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The 2013 Pérez Galdós Lecture:

Death and the City in the Work of
Benito Pérez Galdós and Narcís Oller

by

Professor Elisa Martí-López

(Northwestern University, USA)

Synopsis

Burial practices and sites changed radically in all of Europe during the first two decades of the nineteenth century. Beside the justified concerns about the insalubrity and saturation of old burial sites, the decision to close down the old churchyards and build new cemeteries outside the city walls points to the bourgeoisie's radical new attitude –and sensibility– toward both death and the city. The lecture will discuss, first, the creation of new burial grounds outside the city as one of the new practices of exclusion and confinement of all non-productive individuals that characterized enlightened thought, and as marking a new relation between the living and the dead based on a “new regime of the hidden body” (T. W. Laqueur). After this contextualization, the lecture will explore the place death and its new urban spaces occupy in the late nineteenth-century novelistic imagination, their strategic position within the plot, their effect on the act of narrating. In particular, the lecture will discuss Narcís Oller’s La febre d’or (1890-1891), a novel on the stock market crash of 1880-1881, and Benito Pérez Galdós’s La de Bringas (1884), a novel on the last months of Queen Isabel II’s Monarchy in 1868. I will analyse the narrative role of modern cemeteries in Oller’s literary re-creation of Barcelona and its relation to the popular pictorial and photographic genre of panoramic views, and Galdós’s reliance on memento mori (specifically, on objects made with human hair) to re-create the pre-revolutionary Madrid. I will contend that it is death, its new urban spaces and practices, and its complex relation to “seeing,” that both make the city visible and articulate modernity’s illusions and delusions.

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Professor Elisa Martí-López

Professor Martí-López is a graduate from the University of Barcelona and she subsequently obtained a PhD from New York University. She specializes in Catalan and Spanish literature and culture, with a particular focus on the nineteenth century.

Professor Martí-López is the author of Borrowed Words: Translation, Imitation, and the Making of the Novel in Nineteenth-Century Spain (Bucknell UP, 2002), which demonstrates how translations and imitations of foreign literary works served as the basis for the development fo the Spanish middle-class novel.

She is currently working on a project entitled The Urban Spaces of Death: Cemeteries as Narratives of the Modern City 1780-1918, which explores the culture of death in nineteenth-century Europe.

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