Category Archives: library resources

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.

Resources for Spanish cinema

The 2014 Norman MacColl Symposium, organised by the Spanish and Portuguese Department of Cambridge University and convened by Prof. Brad Epps, was held on the 1st of November at Clare College under the title “Canon, contra-canon y cinefilia: Historias del cine español en un contexto internacional.”

The symposium encouraged debate around key trends and issues of Spanish cinema. The distinctive style of Spanish cinema, deeply rooted in the Spanish tradition of the sainete and the esperpento (the farce and the absurd), gradually evolved to become an open space where popular cinema grew alongside sophisticated styles inspired by Hollywood or Paris. Although Spain’s political isolation under Franco prevented film makers from fully absorbing European new waves, the death of Franco in 1975 saw a burst of creativity and experimentation that placed Spanish cinema back in the international arena.

El cine sonoro en la II República (1929-1936), by Román Gubern.

El cine sonoro en la II República (1929-1936), by Román Gubern.

This year’s MacColl lecturer was Roman Gubern Garriga-Nogués, Emeritus Professor of Audiovisual communication at the Universidad Autónoma de Barcelona. Prof. Gubern has been President of the Spanish Association of Film Historians (Asociación Española de Historiadores del Cine). He is also a member of a long list of bodies in the Arts and the Sciences, including the French Association for Research on the History of Cinema (Association Française pour la Recherche sur l´Histoire du Cinéma). Professor Gubern’s work articulates around three different strands: the historiography of cinema, with special emphasis on Spanish cinema; the language of comics, and the theory of image. He has written over 50 books and more than 200 journal articles.

Cambridge University Library holds several leading journals on cinema with good coverage of Spanish film studies. Here are some of the most representative titles:

Studies in Hispanic cinemas, continued by Studies in Spanish & Latin American cinemas

Studies in European cinema

New cinemas

New review of film and television studies

The singularities, vibrancy and diversity of Spanish cinema have attracted interest from researchers worldwide. Spanish cinema has helped broaden the understanding of Spanish social issues and culture. The following journals are a good starting point for researchers of Spanish cinema and popular culture:

Hispanic Research Journal: Iberian and Latin American Studies

Arizona Journal of Hispanic Cultural Studies

Bulletin of Hispanic Studies

The Glynne Parker film history collection at Cambridge contains a small selection of books on Spanish cinema, particularly on Luís Buñuel. For further information, see the related blog post on Buñuel here.

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This post is an edited version of the piece which was first blogged on 28.11.14 by Sonia Morcillo, on the Cambridge University Library blog ‘European languages across borders’. The original version can be read in full here. Many thanks to Sonia for allowing ACLAIIR to repost this material.

ACLAIIR AGM & Seminar 2014 : the report

David Lowe, Head of European Collections at Cambridge University Library welcomed ACLAIIR to Cambridge for the AGM & Seminar 2014. The year has been a good one so far for Cambridge in terms of Spanish and Portuguese collections, with the acquisition of almost 2,000 comedias sueltas from the 17th to 19th centuries, and a gift of approximately 70 titles from the library of film-maker Jonathan Gili, son of the well-known Catalan publisher and translator Joan Gili. The library also received around 400 art books from the library of the late art expert Nigel Glendinning.

In Portuguese, the library has acquired 12 original first editions of Eça de Queirós. You can read more about this collection on the library’s European Collections blog.

The department of Spanish & Portuguese at Cambridge welcomes its first ever lecturer in Brazilian Studies, Dr. Maite Conde, and is pleased to report that enrolment  figures for Portuguese are increasing, with 100 students listed for the academic year 2013-14. Catalan is also on the rise, with the recent appointment of Prof. Brad Epps to Head of Department. Amongst many other areas, Prof. Epps has a strong interest in Catalan literature and film.

In further departmental news, Prof. Alison Sinclair, Principal Investigator of the AHRC-funded project ‘Wrongdoing in Spain, 1800-1936’ is due to retire at the end of this academic year. You can find two blog posts which describe some of the pliegos sueltos in more detail on the British Library European Studies blog: ‘Orrible crimes and ghastly murders and Hell hath no fury… : More wrongdoing and further foul deeds in Spain.

OPEN ACCESS: The future of academic publication?

