Pedro Antonio de Alarcón (ahl-ahr-KAWN) was born on March 10, 1833, in Guadix, a small town in the province of Granada. Unable because of family poverty to study law at the University of Granada, as he dreamed of doing, Alarcón was urged toward the priesthood. At heart, however, he wanted to write, and Sir Walter Scott, Victor Hugo, and Alexandre Dumas claimed more of his time than his studies. While still in college, he decided to write a series of four novels to be set at the four compass points. He started with a tale of the north, Brunhilde: Or, The Last Act of Norma (also known as The Final Aria of Norma), with local color gleaned from guidebooks on Spitzberg.
With a friend, Alarcón founded a periodical devoted to literature, science, and art. He also wrote a play which pleased its audience but was lampooned by critics. With the outbreak of war in Africa in 1859, he enlisted to serve as a soldier-reporter. He returned with a manuscript of his experiences that earned him enough money to finance a trip to Naples, Italy, to write another travel book.
The years 1872-1884 marked Alarcón’s greatest literary activity. Several novels, including The Scandal in 1875 and The Child of the Ball (also called The Infant with the Globe) in 1880, were published during this period, as were some of the novellas at which he excelled. One of the best is the 1874 work The Three-Cornered Hat, based...
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