The image of Spain in Flanders as shaped by the translations of Jozef Simons

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The image of Spain in Flanders is traditionally considered in terms of the shared history of both countries in the context of the “composite state” under the Habsburg monarchs in the 16th and 17th centuries. Schoolbooks and popular literature such as comics propogated the stereotype of the cruel, reckless, arrogant, tyrannical, courageous Spanish soldier, with the Duke of Alva as the most prominent representative of this prototype, all the way to the end of the twentieth century. Research into the building of an image of a more modern Spain is only just beginning. In this chapter, we propose to examine which image of modern Spain was constructed through translation in Catholic Flanders during the first half of the twentieth century. We take the work of the Flemish nationalist novelist and translator Jozef Simons (1898–1948) as an exemplary case. Our starting point is a brief sketch of Flanders at the start of the twentieth century as a ‘pillarized’ society, where political, social and cultural life was organized vertically along ideological lines. Then we explain how Jozef Simons’ activities as a writer and translator corresponded to the objectives of the Catholic pillar. We then present the Spanish authors whose work he translated: Pedro Antonio de Alarcón and Luis Coloma S.J., two defenders of social conservative, nationalistic values deeply rooted in Romanticism. The Spain presented in their work is decidedly anti-modern: country life prevails over city life, Spaniards are happy in their ignorance, given to the easy life, devote, and love the bullfights; Spanish girls have the looks of Carmen (but not necessarily her ruthlessness). It should be remarked that this image is not ‘genuine’ but derives from the stereotypes that pervaded French and English travel literature on Spain in the nineteenth century and which Spaniards ended up making their own. These stereotypes were carried over in Simons’ translations and run parallel to his own ideal of a traditionalist Flanders, true to its rural and religious roots. The image of Spain thus created can be considered influential, since these translations were reprinted until after World War II.


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