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 was very sad to hear today that Helen Forrester, author of the wonderful 1993 novel The Liverpool Basque, has died at the age of 92.
This is a rarity – a novel of Liverpool-Spanish connections, which I came upon while digging around in the Liverpool Record Office archives for sources for my Hispanic Liverpool project. It’s the first of three novels published by the Liverpool ship owner Arthur Behrend (1895-1974), scion of the famous Bahr, Behrend shipping firm, and my copy – courtesy as ever of ABEbooks – is dedicated by the man himself: ‘Alan Bushby’s copy / Arthur Behrend / September 13th, 1935.’ Somehow, that signature makes me very happy.*
The novel is narrated by one David Grey, ‘nearing thirty’ and a new recruit at the Armada Steamship Company of Liverpool, run by the rather terrifying Don Pedro, who is:
a man of ability and wealth, his Company of world-wide repute. He claimed direct descent from Don Alonso de Guzmán, Duke of Medina Sidonia and Grand Admiral of Spain; on that account, it seemed, he named each of his ships after a galleon of the Armada. They sailed from Liverpool to South and Central America, to Spain, to Cuba and the Philippines – to wheresoever, in fact, there were Spaniards (p.3).
The plot centres around David’s increasing suspicions that Don Pedro’s business is not as straightforward as it seems, and that Don Pedro himself is at the centre of illegal activity, perhaps even violent crime. He spends a lot of time staking out Don Pedro’s isolated Wirral property Fen Hall, which is apparently based on the still existing, and still pretty isolated Denna Hall, near Neston. Very excitingly, I managed to persuade Mr BooksonSpain that we really needed to take a fieldtrip over to the Wirral to check out the landscape for ourselves (the bribe of lunch at the Boathouse in Parkgate may have had something to do with his surprisingly enthusiastic agreement…). The picture at the top of the post shows the corner of ‘Fen Hall’ – all that’s visible from the road, while the landscape to the right is the marshes in front of the Hall, where much of the novel’s action takes place.
This minipost is by way of an excuse, a tip, and a promise. First the excuse. Our new semester started this week, albeit with the old one still hanging around like a gentle whiff, in the shape of marking, moderation and mitigating circumstances. Last semester finished with a major exam on Friday afternoon, and the new one began with a bang on Monday morning as 80+ exam scripts were distributed for marking. On the plus side (and this is the tip!), it’s always enjoyable to read student commentaries on Gustavo Pérez-Firmat‘s Bilingual Blues, which I recommend to everybody with even a smattering of Spanish, whether you usually read poetry or not. Now for the promise - I have reviews pending on Giles Tremlett’s Katherine of Aragon, my new Hispanic Liverpool discovery Arthur Behrend’s The House of the Spaniard, Elena Moya Pereira’s The Olive Groves of Belchite, and Robert Pagani’s The Princess, the King, and the Anarchist (in Helen Marx’s translation), which I discovered through a stinker of a review over at Three Per Cent (which, incidentally, gives away pretty much the whole plot), and about which I have plenty to say, not all of it terrible. Plus the books I mentioned in my previous ‘OMG it’s so unfair I actually have to do work’ post. So there it is – an excuse, a tip, and a promise. Watch this space for the reviews. Just as soon as the marking is done …
Is it really the 20th of January already? In my world, that means 11 days until the new semester, when I will be teaching a brand new module for final-year undergraduates. A module that has existed in my mind since last spring, but which now has to become reality aka a syllabus, handouts, worksheets and a course website. Hence less time for reading and reviewing, although I did have time to try out this new look for the blog (what do you think?! *twirls*) and to sign up to Twitter (see right).
For today, though, I’m rereading Helen Forrester’s 1993 novel The Liverpool Basque, which is a set text for the ‘Basque Liverpool’ unit of the new course, and maybe even worth a sneaky review too – including, if you’re very lucky, one or two of the photos from my ‘Liverpool Basque’ fieldtrip, of which you can see a tiny taster on the right.