David T. Gies
London: Támesis, 1975, xiv + 197 pp.
[From Modern Language Review, vol. 72, no. 3, 1977, pp. 721-722.]
A quarter of a century ago Juretschke’s Vida, obra y pensamiento de Alberto Lista set a new standard for scholarly biographies of the Spanish romantics. In documenting the life and outlook of Lista it revealed by implication how much remained to be uncovered about his contemporaries, friends and pupils. Since then detailed works have appeared on Espronceda, Mora, Alcalá Galiano and Ochoa. It is gradually becoming easier to piece together a comparative picture of the intellectual formation of the Spanish romantics, their shifting political and social attitudes, their sources of income, employment and patronage, their personal ambitions, rivalries, hatreds and jealousies as well as their friendships, collaborations and mutual influence.
The latest contribution is Professor Gies’s study of Durán. Patiently researched and fully documented, it provides for the first time a dependable biography, correcting sundry errors (including my own) and filling in gaps. While the biographical approach to writers and their works is no longer fashionable per se, without such documentation as this we cannot hope to assess the writer’s social origins and allegiances, the sources of his ideology or any of the external factors which may have affected his work. On this ground alone Professor Gies’s book is welcome. Indeed one would wish to see equally well-researched biographies of, for example, Donoso Cortés, Hartzenbusch, García Gutiérrez and Bretón, to say nothing of Escosura, Pacheco or Roca de Togores. Until these materials are available the much needed task of rewriting Peers’s History of the Romantic Movement in Spain cannot be properly attempted.
Secondly Professor Gies offers a useful account of critical cross-currents at the time and a balanced assessment of Durán himself as a critic. While stressing his fairness, detachment and “customary tolerance,” Professor Gies defends Durán against the charge that he did not agree with later definitions of Spanish romanticism. This seems to me to miss the point that Durán attacked contemporary ideas about the movement which have since prevailed. Still, Durán’s standpoint is discriminating compared with those of Lista and Donoso, on both of whom—though the former was his teacher— he exerted a notable influence. When a satisfactory account of the history of criticism in nineteenth-century Spain comes to be written, Professor Gies’s work showing Durán as a major precursor of Menéndez Pelayo will be found to be a valuable contribution. Similarly we have here for the first time a systematic description of Durán’s most enduring achievement: his collection and publication of material which laid the foundations for modern scholarship in the fields of Golden Age theatre, cancionero poetry and the romancero. The story of how these studies came into being deserves a book of its own; once more Professor Gies has helped to smooth the way.
Durán’s original poetry perhaps hardly deserves nearly thirty pages of description. It was insignificant and at times anachronistic even in its own day; now it is hardly even a curiosity. But perhaps a full study of Durán would be incomplete without it. Both for its documentation and for its critical reasoning, Professor Gies’s book is a welcome addition to recent studies of Spanish romanticism.
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