Blood and Sand

By VICENTE BLASCO IBANEZ. Translated from the Spanish by Mrs. W. A. Gillespie; with Introduction by Isaac Goldberg. New York: E. P. Dutton & Co. 1919. Crown 8vo, xii + 356 pp. $1.90.
WRITTEN in 1908, this relentless picture of the Spanish bull-ring surpasses in definite artistry The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, through which the author first arrested American attention. The latter is almost a treatise; the earlier book is almost an epic, but an epic transmogrified, celebrating the sinister glories of an unworthy national pastime, the sordid heroism of folly.
The cloudy, ruminant quality of The Four Horsemen is here replaced by a sharp objectivity of treatment. The three or four great scenes of the bull-fight, sun-filled and hot, and crowded with color as a Sorolla, are heightened and interpreted by innumerable, vivid minor sketches, some of them merely blocked in, others finished in brilliant detail: Juanillo, the ragamuffin, haunting the slaughter-house and playing torero with the oxen; El Nacional, the indifferently expert banderillero, sketched in few strokes, — yet how well we know him!—the fanatical revolutionary, the sober family man, full of passion and ignorance, hating the church and lauding the panacea, education; Doña Sol, an impressionist picture of a corrupt fine lady, beside whose cold viciousness the ugly sins of Juan fade into peccadilloes; a night-scene by the roadside, with the herd rushing past to the morrow’s torture; the procession in Holy Week, so gay and unconsciously blasphemous. All these, and more, vivify the crowning episodes.
In true epic fashion, the story opens with Juan at the zenith of his career. We assist at the torero’s toilet, we follow him through the gala streets of Madrid to his supreme triumph in the bull-ring. Reminiscent narrative takes us sketchily through childhood, youth, marriage, to wealth and the tottery heights of popular fame. Then begins the decline, culminating in the tragic sequence of bull-fights in the last three chapters. The bewildered cowardice of the hero, the fickle brutality of the populace, the bloody details of the ring— nothing is spared us; and yet these lavish horrors are reported with a grim, unimpassioned distaste and Latin directness which give almost the effect of restraint and understatement.
In this book, as in The Four Horsemen, the reader feels himself hampered by the translation; a subtle something in the tenses of Spanish narrative verbs would seem to baffle the translator; certain nuances of grammar, in the author’s delicately reminiscent style, must evade English idiom, for the effect is too often clumsy and jarring. Fortunately, the power of the book is too genuine to be concealed beneath the stiff, foreign veil. F. C.