de n[ues]tros t[iem]pos (Napoleon) caballero sobre su rocin (Godoy) y puestos los ojos en la encantada Dulcinea (America) Consuela á su buen escudero Sancho (Murat) de la perdida del Gobierno de la Insula Barataria (España)’ (‘The Quixote of our times (Napoleon) astride his nag (Godoy) and with his gaze fixed on the enchanted Dulcinea (America) consoles his good squire Sancho (Murat) for the loss of the Isle of Barataria (Spain)’.

During the confused period in Franco-Spanish relations, 1807-08, Spanish Prime Minister Godoy had in effect collaborated with Napoleon who, according to the historian Raymond Carr, despised him. Godoy, cast as Rocinante, the figure to the right on all fours, admits ‘Esto y mucho mas merezco‘ (‘All this and more I deserve’). In March 1808 Godoy’s ever increasing unpopularity in Spain prompted his dismissal by Carlos IV, who himself abdicated in favour of his son Fernando.

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Manuel Godoy, portrait by Goya (image from Wikimedia Commons)

The ambitions of General Murat (as Sancho, in centre), Napoleon’s lieutenant in Spain, were frustrated after the brutal suppression of the Madrid uprising: ‘Todo se lo llevó el Diablo. Ya no soy gov[ernad]or’ (‘The Devil has taken everything. I am no longer governor’), he laments. ‘Insula Barataria’, depicted as a castle to the left of Murat, refers to the make-believe island of which Sancho Panza was made governor in one of the practical jokes devised by the Duke and Duchess in Part II of Don Quixote.

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General Murat, ca. 1808, portrait by François Gérard (Image from Wikimedia Commons).

The consolation offered to Murat by Napoleon/Quixote is a possible role in the Spanish colonies: ‘q[u]e si logro desencantar a Dulcinea te hare Arzob[is]po u Adelantado’ (‘if I succeed in disenchanting Dulcinea, I shall make you Archbishop or Governor’). This is a further allusion to Part II of Cervantes’ novel in which Sancho Panza convinces his master that Dulcinea’s appearance as a peasant girl is the work of enchanters.

Don Quixote Napoleon detail 2

America is represented as Dulcinea (top, centre; detail above) but in the guise of a woman wearing a native American headdress. The text reads ‘La América será una Dulcinea encantada q[u]e jamas has de pose[e]r’ (‘America shall be an enchanted Dulcinea that you will never possess’). The focus on the colonies in the cartoon is consonant with the reprinting of the work in Mexico. Following the French invasion of Spain and the imposition of Napoleon’s brother, Joseph, on the Spanish throne, Mexicans either affirmed their allegiance to Fernando VII or sought independence.
Don Quixote Napoleon detail 1

Bonaparte, represented as the ‘Quixote of our times’ (above), is depicted much as Don Quixote had been in the many editions of the novel hitherto. He wears ancient body armour and on his head the so-called helmet of Mambrino, in reality a barber’s basin. The basin-helmet is labelled the crown of Spain, with the caption ‘No tiene encaje este yelmo, no le biene á tu cabeza’ (‘This helmet does not fit; it is not right on your head’). His shield however has the emblem of the Gallic rooster and the motto ‘El caballero de los gallos’ (‘The Knight of the Roosters’). Napoleon is somewhat thin, but not short of stature, as the Emperor was usually depicted and is indeed described in Meseguer’s text.

The windmill (far left) references the most famous episode of Don Quixote (Part 1, ch. 8). The caption reads ‘Con un molino basta para asorarte’ (‘A single windmill is sufficient to put the wind up you’). Don Quixote was brave – and rash – enough to charge one of the group of windmills. The fearsome sight of just one would have been too much for Napoleon, ‘The Quixote of our times’? The ambiguity, bravery-rashness, takes us back to the ambivalence of Meseguer’s text.

Geoff West, former Head of Hispanic Collections, British Library

References/further reading

Raymond Carr, Spain 1808-1975. 2nd ed. (Oxford, 1982) 82/22993

Charles J. Esdaile. Spain in the Liberal Age. From Constitution to Civil War, 1808-1939. (Oxford, 2000) YC.2000.a.11398.

 

Don Quixote as Napoleon: propaganda in Spain’s war of independence, I.

