Trinity College, Dublin | Published: 15 March, 2007
ISSUE 2 | Pages: 135-150 | PDF | DOAJ | https://doi.org/10.24162/EI2007-2662
2007 by Ute Anna Mittermaier | This text may be archived and redistributed both in electronic form and in hard copy, provided that the author and journal are properly cited and no fee is charged for access.
This paper represents an imagological analysis of Maura Laverty’s strongly autobiographical novel No More Than Human (1944) about the experiences of a young Irish governess in Spain in the 1920s. Drawing on the theory and methodology of imagology, it discusses the well-rounded image of Spain conveyed by Laverty’s depiction of Spanish land- and cityscapes, characters, and socio-political conditions revealing the author’s familiarity with widespread Spanish stereotypes. In line with the imagological tenet that the creation of hetero- and auto-images is interdependent, the paper shows how by having her heroine comment explicitly on Spanish society and politics of the 1920s Laverty indirectly expresses her attitude
to her native country Ireland in the first decade of national independence. From both the political, religious, and moral values expressed in the novel under discussion and the scant existent biographical information on Laverty it is concluded that the writer shared the patriotism and the Catholic, rural, and patriarchal values of the official, Church- and State-sanctioned version of Irish
nationalism. At the same time, however, she seems to have rejected the extreme moral conservatism propagated by statesmen and clerics in the early years of the Irish Free State.
Este artículo representa un análisis imagológico de la novela marcadamente autobiográfica No More Than Human (1944) de Maura Laverty sobre las experiencias de una joven institutriz irlandesa en España en la tercera década del siglo veinte. Haciendo uso de la teoría y metodología imagológica, el artículo discute la compleja imagen de España creada por Laverty gracias a su descripción de las tierras, ciudades, personajes y condiciones socio-políticas españolas que revelan la familiaridad de la autora con la gran variedad de estereotipos de España. En línea con el principio de la corriente ideológica de que la creación de hétero- y auto-imágenes es interdependiente, el artículo muestra como por haber hecho su heroína comentarios explícitos sobre la sociedad y política española de los años veinte, Laverty indirectamente expresa su actitud hacia su país nativo Irlanda en la primera década de independencia nacional. En base a los valores tanto políticos, religiosos y morales expresados en la novela referenciada y la escasa información biográfica que existe de Laverty, se puede concluir que la escritora compartía el patriotismo y los valores católicos, rurales y patriarcales de la versión oficial del nacionalismo irlandés sancionado por la iglesia y el estado. Al mismo tiempo, sin embargo, ella parece haber rechazado el extremado conservadurismo moral propagado por políticos y clérigos en los primeros años del Irish Free State (Estado Libre Irlandés).
Maura Laverty; No More Than Human; Imagologia; Estereotipos Nacionales; Irlanda; España
Maura Laverty’s novel No More Than Human is reminiscent of her elder compatriot Kate O’Brien’s more widely read semi-autobiographical romance Mary Lavelle insofar as it similarly recounts the adventures of a young, inexperienced Irish governess in Spain in the 1920s. Like Kate O’Brien,1 Maura Laverty (1907-1956) could draw on personal experiences in her novel, for at the tender age of seventeen the writer had set out for Madrid to take up her post as a governess to a Spanish-Irish family (Cf. Castle 1992: 6). Whereas O’Brien’s Mary Lavelle as well as her other novels and non-fictional writings have been reprinted and rediscovered by critics since her death in 1974, Maura Laverty’s oeuvre has almost sunk into complete oblivion. Although Laverty’s first and third novels Never No More and No More Than Human were republished in the 1980s by Virago Press, Laverty’s works have not received the same critical attention as O’Brien’s writings in the past twenty years (cf. Clear 2001: 819).2 During her lifetime, however, Laverty was «one of post-war Ireland’s most popular writers – the Maeve Binchy of the fifties» (Mahon 1998: 118). Her strongly autobiographical debut novel Never No More, in which she vividly describes the childhood experiences of Delia Scully in the Irish small town of Ballyderrig, the fictional equivalent of Laverty’s home town Rathangan (cf. Kime Scott 1996: 683), was widely read and highly praised by Sean O’Faolain in 1942 in his preface to the novel (cf. O’Faolain 1985: vi). Moreover, by her premature death of a heart attack in 1966 she had achieved great popularity as a writer of plays (the Tolka Row trilogy and A Tree in the Crescent), cookery books, children’s stories, an ‘agony aunt’ on an Irish radio station, and as the script-writer for the «highly successful television soap opera» Tolka Row(Parker 1995: 418).
