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  • La casa de enfrente seguido de dos capítulos de la novela Mientras allí se muere de Ernestina de Champourcin ed. by Carmen de Urioste-Azcorra
  • Joy Landeira
Urioste-Azcorra, Carmen de, ed. La casa de enfrente seguido de dos capítulos de la novela Mientras allí se muere de Ernestina de Champourcin. Sevilla: Renacimiento Biblioteca de Rescate, 2013. Pp. 221. ISBN 977-8-84847-283-3-7.

To say that this reprinting of Ernestina de Champourcin’s first and only completed novel La casa de enfrente has been a long time coming is an understatement. Published for the first time in 78 years by Editorial Renacimiento’s “Biblioteca de Rescate” series, we celebrate it as a true “rescate,” rescued from the marginalization that she and all her work, including her poetry, often [End Page 849] suffered. The novel also suffered from the marginalization of exile since it first appeared in 1936, only a few months before the Spanish Civil War broke out when Champourcin married Manuel Azaña’s private secretary, the poet Juan José Domenchina, and was exiled with the Republican forces to Barcelona, then to Toulouse, France and ultimately to Mexico, where she remained until 1973 before returning to Madrid to live out her days. Her novel was also rescued from other margins: the lack of attention paid to women writers, the novice status of a first novel, the economic realities of trying to sell fiction or poetry as war looms across the nation, and her own failure to complete her second novel, with the projected title “Aristocracia y democracia,” an unfinished attempt at a fictionalization of social conditions surrounding the war. Champourcin (note that her surname is not accented since it is of French Provençal origin) is probably one of the best examples of a writer who was in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Since the mid-1980s, through collections including Women Writers of Spain: An Annotated Bio-Bibliographical Guide and Spanish Women Writers: a Bio-Biographical Source Book (both by Greenwood Press), critics have worked to restore Spanish women’s writing to public and academic audiences. Carmen de Urioste-Azcorra’s reproduction of this very difficult to find novel now allows readers easy access to it. This edition is not a facsimile, since it does not use the same print font, pagination or orthographic marks, but this new issue does update archaic spelling (e.g., fui no longer has a written accent) and it indicates (but does not correct) typos that were in the original. Additionally, the present edition includes the bonus of the first two chapters of the projected novel, which had been published with the title “Mientras allí se muere” in two different Mexican journals in 1938 and 1941, once Champourcin had settled in Mexico.

Urioste-Azcorra’s sixteen-page introduction describes the highlights of Champourcin’s life and work and outlines the basic themes that characterize her poetry. In her evaluation of La casa de enfrente, Urioste-Azcorra emphasizes the impossibility of completely uniting with the Other, symbolically represented by the intimacy and privacy of the house across the way. Divided into three separately titled divisions that follow the chronology of the narrator’s life, the first section, “La cabellera del sol,” is the remote past of her childhood with its memories of fairy tales, games and fears, moving to the “María de Magdala” section describing her religious obsessions and training as an adolescent in the nun’s school, and shifting to “El cuaderno gris,” a day-to-day diary where her name, Elena, is finally revealed as she falls in love with Arturo and expresses her own personality and freedom.

For those interested in pursuing the further study of Champourcin and her work, the short but essential selection in the works cited list following the introductory essay offers a useful starting point for future research. The ten pages of notes at the end of the volume explain vocabulary, translate French quotations into Spanish, clarify European cultural references of the day, and amplify French literary references. Since Champourcin herself spent a lot of her adolescence in France and was educated at home by a series of...