This piece is reposted with kind permission from the author from the British Library European Studies blog. The original post can be found here: http://britishlibrary.typepad.co.uk/european/2016/02/don-quixote-as-napoleon-1.html 

Cervantes’ novel Don Quixote (1605, 1615) has not only inspired later writers, artists and subsequently film-makers, but his characters have also been used for other purposes, notably in propaganda and advertising. The behaviour of Don Quixote himself, whether seen as  fool, madman or noble idealist, has made him a most suitable figure for use in propaganda.

In the 17th and early 18th centuries the novel was regarded primarily as a funny book, but this began to change with the publication of the London editions of 1738 (in Spanish) and 1742 (in English) commissioned by Lord Carteret.  The emphasis shifted from slapstick comedy to literary and social satire. The subsequent publication of the Spanish Real Academia’s edition in 1780 elevated the literary status of the novel within Spain itself.  However, the absence of a single predominant interpretation of the novel entailed different attitudes towards the protagonist himself.  This divergence can be seen in some of the Spanish propaganda following Napoleon’s invasion of Spain in 1808 and the imposition of his brother Joseph on the Spanish throne.

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Spanish generals surrender to Napoleon in December 1808, painting by Jean-Antoine Gros, Musée du Château, Versailles (image from Wikimedia Commons)

One work in particular demonstrates this double focus: Francisco Meseguer’s El Don Quixote de ahora con Sancho Panza el de antaño (‘Today’s Don Quixote and the Sancho Panza of Yesteryear’). It was published in Spain in 1809 (in Córdoba, Mallorca, Murcia and Tarragona) and then in Mexico the same year –  which was not uncommon for this type of publication.  The British Library has a copy of this last edition (shelfmark 9180.e.6.(30.)), which also contains a coloured print representing the Emperor as Don Quixote.

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Francisco Meseguer, El Don Quixote de ahora con Sancho Panza el de antaño (Mexico, 1809)

Meseguer’s work recounts a dream in which the narrator overhears a conversation between a modern-day Quixote and the original Sancho Panza.  After a brief introduction, it takes the form of a dialogue between the two in the manner of the conversations between Cervantes’ original knight and squire.  The modern-day Quixote is immediately identified with Napoleon, but as the ‘Caballero de la mala figura’ (‘Knight of the Evil Countenance’), a variation on Quixote’s epithet ‘Caballero de la triste figura’ (‘Knight of the Sorrowful Countenance’).  However, Sancho remembers not just the unwise actions but also the aims and ideals of his original master.  Therein lies the ambivalence.

Don Quixote sheep & slaves (Cerv.336)

Don Quixote attacking the flock of sheep (top) and freeing the galley slaves (bottom). From The History of the most renowned Don Quixote of La Mancha… (London, 1687). Cerv.336.

Sancho recalls three adventures from Part I of the novel: the attack on the flock of sheep, the freeing of the galley slaves, and the Princess Micomicona episode, each an example of Quixote’s folly or delusion. At the same time he succeeds in either highlighting one of Don Quixote’s virtues or in turning the argument back against Napoleon.  Don Quixote showed great bravery as, in his delusion, he actually believed the sheep to be a large opposing army.  Sancho draws a parallel between the freeing of the galley slaves (who turned on Don Quixote when he bade them go and pay homage to Dulcinea) and Napoleon’s one-time support for Manuel Godoy, since both actions were futile given the bad character ascribed to both the slaves and the very unpopular Spanish Prime Minister.

According to Meseguer’s Sancho, the Micomicona episode gave his master the opportunity of usurping the throne of the pretend Princess, an opportunity he ignored in contrast to the actions of Napoleon in Spain, who placed his brother, Joseph, on the throne. Moreover, Quixote demonstrated great fidelity to his lady Dulcinea by declining to wed the Princess who is part of the Priest’s plan to get Don Quixote safely back home.  Finally Sancho, recognising reality, recalls how so many of his master’s rash adventures ended in disaster, but, he adds, this will also be the fate of Napoleon’s Spanish expedition.

The nub of Sancho’s case is that the original Don Quixote was a true knight errant who wished to right wrongs and to protect the weak.  Napoleon, on the other hand, is the very opposite: his soldiers ‘have ruined countless maidens, raped married women and widows, leaving in tears those who were living happily, abandoned those who were well protected, and orphaned those who had a father’.  He also opposed loyal Spaniards such as Fernando VII and his supporters, favouring instead the likes of Godoy in furtherance of his personal ambition.

