When I noted previously that I’m a fan of British Hispanists, I left out Hugh Thomas’s narratives of Spanish history, and he has published many. Notably from YUP, The Beaumarchais in Seville tells the story of the French Revolutionary Pierre Beaumarchais and his travels to Madrid, 1764-65 (he never actually went to Seville). He’s best known for the Figaro plays that inspired operas by composers like Mozart and Rossini, and Thomas sets out to explore 18th-century Spain and the inspirations behind Beaumarchais’s work. On his travels, Beaumarchais encountered a wide cast of characters—royalty, military officers, clergy, journalists, actors, and their wives—and Thomas has brought these stories together from the letters and commentary that survive, translating them into English for the first time.
Nearly a century later another Frenchman, Théophile Gautier was similarly captivated by the land across the Pyrenees, and like Beaumarchais, he wrote one of his greatest poetic works, España, upon his return. New from our Margellos World Republic of Letters series, Norman R. Shapiro has beautifully translated Gautier’s poetry in a new volume, Selected Lyrics. The book includes the entirety of Émaux et Camées (Enamels and Cameos), which Gautier wrote while later traveling the Middle East, and is considered to be the crowning achievement of his poetic career. But because I can and it's a country I love, I’m posting a poem from what Shapiro calls “the vigorously exotic España, a blend of both Romantic local color and Parnassian visuality” to bring to us the vision of Seville that Beaumarchais never saw.
Ivan Lett is Online Marketing Coordinator for Yale University Press.
Leaving behind Seville’s fair company,
One gazes back over the Guadalquivir
In wistful wise, and he sees looming there
Belfries’ and domes’ forest-like panoply.
With each wheel’s turning, new peaks rise. First, he
Spies the Giralda’s angel, sparkling, clear,
In gold; pink minaret, dart in the sheer
Blue of the sky: cathedral in a sea
Of houses, scarcely ankle-deep; nearby.
Arch-fragments, crooked gable, sullen wall
Masking the finely crafted spire, and all
That lush façade… Great men, you, standing high,
Hidden by fools, tall towers rising there:
Your noble brows soar in the tranquil air.
On the Guadalquivir
Virginia Woolf declared in her essay “Mr Bennett and Mrs Brown” that “On or about December 1910 human character changed.” There is hardly a better way to describe the dilemma of art in the Modernist period. The mere mention of Mrs.Woolf, her husband Leonard, E.M. Forster, and their colleagues in the Bloomsbury Group, and other British Modernist contemporaries—Ezra Pound, D.H. Lawrence, Irishman James Joyce—leaves me with a dazed and far off look in my eyes, as I mentally drift into their now classic writing. Complete with head tilt.
Modernist studies are all the rage now, and thank goodness. There is no better gift. Here at the turn of another century (a new millennium isn’t really helpful for comparing our societies), we are faced with rapid changes in digital technologies, environmentalism, not to mention the coined term “globalization” and all that it now implies. It seems a mirror of the early twentieth-century growth in industrialization, inter-political reconstitutions, and breaks with traditional form. Today, perhaps more than ever, we are consumed by Pound’s prescription to “Make it new!”
For Modernists, the change was often painful, and Modernism, their response, but I don’t see why the comfort or embrace of a changing world should preclude the distinction of modernism in our present setting. Or maybe I enjoy the Internet too much to sincerely feel its pains. We all live and participate in contemporary society; artists today, pained or otherwise, use the changing world as a canvas of ideas, as they have now for centuries. I will refer you to Tom McCarthy’s more eloquent defense of these ideas in his Guardian review of Gabriel Josipovici’s What Ever Happened to Modernism?
A few months ago I was lucky enough to briefly chat about the subject with Jonathan Brent, Director of the YIVO institute and former Editorial Director here at Yale Press. He noted the focal intensity on Anglo-American subjects of Modernism, and I confessed to a certain stubbornness to deviate from that path.
In a lot of ways, that is simply my excuse for not pursuing Modernism in other nations more actively, a way of covering my own ignorance. Truth is: it’s not so difficult to entice me. Last year, I read the beautifully written biography Why This World, by Benjamin Moser, about the Brazilian novelist Clarice Lispector. Lispector, by chronological literary classification, was not a Modernist herself, but Moser brings out the Modernist influence evident in her work. In what was perhaps a backwards trajectory of a
For many Britons, there is a certain long-standing fascination with Spain. In the early colonial and modern periods, the great Spanish empire was a Catholic rival to newly-Protestant English prowess on the seas, culminating in the defeat of the Spanish Armada in 1588. So quickly after its rise to continental power, Spain seemed to retreat to confinement in its peninsula, falling back from the main story of western European history, particularly with its focus on British and French events.
