Joselyn M. Almeida, ed.

Romanticism and the Anglo-Hispanic Imaginary

Joselyn M. Almeida, ed., Romanticism and the Anglo-Hispanic Imaginary. Amsterdam and New York: Rodopi, 2010. 385 pp. ISBN: 978-90-420-3032-9 (paper). £69.30 (UK), $100 (USA).


Reviewed by Michael Scrivener, Wayne State University (August, 2011)


This collection of fifteen essays indicates that an important new area of Romantic studies has achieved a level of disciplinary self-awareness and archival complexity to require the attention of Romanticists and other literary scholars. Prior to the valuable recent work on Anglo-Hispanic literature and culture, ‘Spain’ and ‘Latin America’ were no more than marginal presences in British Romantic studies. Before scholars about fifteen years ago began investigating the subject in depth, Spain was typically little more than the locale of Don Juan’s first canto, and Spanish America came to mind when thinking of writers like Percy Shelley who celebrated the independence struggles in South America. A groundbreaking monograph by Diego Saglia, Poetic Castles in Spain: British Romanticism and Figurations of Iberia (2000), has been clearly important for establishing the field of study.  Saglia authored the lead essay of the collection, and many of the other authors refer to his work. 

The editor’s introduction and Saglia’s chapter provide good overviews of Anglo-Hispanic Romantic studies and I will start there. Joselyn M. Almeida starts by citing Thomas Paine’s satirical naming of Edmund Burke as a Don Quixote tilting at windmills, thus showing that the Anglo-Hispanic imaginary is at the heart of the 1790s revolution controversy. Cervantes’s character is just one of numerous ‘cultural symbols, discourses, and figures from the Hispanophone world…that circulated in Romantic drama, poetry, and prose’ (9). Political events such as the Peninsular War (1807–14) and the Wars of Independence in South America (1809–1820s) occasioned extensive discourse in different genres, both literary and political. The editor refers to the ‘Hispanophile oeuvre’ of Romantic writers like Southey, Hemans, Scott, and Byron, and she cites Saglia’s use of Foucault’s term ‘heterotopia’ to signify a site of ‘Spanish settings, motifs, characters, and cultural impersonations’ (10). By calling the site a heterotopia, scholars like Almeida and Saglia are insisting that Anglo-Hispanic texts and representations are to be understood in a systematic way, not eclectically: ‘this collection shows how Spain and Spanish America are not only fields of presence in their own right, but also constitute what Foucault calls ‘fields of concomitance’—objects carrying analogic discursive relations specific to the history of the period that speak to larger categories, such as ‘empire’, ‘nation’, ‘nature’, and ‘freedom’’ (13). In short, ‘Spain’ and ‘Spanish America’ function powerfully in the cultural grammar of the Romantic era.

Saglia’s ‘Iberian Translations: Writing Spain into British Culture, 1780–1830’ remarks on the rediscovery of Spain as evident in numerous fields such as history, archaeology, art history, and linguistics, as well as travel narratives and belles lettres. The older meaning of ‘Spain’ signified an unchanging culture of Catholic, pre-modern ‘traditionalism’ and ‘rigid social mandates’ (26), as well as the unenlightened culprit in the ‘Black Legend’ of conquering the New World (29). The Peninsular War in which Spain fought heroically against Napoleon’s armies effected widespread sympathetic identification by the British. Moreover, by 1812 Spanish-language texts were being published in large numbers in London, as well as English works with Spanish content.  Saglia notes that by 1812 there was a ‘well-established network of cultural links and intercultural exchanges between Spain and Britain,’ including numerous translations of Spanish texts. Although Saglia gives some credence to the postcolonial perspective of Spain being constructed as the ‘other’ of Europe, he insists, ‘there is more to Spain as a Romantic intervention zone than cultural colonization and imaginative imperialism’ (46). 