There is also a divergence between the description of the ‘Today’s Don Quixote’ and the one of yesteryear.  Sancho says the latter was ‘tall as a pine tree, lean… and solid as a rock’, while Napoleon/Quixote was ‘short of stature’ and had a ‘face like a monkey’.  This brings us neatly to the cartoon in the Mexico edition, which will be the subject of a second blog post.

Geoff West, former Head of Hispanic Collections, British Library

References/further reading

Caro López. ‘Don Quijote en la guerra del Francés’, Anales cervantinos, 41 (2009), 39-61.  Available on-line at: http://analescervantinos.revistas.csic.es/index.php/analescervantinos/article/view/52/52

A copy of the Córdoba edition can be consulted at: https://archive.org/details/eldonquixotedeah00mese

 

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.

Travel, culture, language and libraries: Queen Sofia of Spain visits Oxford and London

On Tuesday 29th April, Oxford welcomed Queen Sofia of Spain as part of the 700th anniversary celebrations taking place at Exeter College, of which the Queen is an honorary fellow and patron of a Junior Research Fellowship bearing her name. The King Alfonso XIII Chair of Spanish Studies has also been held at Exeter College since 1927, cementing the link between Oxford University and the study of Spanish language, literature and culture.

Queen Sofia meets Oxford students studying Spanish.

Queen Sofia meets Oxford students studying Spanish. Copyright Matthew Baldwin, Exeter College.

The Queen attended a colloquium at the Taylor Institution, where academics and students spoke about their personal interest in Spanish language and literature as well as their current research. Queen Sofia joined students at Exeter College for lunch, and was later introduced to current and former members of the Sub-Faculty of Spanish and guests at a reception.

Queen Sofia attends a seminar at the Taylor Institution, Oxford.

Queen Sofia attends a seminar at the Taylor Institution, Oxford. Copyright Matthew Baldwin, Exeter College.

The full set of photographs of the Queen’s visit to Oxford is available on the Exeter College Flickr stream. All copyright remains with Matthew Baldwin, Exeter College.

The following day the Queen visited the Cervantes Institute in London to inaugurate the new library which will bear her name.  Take at look at the video of her visit, courtesy of the Instituto Cervantes London (link below)

Queen Sofia inaugurates the Library at the Instituto Cervantes, London (VIDEO)

The Reina Sofia Library was inaugurated on the 30th of April 2014 at the Instituto Cervantes in London by Queen Sofia of Spain with the presence of the Director of the Instituto Cervantes D. Victor García de la Concha, the Spanish Ambassador in the UK, Dr. Federico Trillo Figueroa, The Director of the Instituto Cervantes in London, D. Julio Crespo Mac Lennan and the, Ministry of Culture, José María Lasalle.

In his speech, the Ambassador stated that “it is especially appropriate that the library of the Instituto Cervantes in London should take her name as the Reina Sofía library. It is above all a tribute to Her Majesty the Queen in recognition of the support that both Her Majesty and the rest of the Royal Family have given the Instituto Cervantes and Spanish culture in general”.

The Director of the Instituto Cervantes, Victor García de La Concha stated that “it is tradition that libraries of the Cervantes Institutes are named after a famous writer or a prominent figure in the culture of the Spanish-speaking world. The New York one is dedicated to Jorge Luis Borges, the one in Paris to Octavio Paz, the one in Berlin to Mario Vargas Llosa, and the one in Manchester has the privilege of being named after Jorge Edwards. In the case of London, as one of the leading Instituto Cervantes centres, we considered that the library should be called the Reina Sofia Library in recognition of the continuing, tireless and vital support that Your Majesty lends to our culture. In recognition too of your support for the Instituto Cervantes itself, where you have participated in many events that have been held in the Institute’s branches and Aulas Cervantes across 43 countries and have presided over the inauguration of the Juan Carlos Onetti Library in Athens. Your Majesty, it is a great honour that you are pleased to grant that this library should bear your name”.

Queen Sofia address the gathering at the Instituto Cervantes, London.

Queen Sofia address the gathering at the Instituto Cervantes, London.

