Spain’s Gothic Misterios

Posted by cdelano on October 07, 2011 in Cristina Delano tagged with

Greetings from Mississippi! I am excited to be guest blogging at The Gothic Imagination this month. Thanks to Claire and Dale for the invitation. Over the next four weeks I’ll be discussing a few aspects of my research on the nineteenth-century Spanish Gothic. I am glad to have the opportunity to share my work with other Gothic scholars.

My project centers on Spanish urban misterios, popular novels inspired by Eugène Sue’s Les Mystères de Paris (1842-1843). Sue’s novel was a bestseller in Spain, and soon a multitude of misterios appeared in the Spanish press, most of them set in Madrid and Barcelona. The success of these misterios is owed in part to the increase of the Spanish reading public. Between 1830 and 1900, the number of literate Spaniards increased tenfold from approximately 600,000 to 6,000,000 (Botrel 50). These were principally urban readers, and the misterios were marketed to this public (Ferreras 23-24). Like Les Mystères de Paris, many of these novels were published serially, either in newspapers or by subscription.

The misterios have usually been categorized as folletines (feuilletons) due to the medium of their publication and their reputation as popular, lowbrow, escapist literature. In her study of Sue’s reception in Spain, Borrowed Words, Elisa Martí-López examines the problematics of this designation, which both denies misterios literary value and ignores their participation in national political discourse (18, 10). Edward Baker, in his Materiales para escribir Madrid, sees the folletines as foundational narratives, recording the establishment of the new order (103). In this sense, the ‘misterios’ presented by the novels are in part the mysteries of the new society, one that the folletín readers are learning to navigate (104). Indeed, it is the task of the author to reveal these mysteries to the reader, and to guide the reader through what Baker calls the “laberinto” of discourses and plots of the folletín (99).

It is interesting to note that Baker’s description of the folletín itself is of a labyrinth, a foundational Gothic space, for the Gothic mode is an essential component of the mystery genre. The Gothic provides misterio authors with a discourse with which to articulate the anxieties of the tumultuous nineteenth century. I would also propose, following Robert Miles’s thoughts of the Gothic and nationalism, that the misterio authors participate in ideological nation building by gothicizing what must be expelled from the nation in order to obtain national unity (68). They construct a Gothic national narrative that aims to consolidate the hegemony of the liberal state and mark as abject the pillars of the antiguo régimen.

Next week I will discuss Los misterios de Madrid by Juan Martínez Villergas (1844-1845), a novel that retells Spain’s First Carlist War and the liberal’s internal division as a Gothic tale replete with malevolent aristocrats, corrupt Jesuits, and rabid dogs.  Later in the month I’ll look at a Barcelona misterio that tackles Gothic imperialism, and in my last entry I’ll discuss a mystery that has come up in the course my research into a Sevilla misterio. I look forward to your comments and suggestions.

Works Cited

Baker, Edward. Materiales para escribir Madrid. Literatura y espacio urbano de Moratín a Galdós. Madrid: Siglo Veintiuno, 1991.

Ferreras, Juan Ignacio. La novela por entregas 1840-1900. Madrid: Taurus, 1972.

Botrel, Jean-François. “Los nuevos lectores en la España del siglo XIX.” Siglo Diecinueve 2 (1996): 47-64.

Martí-López, Elisa. Borrowed Words: Translation, Imitation, and the Making of the Nineteenth-Century Novel in Spain. Lewisburg: Bucknell UP, 2002.

Miles, Robert. “Abjection, Nationalism, and the Gothic.” The Gothic. Ed. Fred Botting. Woodbridge, Suffolk (UK): D.S. Brewer, 2001. 47-70.

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