I’ve posted a new translation to Ephemera, a literary fairy tale called “The Vampire.” It’s another find from Ganso y Pulpo, the archive of forgotten nineteenth century Spanish literature. The tale is by an author that I’ve not translated before: the journalist, essayist, playwright, and author of short stories, Ramón García Sánchez (c.1840 – 1885).
The Vampire (El vampiro): When a mysterious rich old man moves into an ancient castle, healthy young men from the surrounding villages begin to vanish. Their disappearances coincide with the occurences of wild but unexplained festivities in the castle. Finally, the young women of the village unite to solve the mystery and combat the evil that has come amongst them.
“The Vampire” is a variation of folktale type ATU 514, commonly referred to as A Shift of Sex. Folktales of this type feature a young woman who must disguise herself as a man to complete a quest; the transformed “hero” then becomes the object of amorous affection for another woman in the story. The interesting part is that in many folktales of this type, the disguised heroine magically becomes a man, and marries the woman who loves him! That doesn’t happen here, but it’s still a fun and interesting tale.
Here’s an interesting combination: a pastiche of an eighteenth century German gothic “deal with the devil” story, written by a nineteenth century Spanish author, featuring a protagonist with the not-terribly-Germanic name, “Dick.” How could I resist translating that?
This is another odd little tale from Pedro Escamilla, courtesy of that treasure trove of forgotten nineteenth century Spanish periodical literature, Ganso y Pulpo. I’ve just put it up on Ephemera.
The Devil’s Rosebush (El rosal del diablo): Our hero Dick is in love with the innkeeper’s daughter, Federica. He’s so desperate to win her hand that he even ventures into the Black Forest on St. John’s Eve, a night when they say the devil is out, looking for souls, and willing to bargain for them. Will Dick gain his heart’s desire?
Unlike, say, Poe’s “Metzengerstein” (“A Tale in Imitation of the German”), or even L.A. Wilmer’s “Spukenswald,” “The Devil’s Rosebush” doesn’t feel in the least like a German story. One gets the impression that Escamilla was only familiar with German gothic to a limited degree, but it’s still a fun piece. I hope you enjoy it.
Illustration for “El rosal del diablo” from El Periódico para Todos, No. 26, 1875. Illustrator unknown. Source: Hemerotica Digital (Digital Periodical Archive), Biblioteca Nacional de España.
Featured image: Vintage rose illustration, artist unknown. Source: Rawpixel Ltd.
To be fair, this isn’t really a “crime story,” it’s a narrative that leads up to a crime. But it’s an excellent read, with some striking imagery, and I like it. That’s all the reason I need….
Originally published in 1890, Emilia Pardo Bazán’s “Un destripador de antaño” (“A Ripper of Yesteryear“) tells of the tragic intersection between the lives of a young orphaned peasant girl and a mysterious apothecary. It’s set in the author’s native Galicia, in and around the historic city of Santiago de Compostela, the ending point of the famous pilgrimage known as the Camino de Santiago. The story’s introduction implies that it may be inspired by an old Galician folktale:
The legend of “The Ripper,” the half-sage, half-sorcerer assassin, is a very old one in my homeland. I heard it at a tender age, whispered or chanted in frightful refrains,… I will tell it to you. Enter valiantly with me into the shadowy regions of the soul.
It’s also seems related to a certain Andean folklegend, which I won’t mention here, for fear of spoilers. But if you’re interested, you’ll find a pointer in the footnotes of my translation. Continue reading →
My first translation of the new year! Actually, I did this last year (before Winter Tale season started), but I put it aside for my Christmas ghost stories, and only just finished reviewing and polishing it now. This odd little tale from 1875 is by the relatively obscure Spanish author Pedro Escamilla. I’ve just put it up on my Ephemera blog.
As I’ve written before, I personally find Escamilla a bit uneven. Some of his stories are well-executed but unexceptional treatments of familiar ghost story tropes; others, while supernatural, are not so much spooky and macabre, but more like Catholic fairy tales, full of intercessions by the Virgin Mary, and the like. I don’t actually mind this latter type of story, but I admit they might not have a general broad appeal.
Every so often, though. I find something quirky and unusual from his pen, and I think this one unquestionably falls in that category. So many questions: is the narrator reliable, or not? What exactly is going on? I really liked this one, and I hope you do, too.
Illustration for “Muérete y verás,” from El Periódico para Todos, No. 16, 1875. Illustrator unknown.
Just an update on some recent(ish) posts to my other blogs. By coincidence, both posts relate to the theme of Faustian bargains, so they go rather well together.
Over on Ephemera, here’s the latest of my Emilia Pardo Bazán translations. This is from a few months ago, but I got distracted by Pedro Escamilla and Dark Tales Sleuth, so I never announced the translation here.
The Spell (El conjuro): A philospher performs an incantation of the last day of the year, in hopes of summoning a being that can grant his desire.
The protagonist of the tale is referred to as “el pensador” (the thinker) in the original Spanish. I rendered that as “the philospher” in my translation, because it felt better to me in English, and in my opinion still retains the connotations of the original Spanish term.
Although he was one of the most prolific Spanish authors of the 19th century, Pedro Escamilla seems little known today, even (as far as I can tell) in Spain. Not even the dates or circumstances of his birth and death are certain; the website Ganso y Pulpo estimates that he was born around 1840 and died around 1890.
And yet he is said to have published something like 400 stories, 35 or 40 plays, and at least 34 novels. some of them under the pen name Félix X. He was also rumored to have ghost-written works for other authors.
Today, he is probably best remembered (if at all) for his short stories in the fantastic and horror genres, which have been compared to the work of Poe and of Erckmann-Chatrian.
Two more translations! One by Juana Manuela Gorriti, and one by Emilia Pardo Bazán. This is a kind of matched pair: two stories about the tension between rational explanations and the desire to believe in the supernatural.
Many marvelous-seeming phenomena in the world are really quite natural; Sir Walter Scott dedicated an entire letter from his Letters on Demonology and Witchcraft to debunking ghost stories of this type. One such example is the tale of the dead club president’s ghost, which has a perfectly rational explanation.
As a story, though, the supernatural explanation is far more satisfying. And that may be the case with Gorriti’s and Pardo Bazán’s stories as well.
Featured Image: Mandrake. Folio 90 Folio 90 from the Naples Dioscurides (7th century). Source: Wikimedia
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 , but is a prominent mainstream literary figure, known for her efforts to incorporate naturalism into Spanish literature.
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.
Antonio de Trueba (1819-1889) was a Spanish reteller of folklore in the tradition of Gustavo Bécquer and Fernán Caballero (the pen name of Cecilia Francisca Josefa Böhl de Faber) — both of whom I’ve posted on before. Trueba combined the traditional stories of the Spanish campesinos with sophisticated literary style and humorous political and social commentary. I found this delightful tale in a back issue of the fairy tale studies journal Marvels & Tales, and it hooked me at the first paragraph:
There once was a king so avaricious that instead of spending his life making his subjects happy, he passed it running throughout his kingdom searching for mines of gold and silver, and leaving the devil in charge of the ship of State. A pox on such kings!
I have a feeling this one will speak to a lot of people.