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Emilia Pardo Bazan, Spanish author, 1851-1921

by Henriette Partzsch, University of St. Andrews

Emilia Pardo Bazán, one of the most remarkable Spanish intellectuals of the nineteenth century, was born in 1851 in the Atlantic sea port of La Coruña. She was the only child of wealthy aristocratic parents, who provided their precocious offspring with a splendid education. A voracious reader, she started writing early: her first short story was published in 1866, and she gained public recognition ten years later when she won the prize for the best essay about the Enlightenment thinker Benito Jerónimo Feijoo (1676-1764). In the same year, 1876, she gave birth to her first son, to whom she dedicated her poetry collection Jaime.

One of Pardo Bazán's most defining traits were her intellectual curiosity and her openness to new ideas and other cultures. She travelled extensively through Europe - in the early 1870s with her husband and parents and later, after their separation, on her own. Travelling fuelled her interest in modern languages and the literary and intellectual currents in France, Germany and England. Back in Spain after her journeys she became very interested in philosophy and was involved in the pedagogical reform movement inspired by the works of the German philosopher Karl Christian Friedrich Krause. A committed Catholic, she nevertheless defended aspects of Émile Zola's naturalism in her influential essay series La cuestión palpitante (“The Burning Question”) (1882-83), adapting the French author's techniques in what probably is today her best known novel, Los Pazos de Ulloa (“The House of Ulloa”) (1886). However, she could never be reduced to naturalist orthodoxy. In her ca. 600 short stories and 18 novels, she experimented with different narrative strategies and approaches to literature. This openness is also reflected in her keen interest in the Russian novelists such as Tolstoy and Dostoevsky, whom she promoted in Spain through public lectures which were later collected in a book.

Pardo Bazán was also a prolific journalist, foreign correspondent and adventurous publisher. One of her most interesting publishing enterprises was without doubt the Biblioteca de la Mujer (“The Woman's Library”), a series in which she edited side by side María de Ágreda's life of the Virgin Mary, a translation of John Stuart Mill's The Subjection of Women, August Bebel's Women under Socialism, novellas by the Spanish baroque writer María de Zayas and two books on cookery.

Nevertheless, even Pardo Bazán could not break through all the barriers that limited a woman writer's career in Spain at the turn of the century. Although she was the first woman to receive a chair at a Spanish university (Contemporary Literature and Romance Languages at the Universidad Central in Madrid in 1916), she was thrice barred from becoming the first female member of the Real Academia Española. Pardo Bazán died in Madrid in 1921. Her home in La Coruña, which belongs to the Real Academia Galega, now houses the Casa-Museo Pardo Bazán, dedicated to the conservation and dissemination of the author's heritage.

AsK November 2010

  • Portraits of Authors: Emilia Pardo Bazan >

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