Wrong email address or username
Wrong email address or username
Incorrect verification code
back to top
Search tags: classical-literature
Load new posts () and activity
Like Reblog Comment
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.

Like Reblog Comment
show activity (+)
review 2015-12-13 07:45
The family or the state
Antigone - Sophocles

This is probably the closest of all of the Greek tragedies to a Shakespearian tragedy. This is due to the end of the play having a huge bodycount and the action of the play is driven by one person's fatal flaw (not that I actually believe in the fatal flaw argument, but that is beside the point). However it is not Antigone who has the fatal flaw in this play but rather Creon, the king of Thebes. Unfortunately we cannot really look to Oedipus at Colonus to see the beginning of Creon's downfall because this play is not the final part of a trilogy, at least in the Aeschylan sense of a trilogy, though it is noticeable that when the copyists chose seven plays of Sophocles to preserve for posterity three of the Theban plays were kept which in a sense formed a trilogy, and in this trilogy we see Creon go from being a loyal servant of Oedipus to a ruthless tyrant that believes that he is the state and that his words are not to be disobeyed.


First I will discuss the term Harmatia, which is Aristotelian in origin, at least from his text on drama (The Poetics). I shall also look at the action of the play and finish off by discussing the main theme, which is the struggle between loyalty to one's family and loyalty to one's state. Well, no, I will finish off by looking at Creon's character, and how his actions bring about such a sticky end.


The concept of Harmatia is regularly found in the Bible where it has been translated into our word sin. Now, as I think about the concept of Harmatia I am somewhat torn between suggesting that Harmatia and sin are two different ideas, or that our modern understanding of sin does not exactly weigh with how the modern church translates and preaches it. The modern church preaches sin as being rebellion against God (of which we are all guilty), and then goes on to bombard us with what constitutes sin. However, to the Greeks, or at least to Aristotle, Harmatia is a fatal character flaw. Now that concept does not alienate sin because sin, in an of itself, is a fatal character flaw that we have inherited from Adam and Eve. This fatal character flaw of ours is our desire to live independently, and we see this more and more as we meet with people and associate with them. I also see it rampant throughout the church as people try to push God into a box and tell him what sin is rather than letting him demonstrate sin to them.


I say this because the list of sins seems to get longer and longer and we, as humans and those of us who call ourselves Christian, seem to think that sin is made up of our actions as opposed to our desire to rule ourselves. I guess the best explanation is that our actions, especially our selfish actions, are merely a symptom of this character flaw of ours. The Bible is correct when it says that the wages of sin is death, because as we see, especially in Antigone, that Creon's Harmatia leaves him desolate and alone, and as he says from his own lips, it is as if he were dead. Now, the Greek concept of death, the absence of life, and the removal of ourselves from this world, is somewhat different to the Biblical concept of death. In fact our modern understanding of death is more in line with the Grecian view. However the biblical view is that death is more to do with the break down of our relationships, particularly our relationship with God, than it is with the absence of life. To the Bible life is defined by relationships, and when we drive our relationships apart we are little more than dead. In fact it has been suggested that higher suicide rates occur among truly lonely people than it does among people who are surrounded by friends. That, though, is only speculation. However, consider this: even when we are surrounded by friends we can still be alone, especially if these so called friends of ours only seek us out for company and, in their self centred view of the world, seek to only have us by their side to make them feel good and important than really doing anything that is remotely friendly.


Now, the play itself is set after the Theban war, where Etocles and Polyneices killed each other after Polyneices attacked Thebes with his army to remove his brother and set himself up as king. Creon, by default, becomes king and his first order of business is to give Etocles a state funeral while leaving the body of Polyneices exposed. To be exposed was the worst thing that you could do to a corpse in the Ancient Greek world. A proper burial meant that you would at least have a half decent afterlife, while being exposed suggests that you would be left wondering the earth as a ghost, and a tormented one at that. Antigone, the sister of Polyneices, is horrified at this and seeks to bury him, much to Creon's displeasure, so he orders her executed. However the play is not as simple as that because Creon's son is in love with Antigone, and when he finds her dead, he kills himself, and in a fit of grief over the death of her son, Creon's wife also kills herself.


