What is it about Spain and Foreign Writers?

If you stop and think about the foreign writers who have written and write about Spain the list is quite simply mindbogglingly long and varied. Much too long to list here.
Spain is a country  steeped in beautiful and truly awe-inspiring scenery, magical cities and a fascinating history but does it deserve such attention and why does it inspire so many writers of so many different types?
The scribes vary from Richard Ford(Handbook for Travellers in Spain.1845) in the 19th century to Paul Preston (Doves of War:Four Women of Spain. 2002) in the 21st Century. What could possibly link a writer like George Orwell(Homage to Catalonia.1938)  to someone like Chris Stewart (Driving Over Lemons.1999). How do Washington Irving (Tales of the Alhambra 1832) and  Hugh Thomas(The Spanish Civil War 1961) have a connection? Or don’t they?

A few tomes about Spain

Is it pure coincidence that V.S.Pritchett, Laurie Lee, Ernest Hemingway, Gerald Brenan and Ian Gibson were all inspired to write their best work here in Spain?

A particularly prolific time for writers of Spain was the late 1920s to the late 1930s which is explained partially by Spain’s political and social turmoils of the time which attracted writers and photographers to the Iberian Penisula. One of the great writers about Spain ,Gerald Brenan, however came to Spain to get away from the turmoils of the world(World War I had just finished) and sought peace and quiet in the foothills of Sierra Nevada. He lived in Las Alpujarras, where he  wrote what  are today probably the best social  and cultural records of that period of Spain, even more documental than the best of his Spanish contemporaries. His obvious passion and interest in all customs,people and happenings in Spain and especially in the villages of these magical mountains is contagious. 

This blog’s author, just “passing by” on a four day hike in las Alpujarras,in front  of the great Mr.Brenan’s abode in Yegen.

One of the reasons I am a bit of a mountain goat and love walking is that his book(South from Granada) inspired me,thirty years ago, to walk the wilds of mountains as he did in the Sierra Nevada. He was an observer and besides ‘seeing’ flowers,animals and the local sheperds he was astute enough to smell and avoid  danger when confronted by bandits in the high sierras. I was particularly impressed with his walking in one day(and night) from Granada to Yegen, which from memory was about 70 miles. He was a bit of an eccentric(you have to be to walk that distance in a day).

Mr Brenan lived here!

And there are so many  more interesting writers 
about Spain: Gertrude Bone(Days in Old Spain 1938),Jan Morris(Spain 1988), John Hooper(The Spanairds 1986 ) and Giles Tremlett (Ghosts of Spain 2007) and many more….

Gotta light ,mate? I’m ‘doing’ Spain, you know.

So why do these people write about Spain? For me they all have something in common: a passion for Spain.Not only do they convey this feeling to you in their works, it is what has motivated them to write about Spain, a passion for a country and its peoples.Whether it was a road trip,a Civil War story or a walk in the hills it is the magical, romantic,natural,violent and tragic Spain that  inspired these stories and books. They have spent time here and have experienced and felt something which excites their emotions and their creativity.

Books as diverse and different as Spain itself

And for me in many ways when I first read these great writers it mirrored something I felt and was living, an adventure, a different way of life and an exciting passion for life. And every time I reread or read a new book about Spain, which is written with this passion I feel that same feeling.It’s something which is hard to describe but I can only say that it a very pleasant feeling.
Naturally I have my favourites like everyone who reads about Spain and without doubt for me Brenan and Hugh Thomas(maybe not the most passionate! but a mine of information) have had the biggest impact on me. Probably because I read them when I was very young and in Spain to live for the first time in Murcia in 1982. I used to rush home to my grotty shared flat to read and read and read, anxious for more everyday. 

Mr Vernon Howe Bailey went on to do amazing drawings of American Skyscrapers and formal drawings  of  US naval craft during WWII.A strange but interesting career path.

But I do have one outstanding favourite which is not scribed by the pen,or very little of it is, but drawn and painted by pencil and brush: “Little Known Towns of Spain” is a quite unique and precious book of  67 prints of Vernon Howe Bailey’s illustrations of small towns he visited in Spain in 1926. I like it because he visited small and undiscovered Spain not going to the obvious places(and it was 1926 so the guy had vision!). I also love the illustrations,a couple of Xativa included, because they reflect a Spain that was still basically a world apart from N.Europe/USA etc. No automation, animals, carrying water, regional dress, poverty, fiestas etc
A truly unique document amongst many truly amazing works about a truly unique country.

THE SPANISH THYME TRAVELLER organises tours with an interesting mix of walking,Spanish culture,food and wine.Checkout their webpage: www.thespanishthymetraveller.com

BOOKS: If you are interested in purchasing any of the above books checkout Books4Spain where they will have most of the mentioned titles available.http://books4spain.com/

11 thoughts on “What is it about Spain and Foreign Writers?

  1. a very interesting post about spain..i love that country..was there twice but spent most of the times in madrid for 3 weeks..love it! found ur blog in Tbex

  2. I am also an avid reader about books on Spain, as well as a fan of the excellent website mentioned. My Dad got me onto Brenan, having read his books when they were first published in the 1950s. I agree that the experience of living in Spain makes an author write in a way they wouldn’t otherwise.

  3. Fiona and Jessica ,Thanks so much for your comments.Glad you liked the post.Fiona,indeed the V.Howe Bailey book is something special….I particularly like it because it has alot of pictures of towns in Teruel and Valencia,like Morella,Teruel,Jerica,Alcoy,Xativa and all a releflection of life as it was then.Hey your Dad was an enlightnened guy!

  4. Just bought ‘South from Grenada’ after reading this. Very excellent book Paddy! Thanks.