After the Inaugural Unveiling of the Plaque, Her Majesty addressed the guests and declared that she felt very honoured and delighted that this wonderful library would be named after her.

Following the speeches in the library, Her Majesty inaugurated the exhibition of travel books on Spain written between the XVIII and the XX Century, one of the special collections that the library has. These books can be also found in a virtual exhibition in the Centro Virtual Cervantes. This project was launched in Madrid on 12th October 2013 in collaboration with Google.

Although royal visits still generate excitement and interest, it’s interesting to compare our modern reception of these to those in the early 20th century. The Spanish royal visit of August 1926 occasioned the publication of a special Spanish Supplement in The Times (viewable by readers with access to the Times Digital Archive), with articles about Spanish trade, history, famous sights, food and even a column about the national character by Aubrey Bell. This focus on Spain must in part be attributed to the presence of Victoria Eugenie, Queen Victoria’s grand-daughter and Queen Consort of Spain as the wife of King of Spain Alfonso XIII.

The Times 'Spanish Number' 10 August 1926, celebrating the visit of King Alfonso XIII and Queen Victoria Eugenie.

The Times ‘Spanish Number’ 10 August 1926, celebrating the visit of King Alfonso XIII and Queen Victoria Eugenie.

If the content of the newspaper piques your curiosity, you might also be interested in a forthcoming conference at the British Library on 30 May, Beyond the Black Legend: Spain through British Eyes, 1898-1936. The conference explores the extraordinary transformation in British knowledge about Spain and Spanish culture that took place between 1898 and the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War in 1936. Changes in travel, publishing and education meant that ordinary British people had unprecedented opportunities to tour the country and learn its language. Hopefully our continued interest in the Hispanic world will ensure that people continue to study and engage with Spanish language and culture for many years to come.

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by Joanne Edwards, Subject Librarian for Hispanic Studies, Taylor Institution Library, Oxford, and Mayte Azorín, Head Librarian, Instituto Cervantes London

The Everyday Library of Babel

As scholars and students of literature we are in the privileged position of having turned our love for books into a profession. That means it is very likely that we will be reading every day. At the same time, in our daily lives certain books will have to be prioritized over others in order for us to keep up with the scholarship in our chosen field.  Often, I find in hindsight that I have wasted valuable reading time on articles and analyses that prove utterly devoid of insights, even though the work’s title seemed to promise a plethora of valuable information. Who doesn’t know that feeling of finishing some literary criticism only to regret that one didn’t spend the time reading a decent novel instead? At times I can’t help but wish for Borges’ ‘libro total’ from the ‘La biblioteca de Babel’.  Borges’s book would contain within itself all possible books aka the universe and, although I say this tongue-in-cheek, that would mean I would be well over and done with identifying good reading material for the foreseeable future.

As a result of my being led astray in the world of scholarly publications, leisurely reading time is also often encroached on by the demands of the profession. Thus, I find that I am rarely up to date with the latest bestsellers coming from Spain, let alone those appearing elsewhere. Out of this professional deficiency grew the idea for the Contemporary Spanish Reading Group ‘Freshly Baked’ at the University of Oxford. My colleague María Liñeira and I felt that we wanted to at least try to remain a little bit in the loop by reading books that would not necessarily form part of the literary canon or academic syllabi, including translations into Spanish from Basque, Catalan and Galician.

The reading group meets informally twice a term to indulge in ‘obras recien salidas del horno’, as well as some freshly baked cakes. Prose has thus far dominated our reading, despite us being open and welcoming to poetry and drama as well. Not every chosen text has been an instant hit but that is the surprise effect of this group. Discovering that books I might have formerly discarded as ‘not up my street’ can actually be enjoyable. At the same time, there might be appraised novels that I personally prefer to stay away from.  It all yields ample material for group discussion though – the positive and the negative….

When compiling the programme for the forthcoming academic year we realised with shame that we had only been discussing the works of men in the past year. For the new season we really wanted to strike a balance and decided on an all-female cast. After all, if nobody noticed the male over-representation why should it be any different with a women-only line-up? Thus we are aiming for a wild mix of Galician poetry, Spanish-Moroccan short stories and female perspectives on the Civil War amongst others. Always in the hope that one page of Borges’ ‘total book’ has at least been started…


Dr. Daniela Omlor is the Queen Sofia Junior Research Fellow at Exeter College, Oxford, and co-organiser of the Freshly Baked reading group.

