Concha Espina

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Biography of Concha Espina, Spanish writer, contemporary of the literary generation of 98, one of the best representatives of the culture of Spain and one of the most relevant values ​​of universal literature.

Her great merits made her a candidate for the Nobel Prize for Literature, on three successive occasions: 1926, 1927 and 1928.

Family and childhood of Concha Espina

María de la Concepción Jesusa Basilisa Rodríguez-Espina y García-Tagle was born on April 15, 1869 in Santander.

Image prior to 1971 of the Plaza del Ayuntamiento de Santander. Credit: Blog “scenesdesantander”

Her father was called Víctor Rodríguez Espina y Olivares, she was a native of Oviedo, and administrator of the mines owned by the Marquis of Comillas in Asturias.

Her mother, Ascensión García Tagle y de la Vega, was born in Madrid.

Concha Espina was the seventh of the 10 children that this marriage had.

The family had a house on Calle de Méndez Núñez, in the Sotileza neighborhood, in Santander.

The Espina García belonged to the upper class, and Concha Espina was a “good girl”, educated according to the time, in arts, such as music and dance.

Sotileza is a fishing district in Santander. Credit: Blog “scenesdesantander”

Her father’s business did very badly and he had to sell the house in Santander in 1882. He then moved to the Asturian town of Ujo where she had found a job in the company “La Hullera Española“.

They only had the house of Mazcuerras, and the whole family had to move to that town, to the home of the paternal grandmother. Concha Espina was thirteen years old at the time.

In this beautiful rural town of Cantabria, located 46 km from Santander, many years of Concha Espina’s childhood passed.

Image of the Mazcuerras region. Credit: web

Youth and literary beginnings of Concha Espina

The family environment, with the sole exception of her mother, was not very conducive to literature. There wasn’t even a library in her house, except for a few books with religious themes.

Her mother was a lady endowed with great sensitivity. She helped her to draw up a few lines when the girl was just beginning to handle the pen. Doña Ascensión knew how the girl liked new words, how she adored from a young age the richness of language that she would later polish and weigh in her writings.

On May 14, 1888, at the age of 19, Concha Espina published for the first time, in the newspaper “El Atlántico” of Santander, some verses dedicated to the Virgin. The little poem appeared under the pseudonym Ana Coe Snichp.

In 1891, her mother passed away. Doña Ascensión García Tagle had been a woman of great natural talent. She had been the only source of inspiration and support for the intellectual development of her daughter Concha.

It was a very big blow for Concha Espina, who was already 22 years old, had no good academic training and had no income of her own.

Marriage and transfer to Chile

On January 12, 1893, Concha Espina married Ramón de la Serna y Cueto, a wealthy man who would make her very unhappy in her hometown.

Ramón did not have a suitable job in Spain; He was not a business ace either, but he had inherited farms in Chile (in Valparaíso).

So Ramón convinced his wife Concha Espina to immediately undertake, in that year 1893, the trip to that distant country.

Mapa Chile
Chile is more than 11,000 km away. Credit: Wikipedia

In those years there was no possibility of making the trip by plane. The first flight of the Wrights brothers was in 1905.

Nor did the Panama Canal exist. This canal was inaugurated on August 15, 1914.

Therefore, there was no choice but to travel by boat across the Atlantic Ocean to the Strait of Magellan, cross the choppy waters of the Strait and pass to the Pacific Ocean. From there, there were about 3,000 km to reach Valparaíso.

At the end of this beautiful, dangerous and long journey, Concha and Ramón took up residence in Valparaíso, a beautiful port near Santiago, the capital of Chile.

When Concha Espina and Ramón de la Serna arrived in Valparaíso, this city had about 100,000 inhabitants and was home to a large number of immigrants, mostly Europeans and Americans, who helped give the city a marked cosmopolitan appearance.

In 1894, Valparaíso was an important center for the world’s trade routes. Credit: web

After the long wedding trip, the inexperienced husband found that the administrators of his estate, one of the richest in the country, had shattered his fortune and that of his brothers.

Concha and Ramón saw with amazement that the collapse of their fortune was taking their happiness to pieces. The economic catastrophe was dire.

In November 1894 her first son, Ramón, was born.

Two years later, on January 15, 1896, Concha Espina gave birth to her second son, Víctor de la Serna y Espina, a future great Spanish journalist.

