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Reviewed by:
  • Bullfighting: A Troubled History
  • Gonzalo Flores Aguilar
Hardouin-Fugier, Elisabeth. Bullfighting: A Troubled History. London: Reaktion Books, 2010. Pp. 208. References, photo acknowledgments, index, and 182 illustrations with 134 in color. £19.95, $35.

From its beginnings, the bullfighting world has generated major controversy in our society; while its aficionados consider it art, sport, tradition, and culture, its opponents, consider it an irrational, cruel, and savage activity. Bullfighting: A Troubled History is the first book, through eleven chapters written from an anti-bullfighting perspective, to offer a transcultural study, supported by data and figures and perfectly illustrated, of the history of bullfighting in Europe and Latin America. Hardoin-Fugier’s words are accompanied by a collection of 182 illustrations by such relevant artists as Picasso, Goya, Manet, Dalí, Velázquez, Botero and others, and will surprise the reader with what is a truly pleasurable read.

The author, Hardoin-Fugier, who is a professor of art history at the Université Jean Moulin in Lyon and also an expert on anti-bullfighting, accepted the initiative of CAS International (the biggest anti-bullfighting organization in the world based in Utrecht in the Netherlands), of translating into English and publishing her book Histoire de la Corrida en Europe in order to reveal the cruelty of bullfighting to a wider audience.

The first chapter, “Fighting Bulls,” is fundamental in doing that by introducing and contextualizing the world of bullfighting to the reader. The largest section of the book explains possibly unfamiliar bullfighting terminology and codes, and the detailed descriptions help one to understand the content. An example of this is the shocking description of the pain suffered by the bull in the bullring: “often while the animal was still alive, a knife was used to cut off the ear” (p. 15); “the estocada (death blow given with the estoque sword) is rarely a death blow. . . . [I]t is due to exhaustion and asphyxiation; having lost a great deal of blood and used up all its oxygen running, the bull ends up suffocating because its lungs are flooded” (p. 31).

Once the reader has been introduced to the subject, the author explains what the earliest fiestas (festivals) and games were like in Spain from the sixteenth century, in which bulls and horses figured prominently: “Bloodshed formed an integral part of the Spanish celebrations” (p. 9). Magnificently documented, the book unveils the evolution of said festivals towards the modern-day concept of bullfighting and how these were exported to Latin America and the south of France.

In this regard, I would like to highlight the way bullfighting is compared to the public executions carried out by the Inquisition in the chapter “Capital Punishment.” It seems that both caused the same reaction among the audience, which shows that violence-based forms of entertainment have a long history (e.g., gladiator fights in Ancient Rome).

Hardoin-Fugier’s spectacular descriptions go on to reveal the social and economic origins of bullfighting events and the way they influenced society, the economy, infrastructures, etc. in the cities where they were held. As Hardoin-Fugier explains: “Bullfighting was a part of capitalism’s future, although, by its very nature, the spectacle was rooted firmly in the past. It was a hymn to violence” (p. 36). [End Page 326]

The remaining chapters jump ahead in time to explore the history of bullfighting in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries through to the present day. It analyzes the first impressions of bullfighting among travelers to Spain and South America, which were reflected in pictures and writings. It then presents works by Goya (Tauromaquia, etc.), which sought to “make hidden violence visible” (p. 85), and Hemingway (Death in the Afternoon), who was a loyal fan and admirer of the bullfight. Finally, there is a very correct and well-illustrated explanation of the relationship between bullfighting and the world of art, opera, dance, and even cinema.

After detailing bullfighting’s past, the final chapter, “The Fight against Bullfighting Today,” shows the present-day situation of a fiesta that is losing supporters and is the source of controversy and rejection. One example is what has recently happened in Catalonia, a territory that has totally outlawed bullfighting...


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pp. 326-327
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