The imbalance in the reception of Kate O’Brien and Maura Laverty can partly be explained by the fact that Laverty’s straightforward and at times rather blunt style leaves less room for insightful critical interpretation than the more elegant prose and complex narrative structure characterising O’Brien’s fiction.3 However, while the reader will find No More Than Human less satisfying in aesthetic terms than Mary Lavelle, Laverty’s account of the experiences of a young ‘Irish Miss’ is no less interesting than O’Brien’s version with regard to its representation of Spain.
This paper deals specifically with the image of Spain Maura Laverty conveys in No More Than Human.It draws on the theory and methodology of imagology, a specialist field of (comparative) literary studies dedicated to the analysis of representations of cultural alterity in literature.4 While no specific universally accepted definition of the subject of imagology, i.e. the literary image of a foreign country, has been postulated, there is a consensus among imagologists that images are fictional constructs of the mind rather than truthful, objective representations of a country; they are generally conceived of as a conglomeration of different elements (directly or implicitly imparted statements about a country’s landscapes, cities, people, traditions, politics etc.) with a complex structure (e.g. the tendency to contrast northern/western with southern/eastern countries). Rather than constituting invariable, fixed entities, images can alter along with changing socio-political conditions. However, certain elements tend to reappear in literary works of different historical periods and seem resistant to change. These «dominants» (Cf. Blaicher 1992: 6) are generally referred to as «stereotypes». They represent fixed, preconceived ideas about a country which claim collective validity and resist qualification even in the face of direct contact with members of that nation. National stereotypes occurring in literature do not necessarily reflect the writers’ personal experiences in the country they are portraying but tend to be taken over from previous literary representations of that country.5 The widespread use of the same stereotypes in the works of writers from different countries thus points to the intertextual component in the transmission of images.
While the semantic content of stereotypes can remain stable over centuries, the qualities expressed in them can be positively or negatively evaluated depending on whether the observed country is seen as friend or foe. Thus, imagological analyses of the representations of Spain have shown that from the 16thto the second half of the 18th century the French and English images of Spain were dominated by the so-called «leyenda negra» (black legend), i.e. the notion of the Spanish as an excessively proud, cruel, fanatically Catholic people recklessly exploiting their colonies and persecuting the adherents of other religions in the Inquisition. During the period of Enlightenment, Spain was further denounced by influential French intellectuals such as Voltaire and Montaigne as anti-European, backward, despotic, and priest-ridden, and the Spanish people were reproached for their passivity and idleness causing the country’s political, economic, and cultural decline. Only towards the end of the 18th century, when Spain had lost much of its previous political and economic power and no longer posed a real threat to the dominant European powers England and France, did the negative image of Spain change into a largely positive one in the writings of Romanticists. Interestingly, the idealised Romantic image of Spain continued to rely on the same old stereotypical ideas of the Spanish as «proud», «idle», «backward», «religious» etc.; the only difference was that those qualities were now positively evaluated as constituting the unique Spanish character and the Spaniards’ love of their country and traditions (Cf. Guerrero 1992: 1632-5; Bodenmüller 2001: 397-418).6
It is against this theoretical and historical background that I will analyse Laverty’s representation of Spain in No More Than Human in this paper. Adopting the broadly defined concept of the ‘image’ outlined above I will look closely at all aspects of Laverty’s portrayal of Spain, i.e. the description of Spanish city- and landscapes, the characterisation of the Spanish people, and the depiction of socio-political conditions in Spain. In order to establish whether Laverty paints an imaginative, idiosyncratic picture of Spain or unquestioningly takes over stereotyped images of Spain – be it the powerful, ‘proud’ and ‘cruel’ Spain deriving from the infamous ‘Black Legend’ or the modern, touristy image of Spain as a perpetually hot and sunny country where the fiestas never end – I will discuss the writer’s use or conscious avoidance of widespread Spanish stereotypes. On the basis of the analysis of the constituent elements of Laverty’s portrayal of Spain I will finally draw conclusions as to whether the overall image of Spain conveyed inNo More Than Human reflects the amicable historical relations between Ireland and Spain, its ‘old ally’ against ‘perfidious Albion’.7
