Sir Albert was a precocious and visionary Hispanist who during his tenure as Gilmour Chair of Spanish (1953-62) transformed the department’s longstanding journal, the Bulletin of Hispanic Studies, into one of the profession’s journals of record. A Golden Age specialist who worked above all on the 17th-century dramatist Calderón de la Barca, he was appointed to the University of Liverpool’s Gilmour Chair at just 32, after six years as Reader and Head of Hispanic Studies at Trinity College, Dublin. He stayed just nine years, before he was snapped up by the University of Essex, where he became inaugural Vice Chancellor and is now probably best known to Essex students as the dedicatee of the University Library.
I have just seen the very sad news that the ground-breaking writer and publisher Esther Tusquets has died in Barcelona at the age of 75.
Tusquets was born a month after the start of the Spanish Civil War, and her earliest memories, as recounted in her first volume of autobiography Habíamos ganado la guerra (We had won the war, 2007), were of a comfortable childhood within the cloistered Franco-supporting Catalan bourgeoisie. Leaving the Francoist expectations of women and their role behind, she would become a huge figure in modern Spanish literature, both as director for some forty years of the publishing house Lumen, and as a novelist and memoirist in her own right – although she did not make her debut as a writer until she was in her forties. She became a darling of Anglo-American feminist Hispanism in the 1980s, largely thanks to the lyrical, experimental and hugely challenging trilogy of novels known as La trilogía del mar (The Sea Trilogy, 1978-1980): El mismo mar de todos los veranos (The Same Sea as Every Summer, 1978), El amor es un juego solitario (Love is a Solitary Game, 1979), and Varada tras el último naufragio (Shipwrecked After the Final Storm, 1980).
Every student of contemporary Spanish literature will have their own memories of encountering these wonderful, difficult, frustrating novels, in which – in a dramatic inversion of everything then current in Spanish writing – women’s language, women’s desire, women’s bodies, women’s love for other women – are placed at the centre of the literary universe. In my own case, picking up my dog-eared copy of El mismo mar de todos los veranos, I can see from the frustrated pencil slashes and dots how much I was challenged by Tusquets’s characteristic, flowing language and sentence structure – pages, pages, pages without a full stop or a paragraph break – and how much I struggled to make sense of it on that first reading. But – BUT – when the penny dropped, and I let myself be carried along in the flow, it was a transcendental moment, and I never looked back.
If you haven’t (yet) read Tusquets, do. Seriously, it’s summer, the air is warm, the nights are long, it’s the perfect time. And if you don’t read Spanish, here’s the link to the U Nebraska Press page for Margaret EW Jones’s 1990 translation of El mismo mar… to start you off.
More: El País Cultura; La Vanguardia; ABC; El Mundo. And here’s Tusquets herself, interviewed on Canal Sur about her 2009 book, Confesiones de una vieja dama indignada (Confessions of an indignant old lady):
Wherever you are in the world, especially if you’re in an English-speaking country or Northern Europe, the great excitement over the upcoming British Royal Wedding probably won’t have escaped you. Prince William and Kate Middleton will be tying the knot in Westminster Abbey this Friday, 29th April, and the nation is rejoicing (largely, it must be said, because the Bank Holiday Friday, added to the following Bank Holiday Monday, means a four day weekend! Yippee!). And so, in honour of the big occasion, and because I’ve had a review pending on a related novel for a couple of months now, I thought it might be fun to talk about another Royal Wedding, which took place almost exactly 105 years ago, on 31 May 1906, and which sparked huge popular interest in both Britain and Spain.
The happy couple in the engagement photo on the postcard above left are Princess Ena of Battenburg, who despite her name was a British Princess, and King Alfonso XIII of Spain. Ena, or to give her full name, Victoria Eugenie Julia Ena (1887-1969) was the grand-daughter of Queen Victoria, by Victoria’s youngest daughter Princess Beatrice – whose married name was Princess Henry of Battenberg. Because her mother was Queen Victoria’s youngest child, and therefore by Victorian convention responsible for looking after her widowed mother and keeping her company, Ena was born at Balmoral and remained part of the royal household until her marriage. Her father, Prince Henry of Battenberg, died of malaria en route to fight in the Ashanti War in 1895, when she was just 8 years old.
The postcard above left, like the one on the right which shows the King and his new Queen with their mothers, is from a series of at least nine postcards published in 1907 by Rotary Photographic,* part of the surge of popular mutual interest between Spain and Britain that followed the marriage announcement. A quick bibliographical survey of UK-published books on Spain during the first decade of the 20th century shows a sudden and unprecedented peak in 1906 and 1907, much of it down to the ever-resourceful Albert Frederick Calvert, a dodgy entrepreneur with a keen eye for a quick buck, who was editor and principal author of the colourful and comprehensive John Lane Spanish Series, which ran between 1906 and 1912. Calvert swiftly spotted the opportunities provided by this new Anglo-Spanish connection, and rushed out Alfonso XIII in England (1905) and the privately printed The Spanish Royal Wedding (1906), later dedicating volumes of the Spanish Series to the King, his mother, his mother in law, his sister, and the Spanish Ambassador to London (it paid off - Calvert eventually collected a range of honours from the Spanish Court).
Ena and Alfonso first met during his state visit to England in the summer of 1905, when she was seventeen and he was nineteen. After a fairly rapid courtship, they were engaged in January 1906, and married at Madrid’s San Jerónimo monastery on 31 May of the same year. Famously, the wedding party was the target of a bomb attack, which, unsurprisingly, tainted the early months of Ena’s relationship with her adopted country: as they passed up Madrid’s Calle Mayor on their way back to the Royal Palace, the anarchist Mateu Morral threw a bomb, concealed in a bouquet, at the newlyweds’ carriage. While he missed his primary target, a number of guards and bystanders were killed. Our old friend Rachel Challice, who visited the couple the following year, writes in The Secret History of the Court of Spain (source of the picture, left, of Princess Ena in her wedding dress) that:
the tragedy of the bomb cast in the bouquet, which caused so much disaster, came like a sudden frost, and nipped the spontaneous joy of the young Queen, and the drives and walks in the city of Madrid became a source of fear instead of joy … The people, therefore, are a little disappointed at their greetings not meeting with the quick response of the first days in her new land; and as Spaniards would do anything for a smile, and love to see happiness, this inborn terror, begotten of the tragedy of her wedding-morn, would form a barrier between the English Queen and her people, were they not reminded of the source of the set expression on her face (pp.316-317).**
And so now for the review … look away now if you want to avoid spoilers (and/or a slight sense of ickiness):