Pardo Bazan, Emilia (Emilia, Cantessa de Pardo Bazan)

Encyclopedia of the Literature of Empire - Mary Ellen Snodgrass 2010

Pardo Bazan, Emilia (Emilia, Cantessa de Pardo Bazan)

Pardo Bazan, Emilia (Emilia, Cantessa de Pardo Bazan) (1851-1921) Spanish novelist and nonfiction writer

A dynamic feminist and antimilitarist, Emilia Pardo Bazan voiced the disillusion of a generation of late-colonial Spanish Europeans. Born to aristocratic parents at La Coruna in Galicia in northwestern Spain, she treasured early memories of the Spanish annexation of northern Morocco. In Autobiographical Sketches (1886), she recalls a Spanish seizure of territory bordering the Strait of Gibraltar after the battle of Tetouan on February 6, 1861, a high point of the Spanish-Moroccan War of 1859-61. At a triumphal march, which she viewed at age 10 from a balcony on Real Street, “A Splendid sun shone on the bayonets and naked swords; it rendered the colors of the national flag—pierced by bullets—gayer, shinier, and bolder” (Pardo Bazan 1992, 264). She read world literature from a well-stocked library containing the works of Dante Alighieri, Alexandre Dumas, JOHANN WOLFGANG VON GOETHE, George Sand, LEO TOLSTOY, and Emile Zola. During the political exile of her father, the conde de Pardo- Bazan, she traveled with him, acquiring fluency in English, French, German, and Italian. She wrote 580 short stories for journals and newspapers—Los contempordneos, El cuento semanal, El libro popular, La novela corta, and Nuevo teatro critico. At age 28, she advanced to novel writing with Pascual Lopez: The Autobiography of a Medical Student (1879), followed by La tribuna (The tribune, 1882), which portrays the factory workers as New World replacements for the peons of old.

At a time when Spain's intellectual life suffered, Pardo Bazan, like the Polish-born JOSEPH CONRAD, depicted the effects of imperialism on the imperialists themselves rather than on the colonized. She achieved fame with a novel, Los pazos de Ulloa (The House of Ulloa, 1886), which surveys the decadence of Galician aristocrat Dom Pedro and the demise of the Spanish nobility. From a woman's viewpoint, Bazan realistically depicts the corruption of the church and the vitiation of the upper classes from centuries of dependence on unearned wealth— “plenty of talk about revolution, freedom, human rights … And in the end, only tyranny, privileges, and feudalism, for what is this but a return to the days of bondage and the injustice of slavery?” (Pardo Bazan 1992, 138). The false morality and class rigidity of the time plunges the Spanish, especially women and the peasant class, into despair.

By championing the underdog in fiction, Pardo Bazan alienated friends and broke her ties with the ruling class. Conversely, in a literary history, La revolution y la novela en Rusia (Russia: Its People and Its Literature, 1887), the author found much to praise in the depotism of Ivan the Terrible and Peter the Great, who introduced a standing navy and infantry, public education, commerce, and European enlightenment to a backward empire. Nonetheless, three decades before the Russian Revolution of 1917 and the assassination of Czar Nicholas II, Czarina Alexandra, and their five children, Pardo Bazan foresaw the danger of a restless peasantry: “Countryfolk, patient as cattle, but fanatical and overwhelming in their fury, once let loose, will sweep everything before it” (Pardo Bazan 1890, 152). In 1908, King Alfonso XIII conferred on the author the title of countess in acknowledgement of her endeavors for literacy and culture. A statue in the main park of La Coruna honors her service to Spain.


Balfour, Sebastian. The End of the Spanish Empire, 1898-1923. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1997.

Pardo Bazan, Emilia. The House of Ulloa. Translated by Roser Caminalas-Heath. Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1992.

----- . Russia: Its People and Its Literature. Translated by Fanny Hale Gardiner. Chicago: A. C. McClurg and Co., 1890.