In Chile, Concha Espina had no friends or people with whom to share her sorrows, nostalgia, and aspirations. She decided to take the reins of her life herself so as not to be shipwrecked together with her two little ones, who were now her greatest and most precious treasure.

To console herself, she went to a church to pray to the Virgin, her patron saint, the Immaculate Conception. On one occasion, at the entrance of the temple, they handed her a very small newspaper, entitled “El Porteño” in which poetry and social articles were published.

A few days later, Concha Espina went to the priest who sponsored this newspaper. She introduced herself saying “I am … .. and I am a poet.” At the same time that she handed him a few pages with verses, she offered her collaboration.

The priest took a look at the verses, kept them, but did not accept the collaboration, arguing that the newspaper could not pay for them. But, she was shrewd and knew how to see the diamond in front of him: he recommended that she go to the main newspapers in Valparaíso and Santiago.

After a while, Concha Espina saw that her verses were published in “El Porteño”. This encouraged her to follow the priest’s advice and very soon she began to collaborate with Chilean and Argentine newspapers.

Concha Espina and her husband returned to Spain

Ramón de la Serna failed to consolidate his economy in Chile, for which he decided to return to Spain in 1898, with his wife and two children.

Once in Mazcuerras, Concha Espina visited her father, who was working in the Asturian town of Ujo, where he had found a job in the company “La Hullera Española”. She spent a short time with him, accompanied by her two sons, Ramón and Víctor.

Ujo is a small Asturian town located 5 km from Mieres and 21 km from Oviedo. Credit: Mieres City Council website

In 1900, her third son José was born, who died very soon, while still a child.

Three years later, in 1903, Concha Espina brought into the world a girl whom she named Josefina. Josefina married the musician Regino Sainz de la Maza and was the mother of the actress Carmen de la Maza.

Beginning of intense literary activity by Concha Espina

Concha Espina was a conservative Catholic woman, endowed with great social sensitivity. Humanistic Christianity and its social meaning marked her life and work. She was a woman who separated herself from the ladies of her time.

In that year, 1903, Concha Espina published her study “Mujeres del Quijote”. The brilliant novelist recreated the female characters of the Cervantes work, framed in her time, and as symbols of the eternal feminine: Maritornes, Dulcinea, Zoraida, Teresa Panza, the mistress and the niece.

In 1904, her collection of poetry appeared, with the title “My flowers“, which was with a foreword by the doctor Enrique Menéndez Pelayo, Marcelino Menéndez Pelayo’s brother. It was published by the font “La libertad“.

Cubierta libro
Cover of the book “My Flowers” published by the typography “La libertad”

Three years later, in 1907, Concha Espina published “El rabión, y otros cuentos.” The 89-page book was critically successful.

In that year 1907, Concha Espina became a mother for the fourth time and had Luis, the last of her children.

Early alone, she was able to support her children with her work. In addition, she gave everyone a careful and perfect education, being the first Spanish woman who could make a living from literature.

Concha Espina separated from her husband

At that time, she was writing her first novel, which she titled, “La Niña de Luzmela” and which she published in 1909, being described by some critic as a novel brimming with life.

The plot of the novel is set in the Cantabrian town of Mazcuerras, which is located between the sea and the mountains.

Mazcuerras was the land of Concha Espina’s parents and grandparents. In the novel, she calls the village where the story takes place “Luzmela”. Life is the muse of this book. Concha Espina is inspired by life, in order to transmit her teachings.

The novel tells the story of Don Manuel de la Torre, a rich nobleman from Cantabria, who returns to his town, Luzmela, taking with him an orphan named Carmencita, who has just lost her mother.

Don Manuel presents himself to Carmencita as her godfather and benefactor, but in reality he is her father.

On the death of Don Manuel, in his will, he had foreseen the good of his daughter. But, the child was left in the care of her interested aunt Doña Rebeca, who does not profess any affection for the girl.

The incipient prestige of Concha Espina as a writer, reached the maximum with the editorial and social success of this novel. However, these triumphs affected the stability of her marriage, due to the professional jealousy of her husband, Ramón de la Serna.

In 1909, taking advantage of her international contacts, Concha Espina got a job for her husband in Mexico. Both spouses, by mutual agreement, separated.

