THE SPANISH CRAZE by Richard L. Kagan

THE SPANISH CRAZE

America's Fascination with the Hispanic World, 1779–1939
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KIRKUS REVIEW

From Hispanophilia to Hispanophobia: a well-considered study of the shifting but, in its main outlines, surprisingly constant view of American elites toward the Spanish Other.

American culture has been bound up with Spanish, Spanish-American, and Hispanic cultures for far longer than the matter of Donald Trump and his wall, although that ugly business is just a reverberation from and continuation of the past. As Kagan (Emeritus, History/Johns Hopkins Univ.; Clio and the Crown: The Politics of History in Medieval and Early Modern Spain, 2009, etc.) recounts in this scholarly study, Henry Adams, William Randolph Hearst, and a host of other influential Americans advanced the “Black Legend” of “the Spain of bloodthirsty conquistadors who slaughtered their way across the Americas” and otherwise contrasted Spanish civilization to the infinitely more enlightened—in their telling—Anglo-Saxon one. Against them were writers such as Washington Irving, who told tales of a sunny Spain, “a light-hearted, quasi-Oriental country that was charming, hospitable, and, most important, relentlessly romantic and picturesque.” William Dean Howells, for his part, called the Spanish “the honestest people in Europe,” leaving it to the likes of Ernest Hemingway to tell his compatriots that not all of them were top-notch fellows; even after the horrors of the Spanish Civil War, Hemingway could be persuaded to go to Franco’s nation to catch a glimpse of his beloved bullfight. Kagan carefully documents changing attitudes over three centuries of Anglo-American interaction with Spain and its colonial descendants, attitudes that hinge on stereotypes good and bad, from Zorro to the Inquisition and Dolores del Río to Valeriano Weyler. Occasionally, the author even turns the tables, as when he notes that Hearst was broadly considered little more than a looter of Spanish culture "whose seemingly unquenchable appetite for Spanish art and antiques resulted in wholesale ‘destruction’ of Spain’s artistic and architectural patrimony,” just as Americans of many generations have appropriated things Spanish and Hispanic.

Interesting reading for students of cultural history as well as Spanish-American relations over the centuries.

Pub Date: March 1st, 2019
ISBN: 978-1-4962-0772-2
Page count: 640pp
Publisher: Univ. of Nebraska
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1st, 2019




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