Academic journal article Romance Notes

Juan Valera and the Business of Literature: Epistolary Confessions on Publishing in the 19th Century

Academic journal article Romance Notes

Juan Valera and the Business of Literature: Epistolary Confessions on Publishing in the 19th Century

Article excerpt

WITHIN the vast corpus of Juan Valera's personal correspondence there is a sizable selection which strictly deals with the state of literature--past, present and future--and various theories concerning the different literary genres, be they Valera's own ideas and texts, or those of other figures. Characteristic of all of his letters, don Juan seldom discriminates with whom he is corresponding to discuss the topic of literature, especially since his addressees tended to be well educated, intelligent people. However, the most insightful examples are letters exchanged with other writers, where he typically expressed his true opinions regarding all elements of the writing profession. While many of these letters provide clues to the creative process of don Juan, there is one topic which has become the most frequently mentioned and stresses the economic strain Valera felt all of his professional life: that of publication and editorial houses. In order to understand the process of getting a book or an article published in the second half of 19th century Spain, one need only consult the various volumes of Valera's correspondence. Also, don Juan's constant urging of his contemporaries to write and publish--even if submitting something to a daily or a periodical--shows his dismay with the state of Spanish literature of the era, as well as his love for his country, which he believes can once again be seen as a prominent world power, if only from a cultural standpoint. This then meant a constant improvement in the quality of Spanish literature.

In a letter written to the Duque de la Torre, Valera sums up the majority of his commercial experiences in his chosen career as a writer. Commenting upon the sale of his novels and the praise given to a volume of his literary criticism, Valera remarks, "lo cual podia satisfacer algo mi amor propio de autor pero no llena mi bolsillo. Aqui se lo llevan todo editores y libreros. Para hacer algunos reales es menester tomar otro oficio o sudar tinta a chorros y lanzar cuartillas a centenares sin tregua ni reposo" (Correspondencia 56). Despite this rather pessimistic attitude, Valera constantly urged fellow authors to continue to improve upon their craft and submit items to be published, so as to once again move Spain to the forefront of world literature. It is through Valera's private letters that he provides a fairly detailed, although somewhat biased, account of the publishing world of the 19th century, with commentary on several publishers and editorial houses, as well as his encouragement of lesser-known authors, so as to afford the modern day reader an idea of what it took to be a successful author in Valera's time.

Prior to success as a novelist, and his relationship with editorial houses, Valera's primary medium of expression was newspapers and periodicals. In the 1850's and 1860's he was constantly associated with several dailies, both as contributor and editor, such as Revista peninsular, Cronica de ambos mundos, La Malva (which he himself started) and El Contemporaneo. This medium proved one of the better ways to expose authors to a wide audience. Monetary compensation was slim if one were lucky, but if a writer was successful, a series of articles, poems or stories, and novels published in fragments, could lead to a publishing house producing such works in volume form. Encouraging Gumersindo Laverde to send him original work, Valera tries to focus on the positive, particularly the opportunity to earn a few "reales." Regarding the editor of the Cronica de ambos mundos, Valera notes: "El Sr. Ayllon es excelente y todo lo recibe y paga, de suerte que recelo que va a fundar, no una revista, sino un hospicio literario" (151 Cartas 53). However, one of Valera's faults being his lack of economic presence, he goes on to say "Yo no he cobrado aun nada por los mios [articulos], ni por el de Vd., ni por uno de mi tio Galiano que tambien le he llevado. No sirvo para esplotar (sic) a nadie y dejo que me esploten (sic)" (54). …

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