Emilia Pardo Bazán was born in La Coruña in the northwestern province of Galicia on September 16, 1851, to a well-placed family. Although she did not receive a formal higher education, she had access to private libraries that enabled the precocious young woman opportunities to read widely in Spanish and other literature and to study the classics. Her determination to learn in spite of conventions that ruled against higher education for women marked her early on as a rebel. Her refusal to accept rules for women was a distinctive mark throughout her life and long literary career.
Pardo Bazán’s marriage is one illustration of her quest for independence. She married José Quiroga Pérez Pinal in 1868 and had two daughters and one son. Her husband apparently was no match for the strong woman; the couple separated in 1885. Pardo Bazán took up permanent residence in Madrid where she enjoyed life at Spain’s cultural and artistic center. She even established a salon, which attracted well-known intellectuals and artists of the day. Neither personal nor intellectual independence, however, persuaded her away from her Catholic heritage; she remained fervently Catholic throughout her life.
Pardo Bazán’s zest for travel took her away from Madrid periodically as it had from Galicia. As early as 1871 she had traveled in France, Italy, and England; she learned enough English to read Shakespeare. A year later she was in Vienna, this time learning German and translating the poetry of Heine. In 1886 she was in Paris where she met Emile Zola, the Goncourt brothers, and Huysmann. While in France she came into contact with French Naturalism, fin de siècle literature, and contemporary Russian literature, which she read in French translation. Her interest in Russian letters led to her 1887 book on the subject of the revolution and novel in Russia. Further trips took her to Rome (1887), Portugal (1888), and Belgium and Holland (1902).