In 2010, a novel by Eduardo Mendoza called Riña de gatos: Madrid 1936 won Spain’s prestigious Premio Planeta and in January 2011, I reviewed it on this blog. It’s quite a fun novel, and I rather enjoyed it, mostly thanks to Mendoza’s imaginative recreation of a slightly daffy Englishman’s perspective on the all-too-familiar events of the titular time and place. Ever since, one of the most popular web searches landing people on this blog has been mendoza + rina de gatos + english translation. In fact, the title of the novel itself is the third most popular search of all time (after ‘Books on Spain’ and ‘Julia Navarro’, in case you were wondering). Evidently, Mendoza has lots of frustrated potential readers out there, and I have always felt a bit sad for them. But the frustration is over! The independent publisher Maclehose Press, which specialises in translated fiction, has just released An Englishman in Madrid, in a new translation by the wonderful Nick Caistor. I haven’t read it yet, but Rod Younger has, and you can read his review over at Books4Spain (and maybe be in time to win a free copy…). You can also sample substantial chunks of the book online, including at both Amazon and Google Books.
Sometimes in the course of research, a neat little mystery just falls right into your lap and upsets all your best laid plans, and everything else gets put on hold until you’ve solved it. Or is that just me? (I always did have a problem with focus…)
As those of you who follow me on Twitter will know, I’m in New York right now, researching at the Hispanic Society of America (left)and writing up big chunks of the Edwardians project. This was supposed to be a post about that research, and about the correspondence between James Fitzmaurice-Kelly and Archer M Huntington, an Edwardian bromance if there ever was one. And that post may still come. But today, I was sidetracked by another Anglo-Spanish Edwardian, who started out as a footnote in a section I’m writing on language education in Edwardian Britain, but who has just presented me with the perfect Easter afternoon of sleuthing.
So … I have been looking at the dozens of manuals, readers, dictionaries, etc. that were available to Anglophone learners of Spanish between the 1880s and the first world war. One of the most comprehensive series was Hossfeld’s, which started in the 1870s with French and German (its very first publication was the rather stern-sounding On the Principle of French Before Breakfast) and moved into Spanish in 1885, before expanding into more unusual languages such as Dutch, Russian, Japanese, Norwegian and Portuguese. The series seems to have petered out during the 1920s and 1930s and come to a complete halt in the 1950s.
Hossfeld’s first Spanish volume was Hossfeld’s New Method for Learning the Spanish Language in the easiest and quickest way (1885), credited to one Tomás Enrique Gurrin, which went through four editions in 18 years. Great! I thought. An expat Spaniard or South American to add to my new ‘Hispanic Britain’ database.* After all, lots of expat Spanish-speakers came to London in the 19th century and set themselves up as a ‘Professor of Languages.’ He’ll be another, I’m sure. So I put ‘Tomas Gurrin’ into the search engines and …
Ever wondered what Books on Spain sounds like? Well, here’s your chance to find out! In an experiment which may or may not go poof! at some point, here I am talking about the much-loved Victorian ballad “In Old Madrid” (Warning! Flugelhorns may be played! If you don’t like amateur musicians and poor sound quality, this may not be the podcast for you):
Want to hear how it should be done? Here’s a link to Frederick Wheeler singing the ballad, in a 1913 recording from the Library of Congress.
Want to play it for yourself? Here’s a link to the sheet music at Music of Yesterday.
Those of you with long memories may remember that nearly two years ago I published my second academic book, Writing Galicia into the World: New Cartographies, New Poetics, with Liverpool University Press (you can read about it here on the LUP website). The book explores the writings of and about Galicians in London and the wider world, by authors including Isaac Díaz Pardo, Carlos Durán, Manuel Rivas, Xesús Fraga, Xelís de Toro, Almudena Solana, Ramiro Fonte, Xavier Queipo and Erin Moure.
I loved researching and writing the book, and I’m very proud of how it turned out. However, as some of you will know, the process of sending an academic book out into the world is a strange one. It’s terrifying and thrilling and exciting when you finally hold a copy in your hands and realise that perhaps, around the world, other people (other people!) are also opening it and reading those first few sentences. And you buy copies for your family and send copies to your mentors and chirp proudly about it on social media,and your friends read it and tell you what they think. And then … and then things go quiet.
The feeling of not knowing what’s happening to your book, out there in the world by itself, is disconcerting. Are people reading it – people I don’t know? What do they think? Do they get it? Will they take some of its dangling threads and run away with them? Thrillingly, this week, in the space of just a few days, two echoes of Writing Galicia‘s travels came back to me, in the shape of two wonderful, thoughtful readings by colleagues who are as immersed as I am in the reverberations of Galician culture as it travels the world. Both of them pull at the threads of the book, in different ways and to different effect. And best of all, both readings are freely available, for you and everybody to read.
You’ll find Danny Barreto’s review (it’ll open as a PDF) in the wonderful, freely-available journal galicia21, journal of contemporary galician studies (if you don’t know it, BOOKMARK IT NOW). And Erin Moure’s blog post (yes! the same Erin Moure whose poetry I read and reread and which opened so many doors in the final chapter of Writing Galicia) is over at Jacket2, a terrific website on poetry and contemporary poetics.
Gracias mil to Danny and Erin; it’s exciting and, yes, a little terrifying to know that Writing Galicia has found such responsive readers. I’m excited to follow its threads as they are woven with yours and others into colourful new contours.
It’s still January and so I think I am just about still in time to wish everybody a wonderful, joyful and book-filled 2013. Feliz aninovo, Feliz año nuevo and Happy New Year!
