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  • The Rise of Middle-Class Culture in Nineteenth-century Spain by Jesus Cruz
  • Eric Storm
The Rise of Middle-Class Culture in Nineteenth-century Spain. By Jesus Cruz (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 2011. 294 pp.).

In general surveys of nineteenth-century Europe, Spain is often neglected. During this period, Spain was no longer a great power and many considered it a backward country when compared to France, the United Kingdom, and the German Empire. As a result, historians specializing in Spain have most often studied the history of this period in terms of failure, backwardness, and frustration. However, more recently scholars have started to study the modernization process as a trans-national phenomenon which did not follow a single normative course, but took many different paths. Thus, within the wider European context, Spanish developments are no longer considered a great exception. Jesus Cruz, who is professor of Iberian Studies at the University of Delaware and a specialist in late eighteenth and early nineteenth-century Spanish history, makes a significant contribution to this trend by studying the dissemination of bourgeois lifestyles in Spain. He argues that, as elsewhere in Europe, the attitudes, social rituals, tastes, ways of socializing, and the symbols of the middle classes became hegemonic by the end of the century.

Based on extensive research in archives and libraries, Cruz provides a highly readable account of Spanish bourgeois culture in almost all its aspects, from conduct and conventions, to homes, material culture, fashion, consumption, urban planning, sociability, and entertainment. Using a large number of etiquette books, probate inventories, private documents, newspapers, magazines, and novels, he presents fascinating insights into the rise and consolidation of the bourgeois way of life in Spain. Each of the six thematic chapters starts with [End Page 255] an up-to-date overview of international scholarship on this particular topic and then continues with an in-depth analysis of Spanish developments. He focuses his discussion mainly on Madrid and Barcelona which represent two very different cases. The first, being the capital, housed the court, a substantial part of the country’s nobility and a large number of politicians and officials, while Barcelona was dominated by the commercial and industrial bourgeoisie that at least partially identified with a separate Catalan identity. In general, Cruz also reviews the rise of bourgeois manners in some smaller provincial cities in order to show that the spread of bourgeois culture was not limited to a few modern enclaves.

By focusing on the participation of Spain in a wider European process and underlining especially the modernization of middle class culture—which he does very convincingly—the author does not pay much attention to those aspects that may be more particular to Spain or for the more peripheral parts of the continent. Thus, he mentions the bullfight and the zarzuela—the Spanish variant of the operetta—but does not elaborate on them. About the zarzuela, he even says that its history “is too rich to be covered in the limited space of this chapter.” Nonetheless, he deals quite extensively with the more international genres of opera, theater, pleasure gardens, and museums which have an equally rich history. Another aspect of bourgeois social life that is largely ignored by Cruz is religion. Since his book is about the rise of a new social class, he apparently does not deal with older traditions that were adopted and appropriated by the middle classes. However, while Protestantism was very influential in British, German, and North-European middle-class culture, Spain’s was determined by Catholicism. During large parts of the century, one of the main political and social divides separated Catholic conservatives from more anticlerical liberals and republicans. Moreover, the highly important masonic lodges, that were largely opposed to the strong influence of the Church on Spanish society, are not even mentioned by Cruz.

A final aspect that could have been dealt with more systematically is the role of patronage. Although during the early nineteenth-century having good contacts with influential patrons was important throughout Europe, the impact of clientelism on politics diminished greatly with the rise of mass society and the extension of the suffrage towards the end of the century...


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pp. 255-257
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