Marshall E. Nunn (essay date 1947)
SOURCE: Nunn, Marshall E. “Some Notes on the Cuban Novel, Cecilia Valdés.” Bulletin of Hispanic Studies 24, no. 95 (July 1947): 184-86.
[In the following essay, Nunn discusses Villaverde's graphic representations of the lives and deaths of Cuban slaves between 1830 and 1840.]
Although Villaverde wrote the first part of Cecilia Valdés in 1838, it was not published until the following year. He immediately began his second part but did very little on it, for a variety of reasons. One was that he left Havana and went to Matanzas as a teacher. There he also wrote another novel, publishing it in 1841. After returning to the capital in the following year, he became one of the editors of El Faro Industrial until 1848, in which year he was arrested by the Spanish authorities. In 1858, on his return to the island after nine years in the United States, a publisher suggested his finishing and revising Cecilia Valdés.1 He planned the chapters in detail, and even wrote an introduction, but unfortunately had to leave Cuba again this same year, taking sanctuary once more in the United States. Occupied with revolutionary work and with earning a precarious livelihood, he had little time to devote to his novel. In his own words, “the most I could do was to write a chapter every fortnight and at times only every month, working some hours during the week and all Sundays.”2 The complete and revised novel was finished in 1878 and published one year later.
In his prologue he prides himself on being a realistic writer, but at the same time disclaims any influence from the realistic writers then in vogue. He states that he has read no novels for the past thirty years, save some by Scott and Manzoni. His novel, he maintains, is realistic in that he presents facts, scenes and characters just as they were. In his own words: “Far from inventing or making up characters and fantastic and unlikely scenes, I have carried realism, as I understand it, to the point of presenting the principal characters of the novel with all their minute details, as is commonly said, dressed with the clothes they wore in life, the greater part under their real names, speaking the same language that they used in the historical scenes in which they figured, copying as far as possible their moral and physical features.3”
One critic has called Cecilia Valdés the Gone with the Wind of Spanish-American literature.4 Another has compared it to Uncle Tom's Cabin.5 The reason for its comparison with the former is that it pictures very vividly, and with great...
(The entire section is 1107 words.)