- Romanticism and the Anglo-Hispanic Imaginary
Comprising fourteen essays that sketch in detail the Anglo-Hispanic historiography of the romantic era in Britain and the Americas, this volume offers a clear framework for understanding a deep-seated transcultural relational complex. In essence the essays articulate and explore the translation of culture, geography, and identity through the translation and cross-exchange of language, literature, liberal ideology, nationalisms, and history. The reigning themes of the volume are yoked together by a concern with transnationalism. Several essays treat the individual experiences of transnationals such as Blanco White, Francisco Miranda and Thomas Cochrane, whereas others address cultural, social, symbolic, and finance capital and their ideological and political role in Anglo-Hispanic relations or address the process of multiply layered translation in which translation of language, culture, and history winds up functioning as a trope. These explorations reveal that the intercultural imaginary that developed out of the historically antagonistic and competitive relations between England and Spain, which continued in their colonial rivalry in the Americas, undergoes a crucial reversal in the wake of Napoleonic aggression and Britain’s decision to help defend Spain against French occupation. Britain’s intervention was more than a shoring up of weakened states against Napoleon; it was also an acquisitive gesture toward Spain’s endangered and destabilized colonial territories. Yet it was this very intervention and acquisitiveness that necessitated both a better understanding and documentation of Spain’s geography (especially for military purposes), history, culture, and literary tradition. What had been known about Spain via Don Quixote and a handful of other well-known texts was vastly outdated and misleading, and part of the romantic renaissance in Spain was not only British translation of the unknown into the knowable but Spain’s resurgent interest in its own history and traditions. [End Page 298] Here the intercultural exchange that took place was particularly effective and mutually beneficial.
Joselyn Almeida’s introduction does a commendable job of situating the range of essays and their sequencing while providing an overall topography of the field. As she indicates, this is a field too little treated in English studies, and in the discipline of romantic studies—which focuses on the period in which British-Spanish relations underwent a considerable shift in loyalties and interests—a detailing of the different aspects of this feature of the romantic imaginary is decidedly called for. That said, the heavy emphasis on history, historiography, and biography over analyses of literary works reveals an anxiety that the literature of the period will not convey the realities that structured the cultural imaginary under discussion. Certainly some essays, such as Nanora Sweet’s chapter, “The Forest Sanctuary: The Anglo-Hispanic Uncanny in Felicia Hemans and José María Blanco White,” are able to combine historiography, biography, and close reading to provide a sense of the deep interrelatedness of the Anglo-Hispanic exchange, but more typically the essays briefly mention works—or more usually, literary venues such as periodicals and correspondence networks—as a supplement to the larger historical picture. The imaginary itself becomes difficult to discern, although its contexts, stimulants, and desiderata are well described.
Nevertheless, despite its heavy emphasis on historiography, the best article of the volume may well be Diego Saglia’s wonderful “Iberian Translations: Writing Spain into British Culture, 1780–1830,” which opens the book. This chapter boils down Saglia’s important book on Anglo-Spanish relations, Poetic Castles in Spain: British Romanticism and Figurations of Iberia (2000), into its essential concepts. He begins by noting that Spain had been for Britain a backward and static “closed system,” a “densely overwritten terrain that may be read and interpreted through a multiplicity of fictional transcriptions” (28). By the end of the romantic period, however, the “Romantic (re)writing of Spain was . . . a writing of otherness, a ‘heterography’ that recognized, recovered, and reorganized a multiplicity of convergent differences. . . . Its result was that Spain was effectively re-translated and reformulated into an updated geocultural archive” (33). Such a transformation could not have been effected without the aid of...