We were pleased to welcome some very knowledgeable speakers to our seminar on Open Access. Our first panel looked at OA from the publishing perspective, with Ellen Collins starting us off with her presentation about the work of OAPEN-UK. Ellen gave details of the ‘matched pairs’ pilot that OAPEN-UK is undertaking in order to try and provide evidence for the impact of OA on publishing models. 45 ‘like pairs’ of books have been identified, with one book in the pair being made available as an open access publication. The idea is gather information about the effect this has on the sale of the book, as there is currently very little evidence available about the impact of making a book open access. The project is focusing on the Humanities and Social Sciences, as these areas tend to use information in a different way to STEM (Science, technology & Medicine) subjects.

OAPEN-UK is working with stakeholders to help them understand the challenges and processes associated with open access publication. There has been a great deal of change over the last 3 to 4 years, and whilst libraries (particularly in academia) are following developments closely, large vendors and commercial suppliers have not been as involved. Problems with Document Rights Management and pricing coupled with a lack of incentive to change have led to inertia in this area. However, Ellen emphasised that this was a good time to try and encourage new processes and workflows in publishing culture that will allow all kinds of stakeholders to embrace open acces publications. There is something of a culture shock; for universities, the cost of publishing an OA book can be high. Quotes range from £150 per chapter to £11,000 per book. There are also issues of prestige tied up with traditional publishing models, and it can be difficult to get all publishers to be transparent about costs.

Whilst the main focus in the UK so far has been on the ‘gold’ route to open access publication, where a fee is paid to make a book available, Ellen hopes that future projects will also look at ‘green’ routes, where scholarly output is made available free of charge through an institutional or other open access repository.

Daniel Pearce, Senior Commissioning Editor for Humanities and Social Sciences journals at Cambridge University Press, stepped up to give the view from a major academic publishing house. CUP publishes around 325 academic journals and over 2,000 books a year in HSS (Humanities and Social Sciences) and STEM subjects, with a 50/50 split of content. OA is certainly a growing area, and CUP are fully committed and engaged with the topic. They offer green, gold and hybrid options, with some content being funded by APCs and others by funding bodies. CUP work closely with learned societes, many of whom are concerned about OA as a potential threat to their journal income. There is some trepidation around approaching open access initiatives, and a feeling that investment in editorial processes is paramount to preserve quality.

Currently CUP has 6 fully gold journals and 208 hybrids, although only 5% of articles published are in HSS subjects. OA is certainly growing however, and CUP are planning to launch more OA journals with two forthcoming in Economics and History of Science. However, gold is not always the answer, and CUP are investigating viable and sustainable green options.

Our final speaker of the first panel was Rupert Gatti, co-founder and the third Director of Open Book Publishers as well as a Fellow of Trinity College, Cambridge, where he is a Director of Studies in Economics. Rupert firmly believes that the future of academic publishing is open access, and asked some searching questions about the role of the publisher in an OA world. He felt that it was important to prevent OA publishing models from revolving around platforms that could be monetised or monopolised. Traditional models were based around restriction, whereas open access models should be about dissemination. Rupert gave some examples of pre-peer review repositories such as arXiv and PubMed Central, post-peer review such as SciELO and DOAJ, and publisher platforms such Public Library of Science (PLoS).

Our second panel focused on the impact of open access on research and teaching from an academic perspective. Martin Eve, Lecturer in the Faculty of Media Humanities and Performance, University of Lincoln, presented an overview of scholarly economics and introduced the Open Library of the Humanities project. Take a look at Martin’s presentation for the full details:

Ernesto Priego, UCL Centre for Digital Humanities, is also Editor-in-Chief of The Comics Grid,   an open access, open peer review academic journal dedicated to comics scholarship. He highlighted some of the challenges faced by academics trying to fight the slowness and opacity of peer review processes, particularly early-career researchers or postgraduates. Ernesto also mentioned the researcher-led publisher Ubiquity Press founded at UCL as an open access publisher of peer-reviewed, academic journals. Although access and availability is key, Ernesto also emphasised the importance of appropriate licensing for academic material where one of the main issues is of restrictive terms of resuse.

Closing the session, Jenny Bunn from UCL’s Archives and Records Management programme addressed the topic of MOOCs. She pointed out that although making scholarly resources accessible is good, this alone is not sufficient: users need to be encouraged to engage with the material to really take advantage of open access. This applies to the general public even more so than academics. Jenny noted that the MOOC she ran at UCL, Introduction to Digital Curation, was an open course and participants did not have to be registered students. With 800 people on the course, this created a big problem for access to library resources as many of these are restricted to registered students of UCL.  It can be a real challenge to find accessible material that is truly open. One need look no further than the #icanhazpdf hastag on Twitter to see how academics across the globe are struggling to access the research they need for their work. Jenny echoed some of the earlier speakers when she stated that in some senses we had forgotten the reason we want to publish: to disseminate ideas, in order to share and connect with others. Jenny’s slides are available at the link below.

