Women’s History Month is over, but my series continues! Today I am featuring one of the major figures of Spanish literature: feminist, novelist, journalist, critic, and profilic short story writer Emilia Pardo Bazán (1851-1921), the Countess of Pardo Bazán. Like George Sand, she is not primarily thought of as a writer of the fantastic [1], but is a prominent mainstream literary figure, known for her efforts to incorporate naturalism into Spanish literature.

La Esfera-Condesa de Pardo Bazán Gamonal
La condesa de Pardo Bazán (1851-1921) Illustration by Isidro Fernández Fuertes (1921). Source: Wikimedia

According to her page at the Biblioteca Virtual Miguel de Cervantes, she “is considered the best Spanish woman novelist of the 19th Century and one of the most distinguished writers in [the history of Spanish literature].” In 1916, she became the first woman to receive a chair at a Spanish university: Chair of Contemporary Literature and Romance Languages at the Universidad Central in Madrid.

I hadn’t read her since my undergrad days (I have a minor in Spanish Language Literature, though I remember almost nothing about it now), and she didn’t catch my attention at the time, focused as I was on the Argentine magical realists. I came across her again recently, while flipping through some of my old textbooks and bilingual anthologies, and this time around, her stories struck me, hard. Her writing feels remarkably contemporary in its psychological acuity and feminist outlook; like Quiroga, she sketches perceptive portraits of some of the darker and/or frailer aspects of human nature. While the stories I initially read don’t quite fit into the types of fiction I discuss on this blog, I really wanted to include her in this series, if possible.

Fortunately, a little digging surfaced several pieces that arguably qualify as fantastic or weird. I think I’ll have translation projects for some time to come! For this post, I’ll start with two that are short, but particularly powerful.

La resucitada

The Dead Woman by Mossa
The Dead Woman, Gustav Adolf Mossa (c. 1920). Source: WikiArt

A woman awakens in her casket the evening before her interment, and tries to return to her old family life.

You can read this story as supernatural, or not; some of the word choices I made in the translation lean towards the non-supernatural, and I think that wasn’t inappropriate. Either way, I think the story conveys a sense of unease and irrationality that, for me, qualifies it as weird; Poe-like. It’s a story about people’s fear of what they don’t understand, about the fear of death. It might also be an allegory about the difficulties of women who (like Pardo Bazán) try to live an atypical–and thus an improper, “unwomanly”–life. You decide.

  • You can read my translation of La resucitada (The Rearisen) at Ephemera, here.

I had a surprisingly hard time deciding how to translate the phrase La resucitada: The resuscitated? The resurrected? The reawakened? I even thought about calling the story “The Revenant,” but revenant brings up images of vampires and ghosts that didn’t seem entirely appropriate. I finally settled on “The Rearisen” because the phrase “the rearisen woman” rolls a bit more smoothly off the tongue than, say, “the resurrected woman.” Hopefully, my choice works out for my readers, as well.

El revólver

A woman’s fairy-tale marriage goes horribly, horribly wrong.

Revolver MKL1888 rotated
Source: Wikimedia

This piece isn’t fantastical or weird, though it’s certainly dark, and would have been right at home in the Boris Karloff/Edmund Speare anthology And the Darkness Falls. It may also be Pardo Bazán’s best known work to Anglophone readers, thanks to a fantastic 1960 translation by Angel Flores (that was my first introduction to this story, from an old dual-language Bantam paperback that I found in a used bookstore once). I can’t share that translation with you, but this is such an arresting story, and I like it so much that I translated it myself. Not as good as the Flores translation, but at least I can post it.

  • You can read my translation of El revólver (The Revolver) at Ephemera, here.

For a story first published in 1895, this tale of spousal tyranny and emotional abuse feels all too contemporary. It’s not a “horror story” in the genre sense, but it’s horror, nonetheless.

Published English Translations

If you like these stories, I encourage you to read more of Pardo Bazán’s work. For those who prefer novels, Penguin’s Pocket Penguin imprint published a translation of Pardo Bazán’s most famous novel, Los pazos de Ulloa (The House of Ulloa), which they describe as a “gloriously comic and gothic novel.” Here’s a review of it from The Guardian.

For those, like me, who prefer short stories, there is a 1996 translated collection published by the Modern Language Association called “Torn Lace” and Other Stories (translator Maria Cristina Urruela). There is also a 1993 translated collection from Bucknell University Press called “The White Horse” and Other Stories (translator Robert M. Fedorchek), though this one may be out of print.

Neither of the collections I mention above focus specifically on the fantastical, and I think Pardo Bazán wrote something like six hundred short stories(!), so I imagine that the stories included cover a wide range of themes, topics, and concerns. As I mention above, I’ve found a bunch of stories that I would call fantastic, or nearly fantastic [2], and I will try to translate more as time allows.

In the meantime, please do enjoy the two stories that I’ve shared with you here!

[1] Her life parallels that of George Sand (and of Juana Manuela Gorriti) as well. She married young, got involved in politics and feminism, and eventually separated from her husband because he didn’t approve of her career or her notoriety. For more on Pardo Bazán’s life see Wikipedia, or her profile at the Women Writers’ Networks site.

[2] I should also point out the Pardo Bazán’s first novel, Pascual López: autobiografía de un estudiante de medicina (Pascual Lopez: Autobiography of a Medical Student) from 1879, is apparently a work of science fiction, about someone in search of an artificial diamond. I’ve not read the novel, nor do I think it’s been translated to English.

Featured image: The Tomb of Ilaria del Caretto at Lucca, John Ruskin (1874). Source: WikiArt

2 thoughts on “Women Writers of Folklore and the Fantastic: Emilia Pardo Bazán

  1. Thank you for this, Nina. I don’t recall if I ever asked you this question before, but reading this essay prompted the following; have you read any Jorge Luis Borges? I am especially taken by “The Aleph.” Fantastic in both senses.

    1. Yes, I’m quite fond of Borges: his fantastical work, his gaucho romances and pseudo-histories, his essays, all of it. And “The Aleph” is a great one.

      Oddly enough my absolute favorite Borges story is kind of atypical for him (and perhaps, I hate to say it, derivative) — “The Secret Miracle.” I love that story, though it’s quite straightforward, compared to his other fantastic works. Of his “typical” work, “The Library of Babel” is my favorite.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.