She settled in Madrid with her four children. As her only baggage, she carried with her the success of her first novel, and the faith that God and the Virgin would watch over them.

Activities of Concha Espina, in Madrid

Immediately, a fruitful literary activity began. Although she wrote essays, studies and poetry, it was her short stories and novels that brought her notoriety and recognition.

Concha Espina was also a contributor to various newspapers, such as “El Correo Español” from Buenos Aires, and in Spain with “La Libertad“, “La Nación” and “El Diario Montañés” from Cantabria.

Her contributions to the press helped Marcelino Menéndez Pelayo, her excellent friend, see in her a novelist who deserved his admiration and support.

Marcelino Menéndez Pelayo
Portrait of Marcelino Menéndez Pelayo, writer born in Santander. in the year 1856. Credit: Wikipedia, photographer Kaulak

In 1910 she published the novel “Despertar para morir” which was a true delight for readers and is one of the most admirable novels that contemporary Spanish literature has produced.

Encouraged by her admirers and by the publishing house, in 1911 she released another novel called “Agua de Nieve“. It is a work that has an attractive plot and is written in a language that captivated its readers.

Concha Espina wrote her novels with a language that embroiders perfection. In addition, all of them were based on the experiences that she had lived.

When she thought of writing “The Maragata Sphinx“, she went for a time to a wasteland of León, where she lived austerely, and ate the dark rye bread.

This novel was published in 1914 and placed Concha Espina at the head of Spanish writers. Like many other of her novels, “The Maragata Sphinx” was translated into several languages. Soon after, Concha Espina was awarded a Royal Academy of the Language Prize.

Concha Espina
Concha Espina at 43 years old. Credit: Wikipedia. Author; Julio Cejador and Frauca

Life of Concha Espina from 1915 to 1930

Encouraged by her friends and by the enthusiastic acceptance of her novels, Concha Espina began to hold literary gatherings on Wednesdays in a living room of her house on Goya Street.

They were attended by figures of the upper bourgeoisie and intellectuals, literary critics, cartoonists, Spanish-American writers and a good number of novel writers and poets.

Concha Espina was “the lady” of the fruitful generation of ’98, which endowed Spain with a wave of extraordinary characters.

The great doctor and philosopher Gregorio Marañón was also one of the admirers of this dynamic woman.

In 1916, Concha Espina published a beautiful novel, where the displays of masculine energy are masterfully linked with feminine delicacies. She released it with the title of “The Rose of the Winds.”

Concha Espina’s literary fecundity was inexhaustible. Stimulated by the conviction that she should put her talent at the service of society, she did not stop writing. In addition, she did not stop collaborating with the press and some other means of disseminating her ideas.

Between the years 1915 and 1930, he published 15 works that received abundant and sincere praise from literary critics and readers.

Of the 15 works from that period, it can be highlighted that:

  • In 1918, she successfully premiered “El Jayón” at the Eslava theater in Madrid, her first stage work, a drama in three acts. This theatrical work was translated into Italian and turned into an opera by the maestro Francisco Mignone.
  • In 1920 she edited the novel “El metal de los muertos”, after having lived for many weeks in the city of Riotinto, where it was not easy to reside freely without being paid by that powerful mining company. Concha Espina set out to make a work of justice and art. It is perhaps one of her novels richest in expressive media.
  • The novel “Sweet name“, which Concha Espina considered her best novel.
  • With the novel “Altar Mayor“, which is a song to Covadonga and Asturias, she won the National Prize for Literature.
  • In 1924, the Royal Spanish Academy awarded her work “Tierras de Aquilón“, which contains some stories of high literary merit.

In 1923, long before there was talk in Spain of candidates for the Nobel Prize in Literature, Concha Espina was proposed for it, from the United States.

King Alfonso XIII, in 1927, inaugurated in Santander a monument that the city raised to Concha Espina, named the city’s favorite daughter. In the opening ceremony, the King placed the “Band of the Order of the Noble Ladies of María Luisa“. Concha Espina never boasted of having a monument while she was alive.

Monumento Concha Espina
The monument “Fuente de Concha Espina” was made by the sculptor Victorio Macho. Credit: Commons Wikipedia. Photographer: Josep Panadero

In 1929, Concha Espina was invited to the United States to give a lecture on her own work. Accompanied by her daughter Josefina, she also visited Cuba and Puerto Rico. In both countries she lashed out at the abusive use of English, which depreciated centuries of Spanish civilization.