Apart from assessing whether Laverty rather expresses hispanophilia or – phobia in the novel under discussion, I am particularly interested in establishing what kind of image Laverty creates of her own and her protagonist’s home country Ireland. The interpretation of Laverty’s representation of Ireland is informed by the imagological tenet that the creation of a hetero-image is usually paralleled by the conveyance of an auto-image, i.e. that while writers comment explicitly on social, cultural or political conditions in a foreign country, they tend to indirectly express their opinion on similar or different conditions in their home country. Thus, from expressions of admiration for or criticism of specific aspects of a foreign country’s society, culture, politics etc. certain conclusions can be drawn about a writer’s stance towards aesthetic, moral, and political values and attitudes prevailing in his/her native country. Consequently, my aim is to demonstrate that an imagological approach to Maura Laverty’s No More Than Human taking both biographical facts and the novel’s historical context into account can reveal a great deal about the author’s attitude not only to Spain and the Spanish people, but also to her native country Ireland and Irish society.8
In order to explain the narrator’s initial unenthusiastic response to Spain it is expedient to comment briefly on the ‘governessing trade’ between Ireland and Spain and on both Maura Laverty’s and her heroine Delia Scully’s motive for entering this business. By going to Spain to work as governesses the writer and her fictional alter ego «followed a course quite familiar to Irish girls of
- O’Brien spent several months working as a governess for the wealthy and influential de Areavaga family in the Basque Country in 1922/3. Cf. Reynolds 1987: 36. [↩]
- The scant bibliographical material on Maura Laverty the present writer was able to trace comprises: the notes on the author as well as Maeve Binchy’s introductions in the Virago editions of Laverty’s novelsNever No More and No More Than Human; biographical sketches by Barry Castle (Laverty’s daughter), Bonnie Kime Scott, Janet Madden-Simpson, Matthew Hoehn; entries on Laverty in biographical dictionaries: The Feminist Companion to Irish Literature in English, The Reader’s Companion to Twentieth-Century Writers, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Women in World History. A Biographical Encyclopedia, Field Day Anthology of Irish Writing IV, The Oxford Companion to Irish Literature, A Biographical Dictionary of Irish Writers, The Encyclopaedia of Ireland, A Dictionary of Irish Biography; obituaries in Irish Independent, Irish Press, Irish Times, Dublin, 28-30 July 1966; comments on the popular Irish television series Tolka Row, based on Laverty’s play Liffey Lane in Irish Television Drama: A Society and its Stories; reminiscences of Laverty in Bríd Mahon’s memoir While Green Grass Grows (pp. 118-126) and in Fitz-Simon’s The Boys: a Double Biography; Kate O’Brien’s review of No More than Human for the Spectator; María Isabel Butler de Foley briefly discusses Laverty’s No More than Human in her essay » Each Other’s Country: Some Twentieth Century Irish and Spanish Writers»; Yolanda González Molano dedicates two paragraphs in her thesis on Molly Keane and Kate O’Brien to Maura Laverty; the only academic essay focusing solely on Laverty’s work has been published by Caitriona Clear in Women’s Studies (see bibliography for full references) [↩]
- O’Brien’s subtle narrative style manifests itself in Mary Lavelle, e.g. in her use of the bullfight to symbolise the impact of Spain on the eponymous heroine, of flashbacks to contrast Irish and Spanish settings, and of foil figures to set individual Irish characters off against Spanish protagonists [↩]
