Ghosts of Colonies Past and Present

BookOpen AccessGhosts of Colonies Past and Present

Ghosts of Colonies Past and Present

Spanish Imperialism in the Fiction of Benito Pérez Galdós


September 19th, 2020


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Ghosts of Colonies Past and Present is the first comprehensive examination of how the literary production of Benito Pérez Galdós, widely considered Spain’s greatest nineteenth-century novelist, addresses the impact of imperial loss on the citizens of Spain. Well before the events that would lead inexorably toward 1898, Galdós’s texts question the nature of Spanish imperialism and the effect of colonial history on the lives of metropolitan citizens. Methodologically framed by trauma studies, affect studies and the concept of the imperial turn, a close reading of the texts reveals Galdós’s preoccupation with explaining not only how Spain lost its vast territories in the Americas in the early part of the century but also how Spanish citizens could manage the trauma of that loss through a reconfiguration of national identity. His novels reveal the deeply entwined nature of colonial relations and life in the metropolis. Moreover, by recognizing that the national response to the trauma of imperial loss extended across the nineteenth century, it becomes clear that Spain’s engagement with European cultural and literary movements was, contrary to the assumptions of European imperialism, neither slow nor imitative but rather illustrative of the nation’s unique position on the cusp of the historical shift to the postcolonial present.

“This book is excellent and groundbreaking. After its publication no scholar or historian will be able to argue that the loss of empire didn’t impact and traumatize Spanish culture.”
Alda Blanco, San Diego State University

Ghost of Colonies Past and Present is a thoughtful, meticulously researched book that offers the reader an engaging and systematic analysis of the Spanish empire’s traces in the early historical fiction of Benito Pérez Galdós. Through brilliant, historically grounded close readings of Galdós’s texts, it paints a convincing picture of how Galdós came to terms with the loss of empire and reveals the centrality of empire to the nation-building process in nineteenth-century Spain.”
Javier Krauel, University of Colorado at Boulder

Author Information

Mary L. Coffey is a Professor of Spanish and former President of the Asociación Internacional de Galdosistas.

Table of Contents

Table of Contents
Section TitlePagePrice
Introduction: Managing the Loss of Empire11
1. The Problem of Spain’s Colonial Legacy13
Part I: Benito Pérez Galdós and the Rewriting of Spanish History63
2. Contextualizing the Trauma of Imperial Loss64
3. End of an Empire and Birth of a Nation103
Part II: A Tale of Two Plots135
4. Historicizing Colonial Loss136
5. A Foundational Fiction for the Metropolis177
Part III: The Remnants of Empire241
6. The New Normal in Colonial Relations242
Conclusion: Spanish History “para uso de los niños”297
Works Cited305