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European Connections: Re-Reading Pío Baroja and English Literature (review)

From: James Joyce Quarterly
Volume 44, Number 3, Spring 2007
pp. 620-623 | 10.1353/jjq.2008.0020

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In a study comparing Spanish writer Pío Baroja's literary achievement to a long list of contemporary or quasi-contemporary European writers—among them Joseph Conrad, Thomas Hardy, Charles Dickens, E. M. Forster, James Joyce, and other well-known representatives of modernism—Katharine Murphy, in European Connections: Re-reading Po Baroja and English Literature, emphasizes similarities between the psyche and the vision of the protagonist Fernando Ossorio in Camino de Perfección (The Road to Perfection) and Stephen Dedalus in A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. While acknowledging that Baroja's major novels are far from original and stylistically different from Joyce's, Murphy points out that "there are connections to be made . . . in terms of linguistic, stylistic and narrative experimentation" (20). To validate her point, the author closely compares Camino and A Portrait, explaining that both works deal with "the artist's vision and identity" (20). She further emphasizes that the writers show a definite inclination to adopt and develop a "revolution of the word" (20). Murphy explains that what they have in common is an approach to the mind of the artist through unconventional narrative modes that highlight the problems he faces in ways especially suitable to a comparative approach.

Although neither Joyce in his letters nor Richard Ellmann in his extensive biography of Joyce ever mentions Baroja, the comparative nature of this study allows for tangential coincidences that are often indicated as a phenomenon of modernism. This seems to be an important point in proving an interdependence between the Spanish and the Irish writers. Murphy explains that while Ossorio, at the conclusion of Camino, renounces art to retain the balance he needs to simplify his life, Stephen Dedalus's rejection of family, religion, and country is complete as he willingly faces an uncertain future where he can fulfill his potentialities. "In each novel," the author suggests, there is "the sense of fragmentation of personality experienced by both protagonists" as they strongly feel the separation from the people they know; in either case, this should be called a conscious search for identity based on the "artistic leanings" of each (23).

What the two artists share, according to Murphy, in addition to this "sense of fragmentation" that determines many of their decisions, are their vision difficulties. She explains that weaknesses in their sight indicate a greater affinity between the two as Stephen laments his myopia and Ossorio, a painter with neurotic tendencies, the distortion of his sight as he experiences an inferno-like vision of Toledo when he sees the city from the distance.

While affirming the differences in Baroja's novelle and Joyce's writing, Murphy also bases a central comparison between them on an assertion in Oscar Wilde's The Picture of Dorian Gray: "every portrait that is painted with feeling is a portrait of the artist, not of the sitter" (27). Murphy affirms that Joyce's transference of colors into words in A Portrait is similar to Baroja's symphony of colors to create a mood. It should be added, however, that, in all probability, memories of Gabriele d'Annunzio linger in this particular passage. Carrying her comparison between Ossorio and Stephen further, Murphy affirms that, far from accepting Stephen's views in A Portrait as the ultimate truth, readers should react with skepticism to his assertions, which to her seem a counterpart to the portrait of Ossorio. Catholicism and the moral problems it poses for both characters in dealing with sexuality are equally conflicted issues for Ossorio and Dedalus, since neither one fully relinquishes his upbringing even when repudiating formal religious training.

Various English writers, including Dickens, inspired Baroja. Murphy asserts that Dickens's foggy panorama of London may have led Baroja to write La Ciudad de la Niebla (The City of Fog) (114) and that Conrad's Heart of Darkness may have been the basic text for Baroja's Las Inquietudes de Shanti Anda (The Restlessness of Shanti Andia) (171).

Murphy's collection of essays convincingly searches for relationships among writers of European modernism, a movement so varied yet so connected in its spirit of multiform innovations that comparisons often must be limited to similar efforts varying from country to...

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