This has been a quiet space for the last few months as I’ve been getting used to a new job and a new rhythm of life as a long-distance (well, middle-distance) commuter. As many of you will know, in September last year I left Liverpool after eight years to join the brand new Department of Hispanic Studies at the University of Warwick. I’m still Liverpool-based at the moment and will be at least until the summer, and so while it’s been an exciting few months, it has also involved a great deal of travelling up and down the West Coast Main Line. I am proud (not to mention a little concerned) to say that I can now not only identify the different models of train run by the different operators, but I actually have favourites. Yikes.
2013 is set to continue in the same vein, with all kinds of exciting plans and possibilities, and, yes, lots more trains. I don’t make New Year’s resolutions any more, but if I did, they would definitely include more reading, more writing, and much, much more cooking. And on that front …
This year, for the first time, I celebrated Epiphany, Spanish-style, by baking a Roscón de Reyes or King Cake, from this recipe by Lavender and Lovage. It was and is delicious, although it looks a bit sad, since much of the fruit fell off as the brioche swelled during baking (don’t worry, it all went to a good home). I decided against adding the traditional plastic baby Jesus, largely because I knew I would be the only person eating the Roscón, and also, am not sure how well baby Jesus freezes.
*fights off urge to go down to freezer and defrost one of the Roscón quarters*
As I settle into 2013, you’ll be hearing more about my progress on The Edwardians and the Making of a Modern Spanish Obsession, which is my primary writing project for the year, and about the shorter, related book I’m currently finishing up on Edwardian tourists in the Galician spa town of Mondariz, which, all being well, will be published in the spring.
And more Anglo-Spanish Edwardians will be coming this way very soon – starting with an update on the entrepreneuse and publicist Miss Rachel Challice, and continuing with more of the elusive, eccentric, and totally enchanting characters I’ve come across during my work on this project, such as Albert Frederick Calvert, Helen Hester Colvill, Ida Farnell, Major Martin Hume, Annette Budgett Meakin, Mariana Monteiro, and the Del Riego Losada family of Leon and London…
So I was enjoying my annual appointment with the BBC series North and South (2004), based on Elizabeth Gaskell’s 1855 novel of the same name and starring (oh joy!) Richard Armitage as John Thornton (left) and poor Daniela Denby-Ashe, excised from this version of the DVD cover (because the BBC are nothing if not pragmatic in assessing the greatest attractions of the series), as Margaret Hale. The picture on the left links to the amazon.co.uk page where you can acquire this great treasure for just £5 (at time of writing). That’s just £1.25 an episode! It’s a bargain, for what is without a doubt my favourite BBC adaptation of recent years, and you would be FOOLS to pass it up.*
Anyway … back to the point … so I was watching North and South, yes, again, and this time round I was struck by the subplot involving Margaret’s brother Frederick, who is in the navy. He has been part of a mutiny (against a cruel and tyrannical captain, of course, so it’s all entirely honorable) and in consequence has had to flee England for Spain. Now, I was familiar with the subplot (which intersects with the main plot in some important ways that I won’t describe, for fear of spoiling it for those of you who have just bought your DVD sets), but for some reason I’d never really thought before about the way Frederick’s story fits into the geopoetic framework of the novel: that is, the distinction between North (Mr Thornton and Darkshire / Lancashire) and South (Margaret / Hampshire).
In the BBC adaptation, Fred’s life in the southern Spanish city of Cadiz is mentioned, but we don’t get much detail on it (Rupert Evans plays Fred, right – note how his free Spanish life is reflected in his hair and dress, compared to poor suited-up John, above). In the novel, which I reread over a weekend earlier this month, we learn rather more about his situation. After a period in South America, he is now at Cadiz, working for an English merchant called Mr Barbour (an old friend of his father’s), and is engaged to Barbour’s daughter, the Anglo-Spanish Dolores. In Cadiz, although he must live under an assumed name, he has credit and prospects, which improve immensely with his marriage at the end of the novel. Fred’s relationship with Dolores is played out against the history of Dolores’s own parents’ relationship, in which Barbour, ‘a stiff Presbyterian’ when Mr Hale knew him, has evidently relaxed enough to marry his Roman Catholic wife. Fred, too, has converted to Catholicism (Ch. XXXI), and this transformation is reflected on a more immediate level in his language, as his letters arrive ‘with little turns and inversions of words which proved how far the idioms of his bride’s country were infecting him‘ (Ch.XLI; my emphasis). Continue reading
The research for my current book, The Edwardians and the Making of a Modern Spanish Obsession, has turned up dozens of long-forgotten writers, commentators and artists who in their different ways, shaped the modern British view of Spain. Many of them were of Anglo-Spanish origin or had family connections that placed them at the heart of the international networks through which Anglophone knowledge about Spain was circulated. One of my favourites is Leticia ‘Lily’ Higgin who, under the gender-neutral semi-pseudonym of ‘L Higgin,’ wrote the almost-but-not-quite-forgotten study Spanish Life in Town and Country (left), first published in 1902.*
Higgin’s book was evidently popular in its time – it went through at least three editions (1902, 1904, 1906) and was read in the UK, the US and – as a passing mention in Sofia Casanova’s 1910 lecture La mujer española en el extranjero (The Spanish Woman Abroad) shows – in Spain. However, Higgin herself has remained something of an enigma – indeed, reviews from the time, which assume ‘L Higgin’ to be male, indicate that her identity was not widely known. In addition to Spanish Life, she also authored a number of articles on Spanish themes for the Fortnightly Review between 1904 and 1911, and between these and some genealogical digging, I’ve been able to establish the following skeleton biography: