- The Eve of Spain: Myths of Origins in the History of Christian, Muslim and Jewish Conflict
In The Eve of Spain, Patricia Grieve has produced a tour de force of erudition. The scope of the book spans the eighth to the twenty-first centuries, covering a rang of cultural production from medieval chronicles to nineteenth-century Romantic art, Civil War propaganda, political cartoons, and authors such as Alfonso X, Ahmad al-Razi, Gonzalo de Berceo, Pedro de Corral, Lope de Vega, Fray Luis de León, Washington Irving, Walter Scott, Ramón Menéndez Pidal and Juan Goytisolo, to name only a few of the numerous references to artists, histories and historians, paintings, plays, poetry, myths and legends that tie the stories of the fall of the Visigothic kingdom to Spain's traditions of neo-Gothic nationalism, anti-Semitism, misogyny and maurophobia.
The book is divided into three "acts" —"Fall and Redemption" (711-1492); "Promise and Fulfillment" (1492-1700); "Imagining Spain (The Enlightenment to the Present)"— and six chapters, each with separately titled subsections, plus a prologue, interlude, and epilogue. It is accessible to a general audience, revisiting many of the familiar histories of Spain from 711 to the present, but The Eve of Spain is also professionally prepared with extensive endnotes, a critical bibliography and a helpful index that will aid scholarly readers in new research projects that the book will certainly inspire. In spite of its ambitious breadth and what Grieve describes as a "vast array of texts examined and referenced" (207), the author never loses sight of her main subject matter, the myriad recastings of legends and their intersections with cultural anxieties about the nation's gendered, racial, and religious genealogies, many of which are also linked to the histories of the Castilian monarchy. [End Page 220]
Grieve outlines the broad goals of her book in the prologue, where she states that it is a history of Spain studied through the lens of its foundational legends, or myths of origins. While the book does indeed explore various legends —such as the story of the Jewess of Toledo, and other notorious lies that stand at the heart of Spain's darkest national atrocities, such as the legend of the Santo Nino de la Guardia— the foundational myth that receives the most critical attention is the popular story of Rodrigo, the last king of the Visigoths, and La Cava, whose rape lead to the revenge of her father, Julián, and the Muslim conquest. Of particular interest to the author in this legend is the character of La Cava, who is gradually transformed into the eroticized temptress that causes the fall of Spain; in essence, she is a new Iberian Eve. In the same development of the legend, Grieve shows how over time, in chronicles, ballads and modern histories, Rodrigo became a morally ambivalent character, led astray by a seductive woman and his own human —and ultimately pardonable— frailties.
Grieve is at her best when studying La Cava and the representation of women in general: women's bodies and their sexuality, race and religion as they are rebranded and implicated in both popular and official narratives of Spain's national identity. Characters like La Cava, Leocadia, and the Jewess of Toledo, or real women like Queen Isabel, are studied as templates upon which are inscribed fears of loss and domination, of racial and religious impurity, of subversive sexual impulses that threaten the Christian kingdom from within. They also represent the embodiment of the nation itself in her dichotomized representations: as fallen Eve or redemptive Eva; as the lost Christian nation or the risen new monarchy; or as empire, dictatorship, or modern democracy.
Grieve traces the development of this legend in the first three chapters (ch. 1, "Setting the Stage"; ch. 2, "Granada Is the Bride"; ch. 3, "Blood Will Out"), beginning with the earliest Christian and Muslim versions that tend to highlight the notion of God's punishment on one hand and, on...