Jenny Bunn : Open Access Presentation

The seminar was a great forum to discuss these issues surrounding open access, and the question and answer sessions after both panels were lively and engaging. The debate continued at the wine reception and a good time was had by all. Many thanks to all those who participated in a very successful day.

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

REDIAL : creating European networks for Latin American research information

As summer is fading away and the new academic year takes off, I’d like to share with ACLAIIR some notes from REDIAL’s annual meeting in June. This year we celebrated our 24th annual conference in connection with CEISAL’s 7th Congress at Universidade Fernando Pessoa in Porto, June 12th-15th. REDIAL co-organized with Elda González, researcher at Centro de Ciencias Humanas y Sociales, CSIC in Madrid, a symposium on migration at the Congress:  “Los que van, los que vienen y los que regresan. Los movimientos migratorios transoceánicos en el siglo XX y XXI: fondos documentales e investigaciones” – a joint venture between researchers, librarians and archivists with participants from Argentina, Brazil, United States, Norway, Germany, Italy and Spain. Papers from the Congress will be published Open Access later this year. In relation with the Congress, the Universidade Fernando Pessoa’s center for Latin American studies,  Núcleo de Estudo Latino-Americanos, inaugurated their new Latin Americanist collections space “Espaço Carlos Fuentes”. Being members of REDIAL, their librarian Carla Azevedo was our local organizer.

Carla Azevedo, librarian at the Universidade Fernando Pessoa, presents to REDIAL on Portuguese Latin American Studies.

Carla Azevedo, librarian at the Universidade Fernando Pessoa, presents to REDIAL on Portuguese Latin American Studies.

CEISAL (Consejo Europeo de Investigaciones Sociales de América Latina) elected a new board with Carlos Quenan at the Institut des Amérique in France as the new President. CEISAL partners REDIAL in running the website on European Latinamericanism, America Latina: Portal Europeo and the journal Anuario Americanista Europeo.

The central theme for this year’s volume of the journal is “Gender and Migration”. October 1st is the deadline for articles in the peer review sections, including the one REDIAL is managing, “Documentación y comunicación americanista: análisis e investigaciones”. For the other REDIAL section “Fondos, recursos y publicaciones“, that welcomes shorter and more descriptive contributions, we can receive articles until December. We welcome articles in Spanish, Portuguese or English. The 2014 volume will have “Digital Latin Americanism” as the central theme, with Aquiles Alencar Brayner and Luis Rodríguez Yunta as editors for both the CEISAL and REDIAL sections. The idea is to explore how the concepts of Digital Humanities and Digital Social Sciences are handled in European research on Latin America.  From the 2014 volume Frank Egerton will be a member of the Editorial Board.

Other good news related to the UK and REDIAL is that the Institute of Latin American Studies has rejoined as members. Do not hesitate to contact us if you’re considering joining us as well!

REDIALeros with Fernando Pessoa!

REDIALeros with Fernando Pessoa!

During REDIAL’s working sessions a lot of our discussions circled around the Portal and the development of its different databases. The main UK Latin Americanist journals are indexed by the editorial team, but if you find that there are journals or articles missing, your participation is always welcomed.  In our thematic sub-portal “Migraciones” we’re building a resource on migration between Latin America and Europe from Independence to present times with publications published from 1990 onwards. In this sub-portal we also register articles on the theme from non-Latin Americanist journals and also books. One database where there used to be UK participation is the dissertation database that contains 1778 thesis from the UK from 1980-2002, would that be a database that would interest you to keep updated from a UK point of view? For the database on researchers it’s always a big help if the persons closest to home could help in updating. We also of course welcome any academic news and information on new publications.  Any news entered in our Portal is disseminated every fortnight in our electronic bulletin Puentes  that reaches over 3700 subscribers. There’s a special page for cooperation or otherwise just mail us. Our blog IguAnalista is another option open for your contributions.

During this autumn we hope to finally finish the translation of the portal’s interface into English and Portuguese. One of our new areas of interest that we plan to explore during the coming year is how our portal could be a resource for finding digitalized Latin Americanist collections at a European level. This will probably be one of the themes when our Spanish members meet for their annual reunion in Madrid in November, and certainly when we meet for our 2014 conference and 25th anniversary in Bordeaux and Saint-Émilion in late May or early June next year!

Anna Svensson
President of REDIAL 2012-2014
Gothenburg University Library, Sweden

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.