Spanish reading suggestions


My blog guest this month is Marina Cano López, with a selection of interesting Spanish reads

When Susan first asked me what Spanish writers I would recommend, I wanted to come up with a list of female authors, because this is where my own research interests lie. In fact, the list I made had few women on it, and those it did were mostly contemporary. So I asked myself: why is it that the English canon has so many female authors, especially from the nineteenth century onwards, but this is not the case in Spanish literature? In Spain, women writers remain hidden to a large extent: they are under-read and under-studied. I don’t have the space to redress this imbalance here, but what follows are three texts I’d recommend to anyone interested in Spanish literature and gender. In fact, though they are all about women or traditionally ‘female’ subjects, only one is actually written by a woman.

Aunt Tula (La Tía Tula) by Miguel de Unamuno

Aunt Tula (1921) is the story of Gertrudis, the eponymous aunt. When her sister dies, Tula, a spinster in her early thirties, takes on the role of mother to her sister’s children and housekeeper to her brother-in-law, Ramiro. This work, by novelist, essayist, playwright and poet Miguel de Unamuno (1864-1936), is a provocative story of love and sexual frustration. Set against the backdrop of repressive Catholic Spain, Aunt Tula narrates the love between Ramiro and Gertrudis, who nevertheless refuses Ramiro’s offers of marriage. The story can only end in tragedy, but it is not for this reason less appealing: the indomitable Aunt Tula is a memorable creation, a determined woman who becomes the real head of the family. This novel was successfully adapted for the screen in 1964, with renowned Spanish actress Aurora Bautista as Tula. I’d recommend both novel and film very highly.

Onion Lullaby” (“La Nana de la Cebolla”) by Miguel Hernández

My second choice ‘Onion Lullaby’ (1939) is by Miguel Hernández (1910-1942), who was born in Orihuela (Alicante) only 13 miles away from my own Murcian home. He was a poet and an intellectual from the Modernist group known as the Generation of ’27. Hernández was a precocious writer, publishing his first book of poems at the tender age of 23. Like other Spanish intellectuals, he suffered the consequences of the Civil War. His anti-fascist protests repeatedly put him in prison until he was finally condemned to death – a sentence later commuted to a thirty-year imprisonment. Hernández died of tuberculosis at the age of 32, due to the harsh conditions of Spanish prisons during Franco’s dictatorship. ‘Onion Lullaby’, probably his best-known poem, is a reply to one of his wife’s letters, which informed him that their son ate nothing but bread and onions:

The onion is frost
closed and poor:
frost of your days
and of my nights.
Hunger and onion:

black ice and
big, round frost.

In the cradle of hunger
my child lay.
With onion blood
he was suckled.
But your blood,
frosted with sugar,
onion and hunger.

La cebolla es escarcha
cerrada y pobre:
escarcha de tus días
Y de mis noches.
Hambre y cebolla,
hielo negro y escarcha
grande y redonda.

En la cuna del hambre
mi niño estaba.
Con sangre de cebolla
se amamantaba.
Pero tu sangre,
escarchada de azúcar,
cebolla y hambre.

The Real Story of Sleeping Beauty (El Verdadero Final de la Bella Durmiente) by Ana María Matute

What happened after the wedding of Sleeping Beauty and Prince Charming? Did they really live happily ever after? These are some of the questions Maria Matute answers in The Real Story of Sleeping Beauty (1995). Ana María Matute (1926-) is one of the best-known Spanish writers of the twentieth-century (and a woman to boot!). She is the winner of the Cervantes Prize, the Spanish-speaking world’s highest literary honour (other recipients include literary giants Jorge Luis Borges, Rafael Alberti and José Hierro); Matute is only the third woman to have been awarded this prize. So, what does Matute add to the well-known story of Sleeping Beauty? She goes back to Perrault’s original fairy tale, and ends up writing a prequel and sequel to the “standard” story, one that is full of sexual violence and aggression. In The Real Story of Sleeping Beauty,Prince Charming is not so charming: he rapes Sleeping Beauty in their first encounter – while she sleeps, of course. And mothers-in-law, Matute seems to think, are indeed a problem: Charming’s mother turns out to be a cannibal, interested in tasting her grandchildren. Open this novella if you want to know the “real” story, but remember that, like most original fairy tales, Matute’s is hardly a book for children.

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