Juan Valera y Alcala-Galiano (1824-1905), one of nineteenth-century Spain's most respected authors, lived an international life-a career in the diplomatic service, with postings to more than a half dozen countries in Europe and the Americas. Cosmopolitan, cultured, and urbane, Valera was fluent in a number of languages and read widely in all of them. A serious student of his own and foreign literatures, he wrote novels, short stories, essays, poetry, and literary criticism, in addition to carrying on a voluminous correspondence with several of his fellow Spanish writers and friends. The unifying thread of his work is "art for art's sake," that is, beauty as the end and purpose of inspiration and creativity, a stance he commented on at some length in his introduction to the 1886 Appleton English translation of his first novel, Pepita Jimenez (1874), the tale of a young seminarian who falls in love with a young widow.
Commander Mendoza (1877) tells the story of Don Fadrique Lopez de Mendoza, a man of seafaring adventures and a deist in the mold of the eighteenth-century philosophes, and Dona Blanca Roldan de Solis, a woman of unbounded pride and a Catholic driven by religious fanaticism, neither of which traits prevented her from having had an adulterous affair as a young woman in Lima, Peru, with Don Fadrique. The conflict that plays out in Commander Mendoza, with both principals now back in Spain, centers on the Commander's discovery of the marriageable daughter that he did not know he had, and it turns into a contest of wills that effects changes in both of them as the fate of their daughter hangs in the balance. Rich in characterization and exploration of human foibles, it is a work that continued to stand high on the list of Valera's favorites, for in 1885 he wrote in a letter to a friend: "What would please me would be to continue writing novels like Pepita Jimenez and Commander Mendoza."
Robert Fedorchek is a professor emeritus of modern languages and
literatures at Fairfield University (Connecticut). He has
published fifteen books of translations of nineteenth-century
Spanish literature, including three other novels by Juan Valera.
He has also translated numerous fairy tales by Valera, Antonio de
Trueba, Cecilia Bohl de Faber, and Concha Castroviejo for Marvels
& Tales: Journal of Fairy-Tale Studies.
Susan McKenna is an assistant professor of Spanish at the University of Delawa
where she specializes in nineteenth-century Spanish literature.
She is the author of Crafting the Female Subject: Narrative
Innovation in the Short Fiction of Emilia Pardo Bazan.
Fedorcheks useful notes and Susan McKennas introduction complement well the excellent translation. Summing Up: Recommended. All readers.
June 21, 2010