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  • Hannah Fielding - Romance Novelist

Spanish art

In my twenties, after graduating university, I travelled around Europe, keen to visit places I had read so much about. Andalucía was one such place; it had cropped up so many times in the literature I had read.

There was Washington Irving’s captivating Tales of the Alhambra, in which he described in such vivid detail his approach to the complex of Moorish palaces:

In the wild passes of these mountains the sight of walled towns and villages, built like eagles’ nests among the cliffs, and surrounded by Moorish battlements, or of ruined watchtowers perched on lofty peaks, carries the mind back to the chivalric days of Christian and Moslem warfare, and to the romantic struggle for the conquest of Granada. In traversing these lofty sierras the traveller is often obliged to alight, and lead his horse up and down the steep and jagged ascents and descents, resembling the broken steps of a staircase.

Sometimes the road winds along dizzy precipices, without parapet to guard him from the gulfs below, and then will plunge down steep, and dark, and dangerous declivities. Sometimes it struggles through rugged barrancos, or ravines, worn by winter torrents, the obscure path of the contrabandista; while, ever and anon, the ominous cross, the monument of robbery and murder, erected on a mound of stones at some lonely part of the road, admonishes the traveller that he is among the haunts of banditti, perhaps at that very moment under the eye of some lurking bandolero. Sometimes, in winding through the narrow valleys, he is startled by a hoarse bellowing, and beholds above him on some green fold of the mountain a herd of fierce Andalusian bulls, destined for the combat of the arena. I have felt, if I may so express it, an agreeable horror in thus contemplating, near at hand, these terrific animals, clothed with tremendous strength, and ranging their native pastures in untamed wildness, strangers almost to the face of man: they know no one but the solitary herdsman who attends upon them, and even he at times dares not venture to approach them. The low bellowing of these bulls, and their menacing aspect as they look down from their rocky height, give additional wildness to the savage scenery.

There was Lord Byron’s romantic depictions of the Andalusian cities of Seville and Cádiz in his poetry, most prominently in Childe Harold, but most beautifully, for me, in ‘The Girl of Cadiz’:

The Spanish girl that meets your love

Ne’er taunts you with a mock denial;

For every thought is bent to prove

Her passion in the hour of trial.

When thronging foemen menace Spain

She dares the deed and shares the danger;

And should her lover press the plain,

She hurls the spear, her love’s avenger.

There was Spanish poet Federico Garcia Lorca, whose words stand as the epigraph for Indiscretion: ‘To burn with desire and keep quiet about it is the greatest punishment we can bring on ourselves.’ He showed the world the ‘hidden Andalucía’, and with such passion, as here in his poem ‘Sleepingwalking Ballad’:

Green, how I want you green.

Big hoarfrost stars

come with the fish of shadow

that opens the road of dawn.

The fig tree rubs its wind

with the sandpaper of its branches,

and the forest, cunning cat,

bristles its brittle fibers.

But who will come? And from where?

She is still on her balcony

green flesh, her hair green,

dreaming in the bitter sea.

There was Ernest Hemingway’s colourful and raw descriptions of Andalucían culture, most notably the corrida (bull fight), as in this excerpt from Death in the Afternoon:

All supposed exterior signs of danger that a bull gives, such as pawing the ground, threatening with his horns, or bellowing are forms of bluffing. They are warnings given in order that combat may be avoided if possible. The truly brave bull gives no warning before he charges except the fixing of his eye on the enemy, the raising of the crest of muscle in his neck, the twitching of an ear, and, as he charges, the lifting of his tail.

All of this, and more, led me to Andalucía, where, like the writers who came before me, I found so much inspiration in the way of life there and the beautiful scenery. In my novels Indiscretion, Masquerade and Legacy I endeavour to transport my readers to this unique Spanish region, so that they too may experience the place where ‘blood boils without fire’.

If you are interested in the literary history of Andalucía, I can recommend Andrew and Suzanne Edwards’ book Andalucía: A Literary Guide for Travellers. Beware, though: reading this book could be costly; you may well find yourself buying a plane ticket to Spain…


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