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review 2016-05-05 11:00
A Woman’s Misery in a Male World: The House of Ulloa by Emilia Pardo Bazán
The House of Ulloa (Penguin Classics) - Emilia Pardo Bazán,Paul O'Prey
Los Pazos De Ulloa - Emilia Pardo Bazán

As I already remarked two years ago, when I wrote a biography of Emilia Pardo Bazán (1851-1921) on my main book blog Edith’s Miscellany (»»» read her author’s portrait there), the important Spanish author unlike her male counterparts from English-speaking countries and France began to fall into oblivion rather soon after she gained considerable fame for her work. Several of her books have been translated into English. Two of them are her most famous novel The House of Ulloa from 1886, which has been reissued in English translation only in 2013, and its often overlooked sequel Mother Nature from 1887. As an example of Spanish Naturalist writing above all the first deserves a closer look.

 

The House of Ulloa is set towards the end of the reign of Spanish Queen Isabel II, more precisely just before the liberal revolution of 1868. Father Julián Alvarez enters into service with Don Pedro Moscoso who has a remote country estate in Galicia and is generally known as marquis of Ulloa although in reality the title belongs to a cousin living in Santiago. The young priest is supposed to take care of the marquis’ affairs sorting papers in the library that are in a complete mess, but to his great dismay he finds that his private life is in disorder too and the estate threatened by ruin. In fact, his employer turns out to be a man of loose morals who openly consorts with his mistress Sabel working in the kitchen and treats his illegitimate four-year-old no better than his hounds. Moreover, his daily life is filled with little more than hunting and drinking. When pious and naïve Father Julián asks Don Pedro to change his ways, he admits that he can’t because his steward Primitivo, the father of Sabel, would never allow it and has the power to turn all peasants of the region against him. Nonetheless, the priest hopes to lead his employer back on the path of virtue and suggests that he passes some time in Santiago to choose a wife from his Cousin Manuel’s daughters. Thus he marries Marcelina, called Nucha, and brings her to the house of Ulloa as his wife and new mistress of the estate, but the discreet young woman soon realises that she isn’t accepted and that her husband goes on with his life as if she weren’t there. She suffers and makes Father Julián her confidant. The priest, though, is powerless and can only watch what is going on. Meanwhile, Don Pedro gets involved into politics which at the time is inseparably linked with corruption and risks his estate…

 

In this naturalist masterpiece the nineteenth-century author Emilia Pardo Bazán skilfully interweaves the main story of predominantly male decadence and corruption in politics as well as society with a feminist critique of a patriarchal world that submits women of all classes to a sexual double standard, violence and abuse in the name of Catholic religion and often with the help of clerics. Although the novel touches very serious topics and has a not less serious plot, its tone is not only gloomy like the wintry landscape of Galicia but also full of wit and clever irony. Moreover, it’s a timeless work of literature that has lost none of its power and meaning in this modern world. In other words, The House of Ulloa is one of those almost forgotten classics that deserve being read more widely outside its country of origin Spain.

 

Nota bene:

The original Spanish versions of Emilia Pardo Bazán’s work have long entered into the public domain and many of them as well as some older translations are available for free via the Virtual Library Miguel de Cervantes, on Feedbooks, on Project Gutenberg, on Wikisource, and several other sites of the kind.

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review 2013-08-29 00:00
Review: Death of a Naturalist by Seamus Heaney
Death of a Naturalist - Seamus Heaney

Some books are so thin and light, yet they carry so much weight, like Heaney's 'Death of a Naturalist'. Each poem in this collection is a work of art, a masterpiece. There is neither pretentiousness nor symbolism here. Each poem is a story in itself and in this, Heaney has mesmerized me. I just imagined someone who had written an entire collection of short stories and then thought: "Let's see how we can strip away all the unnecessary words and images to just capture the essence of the tale in as few words as possible".

The autobiographical nature of these poems adds further weight, and exhibits the emotional investment that Heaney imparts on his reader, like in 'Digging' where we see the Heaney descended from a lineage of famers who takes the path of the writer (an excerpt):

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review 2012-10-21 00:00
The Immense Journey: An Imaginative Naturalist Explores the Mysteries of Man and Nature - Loren Eiseley 3 1/2 stars.

