restricted access Pepita Jiménez by Juan Valera (review)
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Juan Valera. Pepita Jiménez. Trad. Robert M. Fedorchek, intro. James Whiston. Aris & Phillips Spanish Classics. Oxford: Oxbow Books, 2012. 295pp.

Professor Fedorchek has produced an excellent translation to English of Juan Valera’s novel Pepita Jiménez, one of the most popular and delightful of Spain’s nineteenth century works of prose fiction. The exterior of the book gives pleasure to the eyes with the red and yellow colors of Spain’s national flag framing a picture of a comely young woman in widow’s black, an outfit she will leave soon after meeting the handsome seminarian hero of the novel.

This edition will be very helpful to critics approaching the novel from many diverse points of view. The outstanding introduction by James Whiston suggests the many subjects that may be considered, from theology to Valera’s treatment of women. Perhaps most important is the historical perspective he provides of Spain at the time when Valera began writing Pepita Jiménez, the first of his eight completed novels. It was a time when the church was being forced to surrender some of its power to a more secular government. Indeed, the absolute authority of the monarchy and its position of the King’s or Queen’s rule “by the grace of God” was being called into question. Maybe the novel in an indirect way can relate today to questions of chastity of the priesthood, ordination of women and same sex marriage. At least it causes the reader to question existing traditional customs.

Whiston’s introduction also gives us insight into Juan Valera’s aristocratic life experience and how it introduced him to a diplomatic career. It was from foreign posts that he wrote long descriptive letters, so much appreciated by friends and colleagues at home. This helped him polish his epistolary style that he effectively transferred to his fictional characters.

Whiston gives emphasis to two elements of the novel that play important roles in the fiction. They are the “world of nature” in the spring of Andalusia as a seducer, and the town “casino” as an important center of the residents’ life, particularly for the men. One needs to spend time in Doña Mencía, Cabra or one of the many other small cities of Andalusia in the spring to appreciate the intoxicating sensual delight of Mother Nature there. The fragrance of the blossoms, the clarity of the air and the songs of the birds are an overwhelming force on the youth and vitality of the two young lovers.

Likewise, one must experience the Andalusia town casino to know what it is. It is an in-town club visited and used by the richer residents. The one in the city of Cabra today is presumed to be the one depicted in the novel. Today the walls of the patio have scenes from Pepita Jiménez. The casino is a place to gather with friends for seasonal tapas such as caracoles (snails), little ones boiled in garlic water and eaten from the shell with a tooth pick while sipping a glass of fino (sherry wine) or a beer. Throughout the year the snacks will include bread sticks, jamón Serrano (paper thin slices of old cured ham) and queso manchego (sheep cheese from La Mancha). The casino is also a place to go on Sunday morning, perhaps after mass, to drink coffee and eat a sweet roll while reading the newspaper.

Professor Whiston provides a selected bibliography useful to any reader. To his list [End Page 135] of English Translations of Valera’s Novels, add Generous Rafaela, a translation of Genio y figura…, Borgo Press, San Bernardino, CA. 1993, translated by Robert G. Trimble.

Professor Fedorchek for this edition chooses to provide us with opposing pages of the original Spanish and his translation, and it includes at the end two introductions by the author of later editions he published.

The first task of a translator is to understand thoroughly the language and meanings of the original. The second is, in so far as is possible, to transfer all the nuances of those meanings into the second or target language. I say, “in so far...