Now one of the main themes that comes out of this play is the struggle between one's loyalty to the state and one's loyalty to one's family and the dilemma that one will face when the state passes a law of which you do not approve. The question that is raised is: do you dishonour the state by breaking the law and honouring your family, or do you dishonour your family by upholding the law even when the law is unjust. In a way, there was nothing wrong with Creon's law, since Polyneices was a traitor, and treachery is seen as one of the worst crimes to commit (even today, though the definition of treason has become very ambiguous in the globalised, interconnected world). However, he was still family, and not only that, Etocles' ascension to the throne was dubious at best. The entire war was not so much about a deposed monarch seeking reinstatement, but rather a family quarrel between two brothers.


We still face these dilemmas today, though not to the same extent. The question of whether the drug laws are just is one of them (and I do believe that they are, even though they can be considered to be an outworking of the Nanny State). While it is true that people should be left to make their own decisions, we demonstrate time and time again that we are actually not capable of doing so, therefore the state actually does need to step in to protect us from ourselves. Then there is the war that the state embarks on that many members of the state disapprove of, and as a loyal soldier to the state, do you obey the state by embarking on a quasi-legal adventure, or do you uphold your morals by refusing, and face punishment or even gaol.


Creon mentions a number of times that he, as the king, is the state, and thus his laws are to be obeyed. However, ironically enough, the Chorus objects to this. Now the Chorus does play an important role in Greek tragedy, and usually represents what the Greeks call the 'Oklos', or the crowd. Crowd is actually a rather bad translation as my understanding of the Oklos is that it is a crowd that acts as a single entity and has a single mindset. Now, this is not always the case in Greek tragedy as at times the Chorus will split and then argue with itself, in a way representing division amongst the people. It is a shame that we do not actually see Choruses in plays any more (or not playing a major role as they did in Greek drama).


Now Creon, having become king, has pretty much become corrupted by power. Yet I am not entirely convinced that it is corruption at such an early stage of his reign. In a way, he is the new king, and he wants to stamp his authority on the city, or, as the Greeks called it, the Polis (I won't go into details of the meaning of this word as I have already spent too much time translating Oklos). For him to be disobeyed will suggest that he does not actually have the character to be a king. A king that is not obeyed and not respected is not actually a king because he has no authority. As such Creon wants to make sure that his authority sticks so when this law is broken he is forced to act. However, he is not caught in a dilemma deciding whether it is right to punish Antigone or not - he has already made up his mind, set the path that he wants to travel, and travels down it. However, it ends very, very badly for him, and this is emphasised at the conclusion when the prophet Tiresieus arrives and passes on the message from the gods. He has acted against the proper way and is now to be punished and there is no way to escape from it.


I recently saw a performance of this play (which was cool because I hardly see any Greek plays being produiced) and have written my thoughts on the performance, and the play as a whole, on my blog.

Source: www.goodreads.com/review/show/324693221
Like Reblog Comment
show activity (+)
url 2014-04-18 14:22
Reminder of a Spanish Writer Almost Forgotten: Emilia Pardo Bazán

Jane Austen, Mary Shelley, George Sand, Elizabeth Gaskell, Harriet Beecher Stowe, the three Brontë sisters Charlotte, Emily and Anne, George Eliot… those are prominent names of nineteenth-century literature still in print. Who hasn’t heard them at least once or twice? In fact, almost everybody knows those women writers almost everywhere in the world. They keep being widely read and their books surely are on many school reading lists. But how about Emilia Pardo Bazán? Who still remembers her outside the Spanish-speaking world?


Emilia Pardo Bazán was a well-read and very open-minded noblewoman from Galicia. She introduced the literary movements of realism and naturalism, which she got to know and appreciate in France, into Spanish literature. Her work and her opinions made her – like Émile Zola in France – the target of much polemic in the deeply conservative Roman Catholic country, and yet, she was never discouraged to continue on her way. Instead of listening to her husband who wanted her to give up writing she separated from him to be free to publish whatever she liked.


Click here to read my portrait of this important and impressive Spanish writer.