This is a hard book for me to rate.

It started off really strong (first five essays), I lost a little bit of interest & got annoyed around the middle, and it ended strong--the last three essays being especially good.

I guess this means, looking back over the chapters, that what worked for me was his perspectives on nature as a whole--water, earth, plants, animals, the long process of evolution, wonderings about various aspects of our world. What I didn't like so much was when he started talking about humankind specifically, and what this or that skull "means."

It should be of no surprise to anyone who knows me that his use of the word "man" and male pronouns as a blanket term for all people was annoying; I was also suspicious of his seemingly racist language. I'm not sure how much of it is just a sign of the times, the field of physical anthropology itself (which has been, historically, used to justify racism), or Eiseley's own beliefs. He praised people who fought the out & out racism of their time, but he also made a couple statements that I was uncomfortable with (in one of them, which I did not have the supplies on hand to sticky-note, he said something about undeveloped something or other and "looking at the Eskimos" and I was just like--woah hold on one second there, dude!). Adding to this, the book is somewhat dated, the most recent essay in being published in 1957 (and the first in 1946). This made me somewhat dubious of accepting all his claims and opinions.

Other things I didn't like: his use of the words primitive, higher (and yes, even though he often put it in quotes to show that he had personal disagreement with its use in certain cases...it wasn't a good enough disclaimer for me *nose in the air*), savage (same as with his use of "higher"--he doesn't seem to embrace the use of "savages" personally, but he doesn't dissocate himself from it enough for my tastes), and the way he said the city was man's "greatest" creation, that man was the "master" of the world and so on. At various points he seems to be writing from a different (and one more closely aligned with me) mindset--I guess that's the nature of collecting essays that span a decade. Anyway, I enjoyed it much more when he was talking about human ego and conceit.

Besides the qualms I've detailed, I thought it was quite nice (I notice I never seem to detail what I do like, only what I don't). His writing really shines when he's talking about critters & ideas bigger than humans. The story in "The Bird and the Machine" moved me to tears, his subject and writing were generally interesting to me, and every so often had a beautiful turn of phrase on some profound something or other.

So, all in all: it was a worthwhile read. Some of these essays I would gladly read again, and some of them kinda bugged me.
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review 2012-04-07 00:00
The Desert Smells Like Rain: A Naturalist in Papago Indian Country
The Desert Smells Like Rain: A Naturalist in Papago Indian Country - Gary Paul Nabhan I really liked the beginning of this story: one boy in love with his apparently straight friend and aching with not being able to be with him. (A trope I really enjoy!) But when Zachary didn't stay by his side at a school party, Vincent sulked and walked home, rejecting the concerned phone call that came within minutes of him leaving. Zachary turned up on Vincent's doorstep after several unanswered texts, only to have the door slammed in his face. I'm still with it up until this point. The MCs are teenagers so some OTT dramatics are to be expected. But when Vincent went on to completely ignore his friend for the next week with no explanation at all to the poor guy who'd done nothing wrong, only speaking to him again because Zachary forced the issue. It was a dick move, tbh, and made Vincent seem immature and petulant. I kind of wanted to smack him.Zachary wasn't featured enough for me to form much of an opinion of him as a character, but he seemed like a normal, fairly oblivious kid. Unfortunately, this only made Vincent's behaviour seem even more childish.Until now, I've been really spoiled with free reads that have been edited beautifully. This one had some problems: a few poorly structured sentences, punctuation issues, and some sentences that made no sense at all. (I suspect the spell check gremlins had a little fun changing appropriate words into something entirely random.) I wish this had been longer. With more room to develop the characters, I think this could have been a great read.
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review 2012-01-05 00:00
"Death of a Naturalist" by Seamus Heaney
Death of a Naturalist - Seamus Heaney

This book confirms that although a lauded poet, Seamus Heaney's work is not for me; I just can't connect or engage as others seem to.

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