restricted access 6. The Pleasures of the Imagination and the Body
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ch a pter 6 The Pleasures of the Imagination and the Body I n an article published in 1833, “La fonda nueva,” author Mariano José Larra describes a conversation with a French tourist visiting Madrid to learn about Spanish life: “What country is this?” asked the traveler. “I am sure there will be here great horse racing; we will not miss them.” “Excuse me,” answered Fígaro, “we do not have horse racing.” “Don’t young people of distinguished families like to race with their own horses?” “No, they do not race with horses.” “All right, we will go to a country house to take pleasure of the day.” “There are no country houses; we do not take pleasure of the day.” “But, there may be all sorts of different games, like in the rest of Europe . . . I am sure there are pleasure gardens where one can dance; maybe of smaller size . . . I am sure there may be some kind of games for public amusement.” “There is nothing for the public: The public do not play.” “Patience,” said the Frenchman, “we will be satisfied by attending the soirees and balls in the houses of respectable families.” “Easy, my friend,” interrupted Figaro. “In Madrid there are no social balls, no soirees. Each one chats, or prays, or does his will in his own house with a few very close friends, and that’s all.”1 Larra’s text offers a definite and disturbing assessment: Madrid is not like Paris, and Spain is not like France or even the rest of Europe. This critique was a recurring theme in his work, argued poignantly in his article “El castellano 170 • The Rise of Middle-Class Culture in Nineteenth-Century Spain Viejo.” In Larra’s eyes, Spain’s weak middle class was the problem. Existing in limited numbers and only in certain areas of Spain, its members did not display refinement, good taste, and gentility. Compared to their French and British counterparts, the Spanish middle classes seemed ignorant about appropriate conduct, and worse, their forms of entertainment and sociability lacked refinement and sophistication.2 Monday was the only day of the week Madrilenians enjoyed a collective form of public entertainment: the bullfight. “There [to the bullring],” wrote Larra, “everyone comes with pride to manifest their lack of feelings, and to show that their favorite form of entertainment is to fill their eyes with blood, and they laugh, and clap while admiring the slaughter caused by corrida.”3 Larra might have continued his argument against bullfighting, but before he died at twenty-nine his opinions about the availability of civic forms of entertainment and sociability in Madrid had begun to change.4 In June 1834, one year after “La fonda nueva” appeared, he published “Jardines públicos,” an article about the opening in Madrid of a European-style pleasure garden, El Jardin de las Delicias.5 It opened in May 1834, in the proximity of Madrilenian Paseo de Recoletos, and Larra celebrated the new public space as proof “of a new tendency taken by the city.” Had he survived into the 1840s, he might have found further proof of change in the appearance of the first public horse racing track (hipódromo) in Madrid’s suburbs, as well as new, more sophisticated pleasure gardens promoting refined music and social balls in Barcelona and Madrid. The enjoyment of entertainments that were decorous, productive, and cultivated—Enlightenment thinkers called them “pleasures of the imagination”—was an attribute that came to be expected in the hombre fino.6 The idea that high culture and entertainment could be spiritually energizing as well as a means to attain social distinction had been debated since antiquity. What had begun to change in the eighteenth century, however, was the social use and meaning of these entertainments.7 The Renaissance had introduced in Western culture an unprecedented expansion of literature, art, and music. At first it was restricted to royal courts, aristocratic palaces, and their surroundings, but over time high culture became increasingly accessible to the middle ranks of society. John Brewer has explained this shift as the result of two developments in the eighteenth century. The first was economic. Scottish philosophers and political economists began to argue that trade and economic The Pleasures of the Imagination and the Body • 171 exchange was useful not only because it brought prosperity and welfare, but also because it encouraged refinement and the propagation of good taste. The second development in the social use and meaning...


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