- Apart from images of foreign countries, literary representations of particular regions, ethnic groups, social classes or of any other community construed by the author as ‘the Other’ can form the subject of imagological analyses. For detailed discussions of the theory and methodology of imagology, see, e.g.: Leerssen, Joseph Th. 2000. «The Rhetoric of National Character: A ProgrammaticSurvey». Poetics Today21/2, Summer. 267-292. Syndram, Karl Ulrich. 1991. «The Aesthetics of Alterity: Literature and the Imagological Approach». National Identity: Symbol and Representation. J. Th. Leerssen and M. Spiering (eds.). Rodopi: Amsterdam.177-185; Firchow, Peter. 1990. «The Nature and Uses of Imagology.» Toward a Theory of Comparative Literature. Selected Papers Presented in the Division of Theory of Literature of the Xith International Comparative Literature Congress (Paris, August 1985). Valdés, Mario J. (ed.).Peter Lang: New York. 135-142; Moura, Jean-Marc. 1992. «L’Imagologie Littéraire: Essai de mise au point historique et critique». Révue de Littérature Comparée 3. 271-287. Pageaux, Daniel-Henri.1988. «Image/imaginaire», in Europa und das nationale Selbstverständnis. Imagologische probleme in Literatur, Kunst und Kultur des 19. Und 20. Jahrhunderts., ed. H. Dyserinck & K.U. Syndram (Bonn): 367-380. [↩]
- In their investigations of the genesis of particular images and stereotypes imagologists have shown that «our images of foreigners are not primarily formed by our experiences, our individual or collective contacts with foreigners and by the history of the political and social relations between two countries», but are most likely «derived from literary sources, ethnographic or historical studies, travelogues, novels and plays, and more recently also from films» (Stanzel, «National Stereotypes», 1). Individual fixed ideas about a nation often originated in the works of particularly influential writers such as Isidor, Montesquieu, and David Humes and were converted into long-last stereotypes by being copied and perpetuated by other writers. (Cf. Stanzel, «Zur literarischen Imagologie», 12 ff. and «National Stereotypes, 2 ff.) [↩]
- The changing images of Spain in European (above all French and British) literature have been discussed in numerous publications. See for example: García Cárcel, Ricardo. 1998. La Leyenda Negra. Madrid: Alianza; Pageaux, Daniel-Henri. 1992. «La péninsule ibérique et l’Europe: Ouvertures, fermetures, dérives». Komparatistik und Europaforschung. Perspektiven vergleichender Literatur- und Kulturwissenschaft. Ed. H. Dyserinck and K.U. Syndram. Bonn and Berlin: Bouvier. 253-264; López de Abiada, José Manuel y López Bernasocchi, Augusta (eds.). 2004. Imágenes de España en culturas y literaturas europeas (siglos XVI-XVII). Madrid: Verbum; Shaw, Patricia. 1997. «Sensual, solemn, sober, slow and secret: The English view of the Spaniard, 1590-1700». Beyond Pug’s Tour: National and ethnic stereotyping in theory and literary practice. Ed. C.C. Barfoot, C.C. Amsterdam: Rodopi), 99-114; [↩]
- Bowyer Bell points out that until the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War, the Irish, like the rest of Europe, took little interest in Spain’s internal political affairs. Instead, «sentiment and tradition were the prevailing factors in Irish-Spanish relations» (Bowyer Bell 1969: 137) in the first decade following the establishment of the Irish Free State. The historical and cultural links between Ireland and Spain were manifold: according to an ancient legend, the Irish were descendants of the ‘Milesians’, the sons of the heroic Spanish king Míl Espáine, who invaded the Emerald isle around 2000 BC; the inhabitants of Spain’s north-western province of Galicia claimed the Irish as their northern ‘Celtic Brothers’; in the 16thand 17th centuries, the Irish and the Spanish repeatedly conspired against their common enemy, England. After the failure of all Irish-Spanish military interventions against England, thousands of Irish refugees (the ‘Wild Geese’) were integrated into the Spanish army and during the era of the Penal Laws Irish priests were trained in colleges in Spain and smuggled back into Ireland. Even though many Irish would have been unaware of the mythological, historical, political, and economic ties between their country and Spain, they were prone to feel a certain affinity for the Spanish people just for the fact that the Spaniards were a Catholic nation like the Irish and had had to defend their faith against foreign invaders in the past. For further information on historical relations between Ireland and Spain see the special edition on Irish-Spanish links of History Ireland, which contains the article: Carey, John. 2001. «Did the Irish Come from Spain? The Legend of the Milesians». History Ireland 9, Autumn. 8-11; Henchy, Monica. 1989. «The Irish Colleges in Spain». Eire-Ireland, Spring. 11-27; Hillgarth, J. N. 1985. Visigothic Spain, Byzantium and the Irish. London: Variorum Reprints; Reynolds, Lorna. 1989. «Improbable Relations: Spain and Ireland». Krino 7. 54-66; O’Donoghue, Aingeal. 1992. «Ireland and Spain». Voices of Ireland-Veus D’Irlanda. Proceedings of the First Conference on Irish Studies. Eds. N. Bureu, P. Gallardo, and M. O’Neill. Lleida: Pagés Editors. 9-14; Sainero, Ramón. 1987. La Huella Celta en España e Irlanda.Torrejón de Ardoz: Ediciones Akal. [↩]