21st Century Fiction from Spain

The joint ACLAIIR/IGRS/IC seminar on 18 April brought together researchers, literary critics, translators, librarians and publishers to explore the world of 21st century fiction from Spain. After a warm welcome from Julio Crespo MacLennan, Director of the Instituto Cervantes in London, Geoff West (Chair of ACLAIIR) thanked all the organisers and participants for attending what was sure to be an interesting and enjoyable day.

For anyone involved in researching or purchasing Spanish fiction, it is clear that the publishing scene in Spain is one of very few Spanish industries holding its own in the current economic climate. Although booksales have dropped in number across Spain, Portugal, and the UK, fiction writing from Spain is very much alive and well, and breaking into new markets thanks to the increasing number of translated titles available.

Librarians' panel, L-R: Sonia Morcillo-Garcia (University of Cambridge), Andrea Meyer Ludowisy (IGRS), Geoff West (ACLAIIR Chair/British Library), Joanne Edwards (University of Oxford), Mayte Azorin (Instituto Cervantes, London).

Librarians’ panel, L-R: Sonia Morcillo-Garcia (University of Cambridge), Andrea Meyer Ludowisy (IGRS), Geoff West (ACLAIIR Chair/British Library), Joanne Edwards (University of Oxford), Mayte Azorin (Instituto Cervantes, London).

Librarians responsible for acquiring fiction from Spain know only too well the challenges of selecting from a plethora of new authors and titles, whilst remaining within tight budget allowances. How to navigate this sea of new writing? For those in academic institutions, research trends, conference programmes and taught courses were the main influential factors, with information from publishers, book fairs, literary magazines and blogs all playing a vital part in keeping up to date. The availability of English translations was also a good marker of the popularity of certain titles. With research trends and reader appetites growing ever more diverse, it was necessary to make use of a wide range of resources to keep track of developments.

It became clear from Stuart Davis’ presentation and ensuing discussing that the notion of a fixed literary canon was difficult to apply to the current wave of literature. With the Internet providing more opportunities to publish (or even self-publish) literature and literary criticism, readers and writers are forming their own online communities to disseminate and discuss their work. Some academics are also moving towards writing in newspapers rather than confining their work to scholarly journals.

Fiction in Spain today: current trends. Julio Crespo MacLennan (Director, IC), Juan Angel Juaristo, Stuart Davis (Girton College, Cambridge), Peter Bush.

Fiction in Spain today: current trends. Julio Crespo MacLennan (Director, IC), Juan Angel Juaristo, Stuart Davis (Girton College, Cambridge), Peter Bush.

Juan Ángel Juristo also noted changes not just in the canon, but in the reader. With the increase in female authors mirroring the greater participation of women in Spain’s public life, there has also been a stronger definition of the Spanish reader; female, a middle-class city-dweller, between thirty and forty years old, and with a preference for the novel over other types of literature. Whilst the traditional Spanish literary canon has often focused on male authors writing in Castilian, women writers and authors writing in other peninsular languages have staked a significant claim on the Spanish literary scene.

Spain’s literary landscape cannot be easily separated from its economic, political, and social history. In a recent talk at Oxford, Eduardo Mendoza highlighted the Civil War and relations with Latin American boom writers as two of the most important factors affecting the development of Spanish writing. Both Daniela Omlor and Frank Lough spoke about the growing amount of literature and research around memory, particularly of the Spanish Civil War. The way in which the literature addresses the Civil War depends much on the time it was written. There are now four distinct generations of writers involved with Spanish Civil War novels, ecompassing a wide range of writers. Firstly, there are those who have memories of the war, then those who have no memories of the war but do have adult memories of the Franco dictatorship. These writers are quite different to younger generations, who may have childhood memories of the dictatorshop, or have known only democracy.

Our panel on Trends in research in 21st-century fiction from Spain. Jennifer Rodríguez (University of Liverpool), Daniela Omlor (Exeter College, Oxford) and Frank Lough (University of Birmingham). Geoff West (ACLAIIR/BL) and Rocio Rodjter (KCL) look on from the audience.