The use of the word “Spain” at this early point in its history is contested by many. In the few decades since the end of Franco’s regime, historians—natives, too—have scrambled to readdress the mythologies of Spain’s history. Interestingly, I recently caught a review in the Wall Street Journal of Stanley Payne’s new book: Spain: A Unique History. As reviewer David Pryce-Jones notes, Payne’s previous work on the subject has mainly addressed Franco and the Spanish Civil War (Payne has three books with YUP on the subject), but his new book, out from Wisconsin, deals with a longer range of Spanish history, covering the dominant grand narrative: the stereotypical view of Spain that is both romantic and demonic in its portrayal of its political, religious, and cultural development since the Reconquista. While Mr. Pryce-Jones sees the issue of stereotyping Spaniards as moot, others like myself feel that understanding national identity and its origins are central to participation in an increasingly global society, even as those defining characteristics continue to be blurred by new alignments.
Most recently on the topic, I read British historian Henry Kamen’s book Imagining Spain: Historical Myth and National Identity, in which he gives his perspective on how and why the historical myths developed and persist to show that the congruent story of national unification under the Catholic Monarchs and the associated instantaneous creation of “Spain” is more than somewhat fallacious; that, perhaps unsurprisingly, nothing is quite so simple. I’m curious to compare Payne and Kamen’s books: the former looks out to Spain’s place in the wider world while the latter focuses on how the identity developed from within.
Now that the military rivalry of the 16th century has cooled, Spain, notably “Green Spain” in the north, is a popular destination for British tourists, and many in Galicia have begun to explore the Celtic roots of the region to emphasize its independent identity as one of Spain’s autonomous communities. The rich histories of each community tell different stories than the all-encompassing grand narrative of Spanish, largely Castilian, history. Given the diversity of Spain’s population and culture, it’s easy to bristle at the notion that they all suddenly united overnight. And while the greenery in northern Spain may be similar to landscapes in the British Isles, I’d rather take my chances with the warmer climate and an empanada over fog and shepherd’s pie any day.
Ivan Lett is Online Marketing Coordinator for Yale University Press.
Only one month away from the Royal wedding, and the anticipation will only go up from here. Earlier this month, Prince William and Kate Middleton made the cover of Entertainment Weekly titled, "You are invited to a MEDIA FRENZY!", photo slideshows on websites, and this doesn’t even count all the tabloid coverage and junk news sites. And of course, everyone wanted to know about the dress, to be designed by Alexander McQueen design lead, Sarah Burton, Style List leaked earlier in March after months of speculation. There’s a rumor going around that it’s going to be red…but that shouldn’t be a stretch for the McQueen team. The dress will be a nice lead-up to the Met’s Costume Institute exhibition, “Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty” opening in early May, looking back on McQueen’s transformative power on fashion.
Our Sales Conference is the same day as the wedding; the Brits get a national holiday.
Still, I invoke bragging rights as a UP with an office in London because of the kinds of books acquired there and published here. (If you’re fans of ours, be sure to check out the London Yale Books blog and Facebook pages.) In one case, the author was right here on campus and I never knew until the book was nearly out: The Eagle and the Crown: Americans and the British Monarchy, by Frank Prochaska, lecturer in Yale’s History department. His book let me know that I’m not alone; quote me.
I had a poster of the monarchy from Alfred the Great to Elizabeth II, brought back from a trip to London, at age eight; it accompanied one of those classic-style Ladybird books. I hung it on the wall and memorized the lineage and successions, actually a great party trick: just give me a year and I’ll tell you the British monarch or vice versa. And there was all the American news about Diana and Fergie and Charles—somewhere around the house there was a commemorative china dish for Elizabeth’s coronation, coffee table biographies of Diana and Vicotria. I never heard others’ families talk about the Royalty, never rummaged through their belongings for the obscure trinket. People collect all kinds of this stuff!
From the Prince of Wales, later Edward VII, to Princess Diana, members of the royal family have been major players in the emergence of America’s obsession with fame, offering and exclusive and classy contrast to the instant creations of the media. Hereditary kingship also propels British ceremonial, which has dazzled the citizens of a young nation comparatively lacking in hallowed settings and traditions. American expressions of joy and sorrow at royal marriages and funerals, coronations and jubilees have been extraordinary, given the rej