Rosalía de Castro was born in Santiago de Compostela in 1837, the child of María Teresa de la Cruz de Castro y Abadía. Her mother, who came from a once-wealthy family, was thirty-three when Rosalía was born; her father, Jose Martínez Viojo, was thirty-nine and a priest. Although her father could not acknowledge Rosalía as his daughter, he may have taken some interest in her welfare. Rosalía was brought up by Francisca Martínez, who, despite her surname, does not appear to have been the priest’s sister. By 1853, Rosalía was living with her real mother, and there developed between them a deep bond. In Rosalía’s eyes, her mother sanctified whatever sin she may have committed by reaffirming her obligation to her daughter in defiance of a hypocritical society.
A precocious child, Castro was writing verses by the age of eleven, and by sixteen she could play the guitar and the piano, had developed a fine contralto voice, and could draw well and read French. She read the foreign classics in translation and was fond of George Gordon, Lord Byron; Heinrich Heine; Edgar Allan Poe; and E. T. A. Hoffmann. Judging from the spelling errors in hand-written manuscripts of her poetry, however, her formal education may not have been extensive.
As a teenager, Castro was taken from Padrón to Santiago, where she attended school and where she participated in the city’s cultural life. At a young people’s cultural society, she met Aurelio Aguirre, one of the most representative figures of the Romantic movement in Galicia, a man who was later to be the model of Flavio in her novel of the same name, and who dedicated to her a work called “Improvisation”—apparently an attempt to console her for the discrepancy between her enchanting poetry and her less than enchanting physical appearance. Perhaps it is too facile to attribute the characteristic wistfulness of her poetry to a failed love affair, but it has been suggested that the lost love recalled in her poems and her fiction was Aurelio Aguirre. Among the poems not included in her own collections but included in Obras completas is an elegy for Aguirre.
In 1856, Castro went to Madrid, where she stayed at the home of a relative. It is generally said that she went “on family business,” but it is possible she left home with the idea of becoming an actress in Madrid. Exposed to the cultural life of the Spanish capital, she devoted herself to writing and was able to meet other contemporary writers. In 1857, her first book of poetry La flor appeared and was favorably reviewed by Manuel Murguía in La Iberia. According to Murguía, he was not acquainted with the young author, but this is rather unlikely, not only because some of his comments presuppose a direct knowledge of Castro’s personality, but also because he, too, had recently come from Galicia and, in fact, was Aguirre’s best friend. Castro and Murguía were married in Madrid on October 10, 1858. Murguía, like Aguirre a Galician of Basque descent, was a journalist and historian destined to be honored in Galicia for his role in promoting regionalist literature. The couple had seven children. Their first child, a daughter, was born in 1859; their second child, also a daughter, was not born until ten years later. One of the twins Castro bore in 1871, Ovidio, was an accomplished painter of Galician landscapes but died young. Her youngest son died in his second year as the result of a fall, and her youngest daughter was stillborn in 1877.
In 1862, Castro’s beloved mother died, and Castro honored her with a privately printed collection of poems, A mi madre (to my mother) of limited literary value but elegiac and emotional.
It remains unclear what kind of a marriage Castro had with Murguía. Gerald Brenan believes that Murguía, envious of his wife’s talents, mistreated her; it is certain that Murguía destroyed his wife’s correspondence after her death. Castro scholar Marina Mayoral, on the other hand, prefers to see in Murguía—who...
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