Our panel on Trends in research in 21st-century fiction from Spain. Jennifer Rodríguez (University of Liverpool), Daniela Omlor (Exeter College, Oxford) and Frank Lough (University of Birmingham). Geoff West (ACLAIIR/BL) and Rocio Rodjter (KCL) look on from the audience.

Writing memory does not only cover the Spanish Civil War. Juan Ángel Juristo mentioned a recent trend of nostalgia amongst writers and artists to look back to the movida of 1980s Madrid, an era  that has become emblematic for a generation. The protagonist in Almudena Grandes’ novel Castillos de cartón  is reminded of her hedonistic youth as an art school student in Madrid. Pedro Almodóvar’s most recent film, Los amantes pasajeros, is a comic farce that harks back to his more lighthearted earlier works, a stark change from his darker more recent offerings. It is no surprise that during times of recession and crisis, people are tempted to look back to days that seemed more hopeful.

Whilst Europe may be in crisis, there could well be second boom in translation of fiction from Latin America. The major publishing countries of Mexico, Argentina, and Brazil have attracted greater focus in recent years. When asked to choose authors they would like to have translated, our publishing panel chose Mexicans Lolita Bosch, Elena Poniatowska, and Carmen Boullosa. However, there is great diversity to be found in the Peninsula itself, with writing in Galician, Catalan, and Basque on the increase. Jennifer Rodríguez spoke about the growing prominence of women writers in the Basque language, mirroring an upward trend in Basque publishing in general since the end of the dictatorship and the acceptance of Basque as an official language. School education in Basque is also common now, which has helped to push the development of Basque literature. Basque writers such as Bernardo Atxaga and Laura Mintegi are being translated into English, and Basque language and literature is taught at universities in the USA (Nevada) and the UK (Liverpool). Catalan and Galician literatures are also booming, with Jordi Puntí’s Maletes perdudes (Lost luggage) a hit at the recent European Literature Night at the British Library, and a growing number of anthologies of Galician poetry and fiction translated into English.

Rocio Rodjter (KCL) takes the microphone during the Q&A session.

Rocio Rodjter (KCL) takes the microphone during the Q&A session.

The study of translation itself is also becoming popular, as are courses on comparative literature, where the emphasis is not necessarily on reading texts in the original language as is the case with traditional modern languages degrees.  Although the decision to translate foreign fiction into English rests with the publisher, translators are influential and can help to bring attention to new writers. Although the English market is traditionally very closed to literature in translation (according to New Spanish Books it accounts for less than 5% of the market in the UK), some boutique publishers with significant financial backing are able to pick and choose without having to worry exclusively about commercial success. However, despite the low numbers, translated fiction from Spain is on the increase in the UK, and there are many individuals and bodies such as the Institut Ramon Llull and similar that are concentrating their efforts on promoting literature from the Peninsula. The success of other European writers in extremely popular genres such as detective fiction has also helped pave the way for other literature in translation for the Anglophone market.

The panel of publishers and translators, L-R: Amanda Hopkinson (City University), Rowan Cope (Little, Brown; Abacus; Virago), Jorge Postigo (ICEX), Kirsty Dunseath (Orion Books), Jennifer Arnold (University of Birmingham).

The panel of publishers and translators, L-R: Amanda Hopkinson (City University), Rowan Cope (Little, Brown; Abacus; Virago), Jorge Postigo (ICEX), Kirsty Dunseath (Orion Books), Jennifer Arnold (University of Birmingham).

Whilst the economic crisis may be hitting hard in Spain, we can certainly say that fiction from the Peninsula is  on an upward trajectory.  Interest in the literary and cultural output of Spain continues to flourish in the UK and beyond, whether in academic institutions or amongst the general reading public, in the original language or in translation. We hope that events such as this seminar will continue to highlight the strength and diversity of literature from Spain, and look forward to more insightful presentations and discussions at our next fiction seminar, this time on Latin America – details to be confirmed later in the year!

In the meantime, don’t forget to sign up for the ACLAIIR AGM & Seminar on 18 June. The theme of the seminar is e-books, and we have some great speakers lined up. See www.aclaiir.org.uk/events to register – it’s even free for postgraduates!


All photographs used in this post are by kind permission of the Instituto Cervantes, London, and are not to be copied, saved or reproduced. This post was compiled by Joanne Edwards, Hispanic Studies Subject Librarian (University of Oxford) and ACLAIIR Committee member.