Friday, April 17, 2015

First Love and Other Fascinating Stories of Spanish Life by Emilia Pardo Bazán, et al.

The Little Blue Book of Spanish lit
Emilia Pardo Bazán
This collection of short stories was originally published as one of the Little Blue Books, an immensely popular series produced mostly in the 1920s and ’30s by Emmanuel Haldeman-Julius, a radical publisher based in southeastern Kansas who made it his personal mission to educate the masses (while making money, of course). Haldeman-Julius, sometimes referred to as the “Henry Ford of Literature,” published thousands of titles in the series and sold hundreds of millions of copies. These small, brief, and inexpensive books spanned subjects as diverse as fiction, philosophy, science, history, and sex ed. First Love, volume number 1195 in the series, focuses on Spanish literature and features five short stories amounting to about 64 pages of text. It is one of the very few Little Blue Books that are now available as public domain ebooks at Amazon and Project Gutenberg.

The book opens with its title selection, “First Love” by Emilia Pardo Bazán. Likely the best entry in the volume, it’s the story of a boy falling in love for the first time, not with a person but with a portrait. “Mariquita the Bald” by Juan Eugenio Hartzenbusch is an O. Henry-esque fable about a beautiful woman who is incredibly vain with regards to her thick and lustrous hair. “The Love of Clotilde” by Armando Palacio Valdés concerns an actress’s love affair with a playwright. Two shorter selections, “An Andalusian Duel” by Serafin Estebanez Calderon and “Captain Veneno’s Proposal of Marriage” by Pedro Antonio de Alarcón are so brief they amount to little more than jokes, and to summarize them would be to reveal half their contents. What these five stories have in common is that they’re all love stories, they all possess the flavor of Balzac’s more lighthearted offerings, and they’re all pleasantly predictable. The only one that really offers anything in the way of surprises is the Hartzenbusch entry. If you like 19th-century literature, then predictability shouldn’t necessarily be a deal-breaker. Though the stories may not be “Fascinating” as the title indicates, they do offer a refreshing glimpse into “Spanish Life.”

With the exception of Don Quixote and perhaps a few 20th-century Nobel laureates, Spanish literature (from Spain, not Latin America) is generally unknown to most English-language readers. We just don’t see the abundance of translations that one finds with French, German, or Russian literature, particularly for 19th-century fiction. Another collection that’s available for free download is the Spanish volume of the Stories by Foreign Authors series, published by Charles Scribner’s Sons in 1898. It includes two better works by Pedro Antonio de Alarcón. The quality overall is about on a par with this one, but the stories are lengthier and a little more literary. The pieces included in First Love are oriented toward a broader popular audience.

As for the Little Blue Books series, hopefully more will be digitized and distributed as ebooks. I find Haldeman-Julius’s grand enterprise fascinating, and count myself among the masses longing to be educated by his nickel-a-volume wisdom.

Works in this collection

First Love by Emilia Pardo Bazán

An Andalusian Duel by Serafin Estebanez Calderon

Mariquita the Bald by Juan Eugenio Hartzenbusch 

The Love of Clotilde by Armando Palacio Valdés 

Captain Veneno’s Proposal of Marriage by Pedro Antonio de Alarcón 

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