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Harley Granville-Barker and the Response to Spanish Theater, 1920-1932 David Callahan The virtual disappearance of Harley Granville-Barker from an active role in the English theater after 1906 or 1907 has provided a constant source of speculation and regret. This speculation has often laid the blame on Granville-Barker's second wife, Helen, whose wealth was said to have removed the necessity for hard labor in the wings and whose own literary interests supposedly sidetracked her husband into unworthy projects. These unworthy projects were the translation of a number of contemporary Spanish plays between 1920 and 1932. Was this an effacement of Granville-Barker in an activity that took its meaning for him precisely because it was a denial of the literary scene in which he had labored so hard and at times so frustratedly? Or was it an attempt to track what it was in the theater that was significant by immersing himself in an alien theatrical tradition, seeking some theatrical presence beyond local forms? Although assessments on his activity have been generally negative, it seems that the latter explanation offers a better explanation of Granville-Barker's involvement in translating Spanish plays than the somewhat atavistic reading of his wife as literary succubus. When Granville-Barker and his wife began these translations, English awareness of Spanish theater was almost non-existent; even the Golden Age of Spanish drama in the seventeenth century was ignored, and only four Spanish plays were performed in London between 1909 and 1919—including, in 1912, two performances of Jacinto Benavente's The Bias of the World (Los intereses creados) ? DAVID CALLAHAN teaches at the University of Aveiro in Portugal after completing studies at the University of Aukland in New Zealand and the University of London. He has recently published articles on Ortega y Gasset in England and on the work of Peter Carey. 129 130Comparative Drama The reception afforded Benavente provides an introduction and at times a sub-text to that afforded the authors GranvilleBarker was to translate—Martinez Sierra and the brothers Alvarez Quintero. How had the English literary world been able to respond to a writer from a culture generally marginalized in Britain who had very suddenly achieved approval (in 1922) through that institution of literary power which is the Nobel Prize? That this was even then a player in the world of literary authority can be seen by the publishing history of the translations of Benavente's plays. Four volumes of these translations were provided by American J. G. Underhill, the last two of which were also published in London (i.e., only after it was known that he had won the Nobel Prize). Issued in 1917, 1919, 1923, and 1924, the gap between the second and third volumes suggests that the demand had not warranted Underbill's continuing after the first two—not, that is, until the even then commercially advantageous stimulus of the prize. Indeed, the first two volumes were also re-issued in 1923, this time in London as well as in New York, and it was these which were reviewed in Britain. The fourth volume, for example, was handled in the London Mercury in 1925 by the high-minded classicist and minor poet Archibald Campbell, who found in Benavente's work "at times a polished, and even occasionally searching, sententiousness such as is not to be found in our own drama more recently than Sheridan." He then made a comment which was to recur at several points in the history of the English response to Spanish drama during this period—a comment which sought to establish the latter's characteristics in terms of what it differed from and what it thus provided an escape from. Spanish drama became the occasion for many critics to vent their spleen against a strain of theater to which they were opposed and which appeared to them to hold too large a part of current attention. Campbell accordingly stressed the contrast between Benavente's work and that of "Northern Europe," which he condemned as being "as inartistic as immoral, crude as it is silly, [and] which now threatens to monopolise the Northern theatre." Benavente's work could be set...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1936-1637
Print ISSN
0010-4078
Pages
pp. 129-146
Launched on MUSE
2016-10-05
Open Access
No
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