- It is important to note that my analysis of Laverty’s hetero- and auto-images is not based on the assumption that the protagonist’s comments on Spain represent the writer’s personal attitudes. Even though the novel is strongly autobiographical- Maeve Binchy has pointed out that «those who knew her» (Binchy 1985: XV) confirmed that No More Than Human faithfully recounts Laverty’s personal life-story – the extent to which Laverty’s personal views of Spain equal or differ from her heroine’s remains a subject of speculation given the scarcity of reliable biographical material on the author. Moreover, as the imagologist Karl U. Syndram has stressed, a writer’s use of stereotypes does not mean that he/she believes in their validity. Rather, authors sometimes consciously deploy stereotypes for aesthetic purposes; e.g. they can use stereotypes to present characters as stock-figures, to satisfy reader’s expectations, to conform to certain generic conventions, to provide comic relief etc. (Cf. Syndram, «The Aesthetics», 186). However, the numerous choices underlying the representation of Spanish cities, landscapes, people etc. and their comparison with the Irish scene were made by the author and the image resulting from these choices is ultimately her creation. Therefore, it is possible to talk about ‘Laverty’s image of Spain’ irrespective of whether Laverty’s representation of Spain reflected her personal impressions of that country. [↩]
- Clear points out that as late as in 1946 «about three-fifths of Irish women who were ‘gainfully occupied’, that is, recorded as employed, were either domestic servants or assisting relatives in agriculture; however, fewer than a third of all females over 14 were gainfully occupied at all» (Clear 2001: 821). [↩]
- In narrating the experiences of young governesses abroad Maura Laverty and Kate O’Brien contributed to the popular ‘governess genre’ which had been established since the early 19th century through the novels of such famous writers as their compatriot Maria Edgeworth (The Good French Governess), Anne Brontë (Agnes Grey), Charlotte Brontë (Jane Eyre, Villette), and (in the modernist period) Vita Sackville-West (Heritage). For detailed analyses of the ‘governess genre’ and/or further information on the governess’s living and working conditions see e.g.: Anonymous. «Hints on the Modern Governess System.» Fraser’s Magazine 30 (Nov. 1844): 571-83; Poovey, Mary. 1988. «The Anathematized Race: The Governess and Jane Eyre.» Uneven Developments: The Ideological Work of Gender in Mid-Victorian England. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.126-63; Hughes, Kathryn. 1993.The Victorian Governess. London and Rio Grande: The Hambledon Press. I am indebted to Prof. María Losada Friend for these references. [↩]
- Quotations from Laverty’s No More Than Human are subsequently referred to as ‘NM’, followed by the pager number(s). [↩]
- Again, in No More Than Human, Delia explains to another Irish miss several weeks after her arrival in Madrid that she cannot go back to Ireland because «there’s no way [she] could earn [her] living in Ireland for [she] wasted [her] chances at school [i.e. she dropped out of the teacher-training college]» (NM: 19). [↩]
- This is only one of several instances in which Delia displays her awareness that stereotyped images of Spain rarely stand the test of reality. [↩]
- The newspaper Maura Laverty herself wrote for in the 1920s was El Debate (cf. Kime Scott 1996: 684). [↩]
- In this particular instance the narrator displays her familiarity with the widespread stereotypical idea of Spanish women as violently jealous, vengeful, impetuous, and sultry. The idea of Spanish women carrying a stiletto in the stocking which Delia has repeatedly come across in fiction obviously derives from the eponymous tragic heroine of Bizet’s famous opera ‘Carmen’. The impact which ‘Carmen’ has had on the formation of a certain image of Spanish women circulating outside Spain is not a unique phenomenon. As Michael Barke has observed, like Carmen, Cervantes’s Don Quixote have come to be seen as «a real person» by many readers and «the figures of Don Quixote and Sancho Panza have attained a life of their own quite independent of the book» (Cf. Barke 1999: 87-8). These two examples of famous literary/operatic figures whose qualities have come to be widely associated with the Spanish people in general, confirm the imagological tenet that literature plays a seminal role in the creation and dissemination of national images. [↩]
