Modernism and the New Spain: Britain, Cosmopolitan Europe, and Literary History

By Berman, Jessica | Woolf Studies Annual, Annual 2013 | Go to article overview

Modernism and the New Spain: Britain, Cosmopolitan Europe, and Literary History


Berman, Jessica, Woolf Studies Annual


Modernism and the New Spain: Britain, Cosmopolitan Europe, and Literary History. Gayle Rogers (New York and Oxford: Oxford UP, 2012) xvii + 283pp.

In 1929, when T.S. Eliot went looking for a way to bolster co-operation and "a community of interest" in Europe among post-war writers, thinkers and critics, one of the primary journals he chose for collaboration was the Revista de Occidente, edited in Spain by Jose Ortega y Gasset. Along with the Nouvelle Revue Francaise (France), the Nuova Antologia (Italy), and the Europaische Revue (Germany), Eliot's Criterion and Ortega's Revista de Occidente would offer a prize for a piece of short fiction that would be translated and published in several periodicals across Europe at the same time. The winning work would have to exhibit both local and international sensibilities. In the words of Ortega, it must be both "deeply rooted in the author's native land" and "have a European scope" (29). That Ortega and the Revista shared Eliot's vision about this project and became important partners in the quest to create a cosmopolitan literary Europe might come as a surprise to many English language readers, to whom the Revista is hardly a household name. Spanish writing in the early years of the twentieth century is too little known in its own right and too little acknowledged for its contributions to European modernism.

But as Gayle Rogers points out in his meticulously researched and fluent book, Modernism and the New Spain: Britain, Cosmopolitan Europe, and Literary History, Ortega and the Revista were at the center of an important and influential literary movement in interwar Spain, which helped nurture a cadre of important Spanish writers and circulate their work to Paris and London. These writers in the Ortega circle participated in a profound and wide-reaching aesthetic and critical conversation across Europe, and were significant, Rogers argues, in the development of English writing in the twenties and thirties. Critics, such as Antonio Marichalar whose 1924 essay "James Joyce in his Labyrinth" helped bring Joyce to Spanish readers (and is included in this volume), also wrote for Eliot's Criterion, helping to forge the links between Spain and England. They also helped create Ortega and the interwar Spanish vanguard writers as crucial interlocutors in the discussion about European culture and cosmopolitanism in England in the interwar years.

Rogers makes a strong case for the importance of Spain in the intellectual consciousness at mid-century. His chapter on the ties between the Revista and the Criterion make clear that the Revista's version of vanguard writing was imagined in the context of a deep commitment to cosmopolitanism. Marichalar in particular served a role something like that famously played by Valery Larbaud in France, promoting and publishing in Spain "the first commentaries on most every figure of Anglophone modernism" and translating "Joyce, Strachey, Woolf and Faulkner into Spanish" (23). At the same time, Rogers argues that Spain begins to function as a productive site for reflection on Europe and on cosmopolitanism more generally. From Molly's Spanish roots in Joyce's Ulysses to Auden's "Spain," and--of course--Woof's concern with the Spanish Civil War in Three Guineas, the country figures as a point of reference, counterpoint and engagement for a generation of English writers.

Rogers begins with a fascinating chapter on Ortega's Revista, opening up a picture for English readers of the range of vanguard writing that was published in the journal between 1923 and 1936 when Ortega went into exile. Committed to a philosophy of cultural and political cosmopolitanism, Ortega consciously sought to join literary conversations across Europe and to bring innovative techniques and critical concepts to Spain. As Rogers claims, "British writers came to hold a privileged position as like-minded voices of the new cosmopolitanism that the journal articulated . …

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