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Reviewed by:
  • Urbanism and Urbanity: The Spanish Bourgeois Novel and Contemporary Customs (1845–1925) by Leigh Mercer
  • Benjamin Fraser

Leigh Mercer, Benjamin Fraser, Urbanism, Nineteenth-Century Literature, Twentieth-Century Literature, Cultural Studies, Spanish Novel, Cities, Everyday Practices, Benito Pérez Galdós, Vicente Blasco Ibáñez, Clarín, Emilia Pardo Bazán, Narcís Oller, Mariano José de Larra

Mercer, Leigh. Urbanism and Urbanity: The Spanish Bourgeois Novel and Contemporary Customs (1845–1925). Lewisburg, PA: Bucknell UP, 2013. xi + 201 pp.

Driven by the spirit of work in urban geography that has influenced language and literature fields more and more since 1991—the date of the English translation of Henri Lefebvre’s The Production of Space (1974) by Donald Nicholson-Smith— Leigh Mercer’s first book combines urban novels, everyday practices, and city planning in a wonderfully textured study of social space. Building explicitly on studies [End Page 248] of culture and literature in Madrid and Barcelona by Edward Baker, Daniel Frost, Jo Labanyi, and Joan Ramón Resina, and dovetailing also with work by Tom Lewis, Rebecca Haidt, Eugenia Afinoguénova, Susan Larson, Carlos Ramos and myself (among others), Mercer is concerned above all else with the ‘‘idea of public space as a performative realm in which the Spanish middle class enacted and displayed, first, its coming of age and, later, its own decline into decadence’’ (5).

Through an intriguing method and organizational scheme, Urbanism and Urbanity demonstrates that ‘‘the bourgeois social spaces of the nineteenth- and early twentieth-century novel are primarily gendered spaces’’ while convincingly tying the ‘‘culture of display’’ into the historical, economic, and political trappings of urban modernity (8). That is, the book is wonderfully vertebrated by specific urban spaces; it is dedicated, then, like many novels and urban guides of the period, to ‘‘the comprehension of particular spaces and site-specific spatially encoded rituals’’—specifically those unfolding in ‘‘the museum, the theater, the promenade, the boutique, the stock market, the casino, the Congress and the field of honor,’’ all sites where gendered class identities are performed (4). As a nuanced painter of modern life in Spanish cities, Mercer is attentive to how the historically gendered notions of private/public space both structure social life and are challenged by oppositional readings. At the same time, the central move of her work is, I would say, to fuse large-scale modern shifts and small-scale (personal–individual) practices. Discussion of each site in her work’s chapters shows multiple novels to be ‘‘[p]articipating in the larger cultural discourse emanating from the urban plans, conduct manuals, and city guides of this era’’ (17). Ultimately, the book’s persistent and interwoven focus on ‘‘three literary moments in modernity’’ (i.e., folletines, Realist novels, and fin de siglo novels) allows for a dynamic discussion that engages the hallmark characteristics of literary periodization as it has been theorized within Hispanic Studies more generally, while going beyond such admittedly disciplinary concerns.

In the first part of chapter one, ‘‘All the World’s Her Stage: The Museum and the Theater,’’ Mercer invokes Benito Pérez Galdós (La desheredada), Wenceslao Ayguals de Izco (Marίa, la hija de un jornalero), Clarίn (La Regenta), and Vicente Blasco Ibáñez (La maja desnuda) in discussion of how in these Spanish novels ‘‘the museum appears as an institution dedicated to the production of the so-called ideal woman, a context in which women, through their objectification by the male gaze, can be possessed and exhibited’’ (26). Exploration of the social space of the museum, in this example, carries us from one novel to another in succession and selectively—according to the site-specific logic driving Urbanism and Urbanity— encouraging the active reader to see textures, multiplicity, and even friction, where focus on one novel alone (and in isolation) would be misleading and perhaps [End Page 249] insufficient. The book’s subsequent chapters further reinforce this method and elaborate on the connection between gender, culture and class.

Chapter two, ‘‘Consuming Desires: The Boutique and the Promenade,’’ builds on the visual emphasis of the museum discussion to integrate discussions of shopping, fashion, and (gendered) bourgeois domestic economy in relation to a variety of textual...


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pp. 248-251
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