The other thirteen essays in the collection surely uphold Saglia’s judgment that colonization and imperialism are not the whole story. Some essays attend to the influence of British Romanticism on Spanish literature (Maria Eugenia Perojo Arronte’s, 213–32; Cristina Flores’s, 249–71), and of Hispanic writing on British Romantics (Nanora Sweet’s, 159–82). The collection’s second part, ‘Trades and Exchanges,’ suggests a paradigm of liberal interaction rather than imperial conquest, although some of the essays follow the more unyielding ideological emphases of postcolonial theory. In the 1820s, we learn, Rudolph Ackermann of London published over ‘100 titles in Spanish for Latin American consumption’ (57), while Spanish and Latin American intellectuals lobbied for political policies and shaped cultural expressions related to Hispanic interests. Almeida (53–80) describes the lobbying activities of Francisco Miranda and the cultural activism of José Maria Blanco White, one of the most important writers in Anglo-Hispanic Romanticism, who figures prominently in Sweet’s essay on Felicia Hemans, a friend and correspondent of White’s (159–82). Another prominent figure in Anglo-Hispanic Romanticism is Thomas Cochrane, the fascinating revolutionary Admiral who led the insurgents of Chile, Peru and Brazil against the Spanish and Portuguese fleets. Tim Fulford’s chapter on Cochrane and his wife illustrates how Romantic nationalism defined actual politics and influenced literature, for Cochrane was represented ‘regularly’ in ‘ballads, poem and, above all, Marryat’s novels’—and later in the novels of C. S. Forester and Patrick O’Brien (81–108). 

If the Black Legend and the Inquisition represent one side of the cultural imaginary of ‘Spain,’ the Peninsular War and the newly independent and extremely popular Spanish American nations represent another side. Rebecca Cole Heinowitz’s essay vividly describes the Spanish American ‘bubble’ of the 1820s when Britons recklessly invested money in South American enterprises with expectations of large and quick profits. The boom in Spanish America was fueled by feverish cultural idealizations in the theatre and press. Heinowitz contrasts these idealizations with the grim fictions of Southey (A Tale of Paraguay) and Hemans (The Forest Sanctuary), both of which project moral tales onto a South America evacuated of native culture and the history of Spanish imperialism. After the stock market crash of 1825 the romance with Spanish America was over. That romance, in Heinowitz’s account, was never far from imperial conquest anyway, as the British identification with the Spanish Americans was a form of ‘informal’—commercial—domination (183–212). 

Yet another angle on the Anglo-Hispanic imaginary is from the genre of travel writing, which occupies the attention of the collection’s third part, ‘Vistas and Extensions’: Jeffrey Scraba on Washington Irving’s ‘Andalucia’ (275–96), M. Soledad Caballero and Jennifer Hayward on Frances Calderón de la Barca (297-326), Jessica Damián on Maria Graham (327–40), and Fernando González Moreno and Beatriz González Moreno on the Spanish ‘picturesque’ tour (341–60). These are important essays that illustrate how richly meaningful (and ironic) some travel literature can be. Irving’s writings, for example, are used even today to encourage tourists to visit a ‘Spain’ shaped by his conflicted and ambivalent imaginings. 

Each chapter concludes with a helpful bibliography and the publisher has done an unusually fine job in terms of providing a sturdy binding and maintaining overall legibility. The volume has been proofread impeccably. I note such things because some scholarly publishers now do not seem overly concerned with the material quality of their books. 

I have a few issues I want to raise, even though the collection is admirably conceived and superbly executed. First, the Portuguese/Brazilian problem. Especially given the prominence of Southey in Anglo-Hispanic writing—Southey wrote extensively on Portugal and Brazil—it seems arbitrary to concentrate only on Spain and Spanish America. The Lusophone presence should get more attention. Second, Jews are unmentioned but many English Jews came from Spain and Portugal, and Grace Aguilar (1816–47) wrote a novel—Vale of Cedars—in the 1830s about Spanish conversos; also, Thomas Wade’s The Jew of Arragon; or, The Hebrew Queen (1830) takes yet another view of Romantic nationalism. As the scholarly field of Anglo-Hispanic studies is still at an early stage, it is to be commended for accomplishing so much so quickly, but there are some areas that call for reflection.


(c) Symbiosis, 2011