Sunday, August 11, 2013

The Land of the Blessed Virgin

While I was reading 'Of Human Bondage', I also had a look at Somerset Maugham's 'The Land of the Blessed Virgin'

I wondered how the discerning observer and fine stylist would have seen the southern Spain of a hundred years ago. I was a little disappointed, as it is very much the opinions of a man who stayed outside everything around him.

It is very well observed in places, but there are too many statements glorifying, exaggerating the exotic which he thinks he has seen or should have seen. Generalized descriptions that cannot possibly be true.  I suspect he has not seen much of what he claims to have seen, and much of what he has he has not understood. A lot of the time he seems to be quoting guidebooks, adding literary embellishment of his own, sometimes good, often not. He has clearly had almost no contact with real people, he has not got to know anyone, except one woman, Rosarito, who I strongly suspect was not real anyway. Everyone else is described in the ignorant terms of the armchair anthropologist,.

He generalizes from a lazy interpretation of a single instance.  He has little curiosity about people, he is more concerned with finding a pretty phrase or a making an extreme pronouncement. Even the individuals he is forced into direct contact with, a doctor, a bullfighter, a watchman, etc, are described in terms of how he expects them to be, rather than how he has found them to be. On the other hand, some things he does describe well and in considerable detail, as though he had paid real attention. The Cathedral, the bullfight, the rain on the fields. It's not a book that will tell you anything much about the Spain of 100 years ago. At least, it won't tell you what you thought it was going to tell you. It will tell you how one man experienced a journey through Spain at that time. As such, it is a story well told, just not at all the one I was expecting.

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