Source: edith-lagraziana.blogspot.com
Like Reblog Comment
review 2013-09-28 10:03
The refugee question
The Children of Herakles - Euripides

I've decided to read this again despite having already written a commentary on it, but that was partly because the commentary was on the whole book of Euripidean plays as opposed to this particular play (though the only play that I read when I commented on the book was this one). Anyway, a large portion of the end of this play is missing so we don't actually know how it ends (which is probably why it does not appear in many of the other books of Euripidean plays and why I had to hunt around for a copy of it). As such, we cannot actually say that this is one of Euripide's extant plays.

That does not mean that this play does not confront issues that were faced not only in the days of Classical Athens, but are also confront with our own society today: the issue of what to do with refugees. In the play the refugees are the children of Herakles (aka Hercules) who had fled to Marathon from Argos and sought sanctuary in one of the temples so that the king of Argos could not hunt them down and kill them.

The play was written in the opening years of the Peloponesian War and at that time Athens had its own refugee problem. The city of Platea had been attacked by the Thebans and in response the Plateans had sent all of the woman and children to Athens for protection. However Athens had decided to remain neutral in the conflict, which resulted in Platea being burnt to the ground and all of the remaining occupants killed. Meanwhile, in Athens, there was debate as to what to do with the refugees because they couldn't become citizens and had done nothing to warrant slavery, but the city did not seem to think that they could support this influx of people.

The issue of refugees is something that we simply cannot ignore today. This is something that confronts many of us here in Australia, but also in other parts of the world. The question that is raised though is the reason behind why the refugees want to get into our country – is it because they are fleeing persecution and war, or is it simply because they see better opportunities in our country. Either way, a lot of the refugees that end up here actually go on to become very productive members of our society.

One of the arguments that are put forth is that refugees are simply a drain on our society and they take money that could be used elsewhere. Personally I believe that that is rubbish. You will probably find that the refugees end up being much harder workers than the native citizens. In fact you will probably find that most people whom we would label dole bludgers are actually forth or fifth generation Australians. However, there is also the argument that they are taking our jobs, but the truth is that these are jobs that we are too proud to take up. Okay, there are questions about wages, and the fact that if you are on a minimum wage job then you are probably poorer than people on the dole because you do not have access to concession benefits. However, that also raises the question of whether, if we were to put more money into the hands of the working class, would they spend it wisely (in the same way would they also use time wisely if the working day were cut down by say two hours – probably not – they would probably spend more money on beer and spend more time in the pubs).

Mind you this debate over what to do with displaced people tends to only be argued in the more advanced and wealthy countries. Turkey and Jordan simply do not have the ability to turn these people back, especially since their borders are all land borders. The problem is that these people simply stream over the borders and thus need to be moved into camps. However, we here in Australia live in fear of a trickle of refugees that somehow manage to get over here by boat, and the few that get through are then marched off to third party countries and locked up in detention facilities in conditions that are significantly worse that the conditions our own prisoners have to put up with. In a way, as the socialists correctly say, when the economy turns sour, the best medicine is to blame the people who can't defend themselves against the attacks. In a way these refugees are not only fleeing persecution in their own lands, but are also facing persecution here.

Source: www.goodreads.com/review/show/724572933
Like Reblog Comment
review 2013-05-02 10:50
The Ancient Greeks had raves
The Bacchae... - Euripides

We actually don't have a complete copy of this play though the edition that I read attempts to reconstruct the missing sections (which is mostly at the end) because, as they say, this is a popular play that is regularly performed. This in itself is a strange statement since I have never seen it performed (in fact I have only ever seen one Greek play performed, and that was Oedipus Tyrannous and that was by an amateur theatre group). Mind you, Greek plays tend to be short, meaning that they last generally only as long as about a third of a Shakespeare play (though when they were performed in ancient times, it would usually be along with three others plays).

The Bacchae is about change and about the resistance to change and how our attempts to resist change is generally futile. Mind you it is a tragedy and it does have a pretty bloody ending (in that a number of the main characters end up dead, though the progenitor of change, Dionysus, doesn't, but then again he is a god). There are two things that do strike me about this play, the first being how there are reflections of Christianity in it, particularly early Christianity, and the second involves reflections of the modern rave culture. However, before I go into exploring those two aspects of the play I should give a bit of a background so you may understand where I am coming from.

