Reflections of the War of 1898 in Pardo Bazan's Fiction and Travel Chronicles
Henn, David, The Modern Language Review
Nine years before the war between Spain and the United States, Emilia Pardo Bazan made a number of harsh comments concerning the state and potential effectiveness of the Spanish army. These opinions, expressed when Pardo Bazan was attending the Paris Exhibition of 1889, provoked a fierce response in Spain, a good deal of which amounted to little more than personal attacks on the Galician author. Pardo Bazan had spent much of 1889 away from Spain, travelling through France, Switzerland, and Bavaria, even crossing into the Austro-Hungarian Empire when she visited the spa town of Karlsbad, about seventy miles to the west of Prague. However, for most of the six months that she was abroad, she lived in the French capital, visiting and writing about the Exhibition. These chronicles from Paris, largely destined for publication in Spanish-American newspapers, were generally descriptive and informative, commenting on a variety of aspects of the Exhibition (including, of course, the brand-new Eiffel Tower) and also providing background material on the issues of the day in France, such as politics, culture, and scandals, as well as revealing the author's thoughts on matters with more of a Spanish or Spanish-American flavour.
Most of the pieces that Pardo Bazan wrote, which were subsequently incorporated in Al pie de la torre Eiffel (1889) and Por Francia y por Alemania (1890), were not controversial. However, on 7 June, in a discussion of the military strength of various European countries, she made a number of observations that were to touch some raw nerves back in Spain. After commenting at length on the might and skill of the army of the German Empire, she rounded on the Spanish army. Whereas the regiments of Kaiser Wilhelm were disciplined, well equipped, and smartly turned out, the Spanish military, in contrast, indicated how the officer corps could run to seed in time of peace. According to the author, Spanish officers came to loathe their calling, let their hair, beards, and bellies grow, got married, and became thoroughly domesticated. The net result of all this was that while the army was costing the country a fortune, it was also, in the eyes of Pardo Bazan, incapable of doing the job for which it was paid. As she bluntly put it: 'En un trance critico de ningun apuro nos sacaria.' (1) Then, just to hammer home the point, she went on to claim that the high cost of the army was ruining Spain and, for good measure, added that all Spaniards were convinced that 'cualquier guerra pararia en el mayor desastre' (p. 185).
Whatever the fairness of Pardo Bazan's assessment of the Spanish army in 1889, the fact remains that, ultimately, her prognosis was correct. Indeed, in 1899 she used the prologue to the second edition of Al pie de la torre Eiffel to indulge in a moderate vindication of her original comments, a reaction that was entirely understandable. Ten years earlier, her opinions had been dismissed and ridiculed in the press, she had been accused of being unpatriotic, and an anonymous officer had even published a sixty-two page pamphlet in which he not only scoffed at Pardo Bazan's criticisms of the army but also mocked, section by section, the whole of Al pie de la torre Eiffel. (2) Of course, the events of 1898 had intensified public interest in the so-called 'cuestion militar', and in a newspaper article published the following year Pardo Bazan stated that there was still a good deal of interest in her comments made in Al pie de la torre Eiffel, a factor that had weighed heavily in the decision to republish the work. (3) In that same newspaper piece, she wrote of the 'road to Calvary' that Spain had travelled during the previous decade and also noted that she had become much more lenient with those she had been so swift to censure a few years before.
Yet, in the aftermath of the war of 1898 not everyone in the country escaped her strictures. In April 1899, almost exactly a year after the United States Congress had declared war on Spain, she published an article, entitled 'Asfixia', in the weekly magazine La Ilustracion Artistica. …