Vicente Blasco Ibáñez may not be a household name outside of the field of Hispanic letters, but TU Professor of Spanish and Comparative Literature Christopher Anderson makes sure that his students are acquainted with him. As the author of two books on novels by Blasco, the principal co-author of two annotated bibliographies on his life and works, and the co-editor of the Valencia-based Revista de Estudios Sobre Blasco Ibáñez / Journal of Blasco Ibáñez Studies, Anderson is an internationally recognized Blasco expert.
However, Blasco Ibáñez (1867 – 1928) was more than a renowned author: he was also a politician who represented his native Valencia in Madrid, a colonizer in Argentina, a social critic and commentator, an historian, a newspaper publisher, a book editor, a movie producer and the first novelist to write directly for Hollywood’s silver screen.
He also represented a bold and progressive way of thinking, who “remains relevant today as a person and politician who stood up to dictators and tyrants and placed his career and even his life in danger,” Anderson said.
Anderson first became intrigued by Blasco Ibáñez through his novels. “When I was in graduate school, I read what I thought was his best work Cañas y barro,” which became a movie in 1954 and in 1978 was made into a blockbuster TV mini-series.
Blasco Ibáñez wrote 26 recognized novels, and he is best known for Los cuatro jinetes del Apocalipsis (1916) which in conjunction with its 1918 translation The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse “has often been called the world’s first best seller,” said Anderson, as it sold some two million copies in the United States alone.
Despite the popularity of his books among the reading public in Spain, it became difficult to buy his novels there during the dictatorship of Francisco Franco (1939-1975). During this period, “his books that were evaluated as dangerous either were not allowed to be published or appeared only in voluminous and expensive complete works,” which prevented the working class from gaining access to them, Anderson explained.
Blasco Ibáñez’s democratic, anti-monarchist and anticlerical views reflected his disparaging opinions of the king and military dictators. He was also critical of the wealthy, despite becoming quite rich himself. “People who don’t bother to read his work might think that when he became rich he was less critical of rich people. That’s not true,” Anderson said. “One of his last novels is a scathing diatribe against people who don’t do anything except sit around casinos and gamble.” His controversial opinions lead to both forced and self-imposed exiles from Spain.
Following the success of The Four Horsemen, both in literary and film form, many of his novels were turned into Hollywood films, especially in the 1920s. Clearly Blasco, the first Spaniard to own a movie production company, “was ahead of the game as far as appreciation for film is concerned,” Anderson added. In 1916, he wrote the script for and directed Sangre y arena (Blood and Sand).
When Anderson and his co-author Paul C. Smith (joined later by Javier Lluch-Prats), began to write their first annotated bibliography on Blasco Ibáñez’s life and works, they decided to change the usual format. Normally, such texts dedicate a sentence or two to a particular critical study, but these Blasco bibliographies may dedicate complete pages to one entry. “We wanted the bibliographies to serve as guides for people who want to study Blasco but do not have time to read everything that has been written on him,” Anderson said. “Therefore, we often give a lengthy synopsis and a commentary on whether we think the study was good, but we do so subtly.”
As the result of efforts made by Anderson and the staff of McFarlin Library, under the aegis of Head of Acquisitions Steven Nobles, the TU faculty study now houses the largest on-site collection of books by and about Blasco found in any U.S. university library.
“Blasco Ibáñez gives us many messages. Among these are the need to stand up for yourself and to be unafraid of being a progressive thinker in very conservative times,” Anderson said. “When it comes to Vicente Blasco Ibáñez, a few lines would never be enough.”