The cult of Dionysus was a rather new cult to appear in Ancient Greece, as far as the gods are concerned, and he was not one of the traditional gods of the pantheon. He apparently was introduced through migrations from the north, particularly through Thrace. The cult itself was a mystery cult, meaning that the rituals and celebrations tended to be conducted behind closed doors (and this comes out in the Bacchae, particularly since the main worshippers were women). The celebrations (as also comes out in the Bacchae) generally involved drunken revelries out in the bush.

The Bacchae itself is set in the mythical period of Ancient Greece in the city of Thebes. The king of Thebes, Penthius, is concerned about this new cult that has appeared that is seducing all of the women into joining. As such he goes out of his way to attempt to put an end to it, including arresting Dionysus. It is interesting that Dionysus, unlike the gods in many of the other Greek plays, has a major role. Most of the gods in Greek drama tend to only come in at the beginning or the end, either to provide an introduction, or to intervene in a hopeless situation. However Dionysus is one of the major characters in this play.

Anyway Dionysius, in an attempt to defend his cult (and one wonders if his portrayal here is similar to the charismatic cult leaders that we have seen throughout history) convinces Pentheus to spy on one of the celebrations. However, in a drunken haze, the women in the midst of their celebration mistake Pentheus for an mountain goat, capture him, and tear him to pieces. However, the women do not get away scot free as they are exiled for, well, murder, despite their arguments that they were not in control of their faculties at the time.

The idea of the new cult is something that societies have faced throughout time, and it goes to show that the Roman persecution of Christianity is something that is not limited to that particular religion at that particular time. It is interesting to note that in the play Pentheus does not believe that Dionysus is a god, despite certain actions (such as blowing up his palace) that suggest otherwise. Further, the ignorance of the bacchic rites is also similar to Roman ignorance of certain Christian rites, such as the Lord's Supper.

Some have even suggested that Dionysus is a Christ figure, and the introduction to the play even has some similarities with the virgin birth. For instance, Dionysus is born of a woman but has Zeus as his father (though unlike Christianity, where the term 'conceived of the Holy Spirit' does not indicate a sexual union between God and Mary, where it is clear from this play that there was a sexual union between Zeus and Dionysus' mother, though this can be put down to our failure to understand, or accept, the possibility that conception can occur outside of sexual union, though these days this is changing). More interesting is that Dionysus mother is accused of extra-marital sex, which Mary also faced. Another interesting note is that after Dionysus' birth, Zeus hides him to protect him from being killed by a jealous Hera, which has reflections in the Christ story in that Jesus was spirited off to Egypt to protect himself from the murderous rampages of a jealous king.

Some might suggest that I am drawing some rather tenuous examples here, but I would argue otherwise. One of the reasons is generally because of the fear of Christians to look outside the box. We are more than happy to accept the Bible, but to consider anything outside of that, particularly with regards to pagan representations (or could they be prophecies) of the Christ, can open up to many probabilities. I guess it has to do with the conservative bent that most Christians have, in that what has been done over hundreds of years has proven itself and anything that is new can be dangerous or even destructive. However, remember what Paul writes in the book of Thessalonians: test everything, hold onto what is good, and reject what is bad. He did not say 'reject everything' but to 'test everything' which includes age old traditions.

I want to finish off with a comment on the modern rave scene. Okay, the idea of the outdoor rave out in the bush rose out of Britian where, in an attempt to stamp out drug use, the government made raves themselves illegal. However, it could also be suggested that the reason the mystery cults of ancient Greece met out in the bush was because they were also illegal. However (particularly since I have been to raves myself) there is something almost bacchic about the rave. The idea of taking drugs to induce feelings of pleasure, as well as the lights and the sounds adding to that, reflects what was occurring here in the Bacchae. In many cases, the rituals were sensual experiments in pleasure, which is similar to what happens at a rave. This also goes to show that the rave is not something new, but something that has been going on for centuries.

Source: www.goodreads.com/review/show/603871537
More posts
Your Dashboard view:
Need help?