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  • Jornaleros de la pluma: La (re)definición del papel del escritor-periodista en la revista 'Madrid Cómico.'
  • Vernon A. Chamberlin
Margot Versteeg . Jornaleros de la pluma: La (re)definición del papel del escritor-periodista en la revista 'Madrid Cómico.'Madrid: Iberoamericana-Vervuert, 2011. 362 pp.

This important book has the following divisions: Introduction: La imagen distorsionada de la revista Madrid Cómico ; Chapter one: "Sinesio Delgado: los límites del periodismo festivo"; Chapter two: "La pluma de hacer pesetas: Leopoldo Alas"; Chapter three: "Luis Taboada: las crónicas de un olvidado flâneur madrileño" ; Chapter four: "Un hidalgo antiguo con aspecto de un clubman moderno: Jacinto Octavio Picón"; Chapter five: "Jacinto Benavente, un 'mozo iconoclasta' director de Madrid Cómico"; Chapter six: "La Gaceta de Madrid de José Martinez Ruiz"; "Epílogo: hacia una (re)definición del papel del escritor-periodista"; and "Bibliografía."

In the introduction we learn that the weekly satirical periodical Madrid Cómico, which ran from 1880-1923, experienced six phases during its lifetime. It enjoyed a vast circulation and was read throughout Spain. In addition to personal subscriptions, it was ubiquitously available in cafés, casinos, barbershops, boarding houses, and street kiosks. Its popularity inspired imitations, including a Barcelona Cómico and a Valencia Cómico. Previous disparagement and under-evaluation of Madrid Cómico is understandable because of such patent elements as its frontispiece caricatures, interior cartoons, jokes, satire, festive tone, and humorous poems. However, in this first extensive study of this periodical, Margot Versteeg, reminds us that the magazine also had a continual, very dedicated interest in literature. Several aspiring writers, who later became well known, were able to get their start and hone their craft in its pages. These authors had considerable freedom to express their opinions and to dialogue with each other and the readers, as they were also helping to form nineteenth-century Spanish society.

Chapter one explains how Madrid Cómico came to have such an unusual mix of contents. Most importantly, Sinesio Delgado, the second owner and redactor jefe of the periodical (1883-1897), was himself a literature enthusiast. In addition to zarzuelas and género chico theater pieces, he also wrote much festive poetry. In fact, he published a poem in Madrid Cómico while he was still a young provincial, before he ever came to Madrid, where he joined the staff, subsequently purchased the periodical, and intensified its literary component. He was the right man at the right time—an audacious entrepreneur who knew how to combine the interests of the magazine with the interests of the new Spanish nation. He also knew how to engage the readers and attract writer talent, as he paid his collaborators well and promptly.

An ardent innovator, he once had a series of writers create one chapter each of a novel in progress, with Leopoldo Alas ("Clarín") being the most prominent contributor. Delgado loved to organize all sorts of contests to engage the readers and stimulate the sales of his Madrid Cómico. Some of these contests had to do with the changing position of the Spanish woman. Women in the periodical were seldom represented as ángeles del hogar. Rather we see their activities outside the home—strolling, chatting, shopping, at the [End Page 142] theater or a masked ball, if not skating at the roller rink. In one issue he raised the question "Should women have the same rights as men," and he facilitated opinions on both sides of the issue. That he had many women readers is evidenced by the fact that many of Madrid Cómico's advertisements were directed to women. Additionally, Delgado and his graphic illustrator Ramón Cilla also travelled widely through the Spanish provinces collecting costumbrista material, so that Spaniards would have a better sense of their own country, now not someone's imperial possession, but rather a nation in formation. Ironically, it was the same Delgado, with his excessive patriotism during the Cuban War, who contributed most to a diminished reputation for the magazine.

In chapter two, " La pluma de hacer pesetas: Leopold Alas, 'Clarín,'" we learn how a mild-mannered...


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