Concha Espina in the years 1930 to 1939

On April 14, 1931, the Second Republic was proclaimed in Spain and Concha Espina was enthusiastic about it. But, being a well-informed person, it was not long before she was reticent in the face of events.

It was difficult for her to admit the hateful messages that were being transmitted. She felt increasingly estranged spiritually and intellectually from the Republican leaders. Eventually, she lost all her faith in that republic.

She continued to write and live, without essentially changing her way of thinking and her way of acting. She defended two ideals that had always guided her life: the Catholic religion and Hispanity.

In that decade she published no less than 18 new works, especially novels.

In 1933 she published a collection of poems that she entitled, “Between the night and the sea.” Some of them she had written during her recent trip to America.

In July 1934, Ramón de la Serna, from whom she had been separated since 1909, was the Republican mayor in the Cantabrian city of Cabezón de la Sal. On that date, both agreed to legally separate.

Gabriela Maurer, wife of her son Luis de la Serna Espina, brought into the world a child who was baptized with the name of José Antonio, since his baptismal godfather was José Antonio Primo de Rivera.

In 1936, when the civil war began, her sons Luis and Víctor joined the national ranks. Concha Espina left Madrid and went to Mazcuerras, where she was held. Later, she recalled and novelized her experience as a near prisoner in the enemy rear.

In August 1937, her sons Luis and Víctor entered Mazcuerra, at the head of the national troops. Around that time, Concha Espina learned that her ex-husband had died.

After the civil war, her son Luis recovered from the house in Madrid the image of the Virgin of the Immaculate, to which Concha Espina had a lot of devotion. He found her lying in a bunker with her hands cut off.

From the end of the civil war, Concha Espina was a regular contributor to the ABC newspaper in Seville.

From those postwar years are some testimonial novels, such as “Retaguardia”,Diary of a prisoner” or “Red moon“.

In “Red Moon” (1939), she made a reference to the blowing up of the Holy Chamber of Oviedo Cathedral during the revolutionary events of October 1934.

Cathedral Oviedo
Oviedo Cathedral at sunset. Credit: JEM

Last years of Concha Espina

In 1938, she had begun to lose her sight and, although she was operated on, in 1940 she was completely blind. However, she did not stop writing despite being in total darkness.

From 1940 to 1955 she published 13 novels. In addition, several of her works were adapted to the theater and the cinema.

Her novel “Princesses of martyrdom” which relates to three nurses who are victims of the Red dictatorship in Spain. For this novel she won the Red Cross gold medal.

She died at the age of eighty-six, on May 19, 1955 in Madrid.

Concha Espina, whose prose evoked the purest Spanish tradition, wanted to be shrouded with a simple habit of the Virgen de los Dolores and in her hands a crucifix. Her remains rest in the Almudena cemetery.

Tributes paid to Concha Espina

  • Plaque in her honor in Castrillo de los Polvazares, León.
  • Prize from the Royal Spanish Academy for “La sfinge maragata
  • Prize from the Royal Spanish Academy and “Tierras del Aquilón“.
  • National Prize for Literature for her work “Altar mayor“.
  • In 1948 the town of Mazcuerras officially adopted the name of Luzmela, when the ceremony of imposition of the band and grand cross of the Order of Alfonso X el Sabio was held there at her home.
  • In 1950 she received the Gold Medal for Merit at Work.
  • In the Cantabrian town of Torrelavega, a municipal theater named after Concha Espina was inaugurated in January 2007.
  • The city of Madrid has honored it with Concha Espina Street, which is approximately 1.2 km long and at the end of which is the Santiago Bernabeu Stadium.
  • The Madrid Metro has dedicated a station to it on line 9, the Concha Espina station.
  • An Iberia aircraft, model A340 / 300, with registration EC-GGS, also bears the name of Concha Espina.
  • In Valencia, in the Cruz covered neighborhood, a nursery also bears her name.
  • In the Cantabrian town of Reinosa, next to the Las Eras neighborhood and Las Fuentes park, there is an EGB (primary education) school – now closed – with the name of Concha Espina, inaugurated in 1931.

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