- Even though Delia gets into contact with politically active Spaniards such as the anarchist Juan Negrin and one of her employers, a close friend of «Gil Robles whose articles in El Debate were even then making a stir» (NM: 94), she admits that «[she] was too young and ignorant to be interested» (NM: 94). The adult narrator, «thinking back over her time in the newspaper [i.e. her work for a conservative Spanish daily] … regret[s] that [she] did not take an intellectual interest in what was happening around [her]» (NM: 218) and that although «[t]he design Spain took in after years was shaped in that newspaper and … [she] was in the very middle of it, [she] noticed nothing» (NM: 218). However, she refrains from elaborating on the nature of the «design» Spain would later take. The Spanish Civil War and the subsequent establishment of Franco’s dictatorship in Spain are not mentioned in the novel. [↩]
- Catalonia, like Ireland, had experienced a rise in nationalist consciousness since the late 19thcentury. Feeling that they themselves were no less colonised, suppressed, and economically exploited by a foreign power – in their case Castilian-dominated Spain – than the Irish, the Catalan nationalists took great interest in the protracted Irish struggle against British rule and emulated their Irish counterparts. Thus, in Valencia a political party called Joventut Obrera Nationalista (Nationalist Labour Youth) was established, «which drew explicitly on the Irish nationalist experience» (Boada-Montagut 2002: 2). Besides, in the 1930s several political activists fled from Catalonia to Ireland, from where they published nationalist pamphlets. Cf. Boada-Montagut 2002: 2-22. [↩]
- In her analysis of Laverty’s works Caitriona Clear points out that motherhood, food, and housekeeping are important themes in all of Laverty’s writings and that sympathetic female characters are usually also loving mothers and competent cooks and housewives. Thus, in No More Than Human, the Basterras’ cook Juanita, La Serena, and Mamá Antonia are admired by Delia for their motherly qualities as well as for their excellent cooking and housekeeping skills. [↩]
- Given that the Censorship Board, made up of five members appointed by the minister for justice was and still «is not required to give detailed explanations of why publications are banned» (Carlson 1999: 105), the exact reasons for banning No More Than Human are unknown. As Carlson points out, «[u]nder the 1929 Act books are banned indefinitely either because they are ‘indecent or obscene’ or because they advocate ‘the unnatural prevention of conception or the procurement of abortion or miscarriage» (ibid.). Laverty’s book might have been banned both because it was deemed ‘indecent’ on account of its explicit references to prostitutes, exposed breasts, sexual curiosity etc. and because it contains a scene in which La Serena secretly carries out an abortion (cf. NM: 130). [↩]
- The censors were probably scandalised at statements like «We [Irish misses] were all extremely vague about the realities of sex. […] We retained our Victorian idea of the marriage bed as a place where men might love but women must weep. […] We were devoured with curiosity as to What Actually Happened» (NM, 84), and «When Siemen and I were not making love we were quarrelling» (NM, 214). [↩]
- Cf. NM: 96, Having experienced extreme hardship herself, Delia comes to understand how hunger can drive women into prostitution. The first time she comes face to face with «women of that class» (NM: 45) she finds that there «was nothing in their appearance to inspire the scandalized horror which, as a well-brought-up girl, I knew I should be feeling. Instead that little line jumped into my head ‘… for the good are always the merry….’ If that was true, there was far more goodness at that table than at ours» (NM: 45). [↩]
- Siemen pre-empts the censors’ job when he judges the line in Delia’s love poem – «[I] Carry my breasts with royal thrusting lift» – as «rather coarse» and replaces it with «Carry my head with proud and royal lift» (NM: 216). [↩]
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