CANCELLED Shedding Light on José Fernández Bremón’s "Un crimen científico": Further Traces of Hard Science in 19th Century Spanish Science Fiction

In his “Nuevos mapas del universo,” Santiáñez Tió rightly observes: “Sin duda, la narrativa del s. XIX español no se reduce al catálogo habitual de obras realistas y naturalistas,” offering the case of “la ciencia ficción española” as “un buen ejemplo de esa irreductible variedad de la literatura española del s. XIX” (270).

Among the most recent of those who have turned their attention to the topic are Díez and Moreno who, in their Historia y antología de la ciencia ficción española, provide a context within which readers can comprehend such production—that is, a proposed trajectory of the genre in Spain running from its perceived origins to the present day: An initial, prototypical phase, from ~ the mid-19th Century until the Spanish Civil  War—in which production is inspired more by the fantastically scientific and the utopian than by “hard” and coherent scientific concepts; a second period, coinciding with the Francoist dictatorship, characterized by a curtailing of SF production; and a resurgence of the genre beginning in the 1980s and defined by a growing interest in “la coherencia argumental y científica” (82).

In their estimation of the first of these three phases, Díez and Moreno are not alone. For example, Santoro Domingo, speaking of Spanish SF broadly construed (i.e., certainly during the 19th Century, but also beyond this) remarks upon what he views as the historical preference of Spanish authors for “social extrapolation” over “scientific or technical [speculation]” within the genre (327). Similar opinions have been voiced by Sainz Cidoncha and Dendle.

To be sure, such a vision of the state of 19th Century Spanish letters and of Spanish engagement with the scientific during the period is partly true. That is, as Santoro Domingo, Mainer and others point out above, there was a relative lack of concern for scientific coherence in the literary productions of the day. What is more, Spain did lag considerably behind its European counterparts in the realm of scientific and technological endeavors.  

Having recognized the general validity of the above depiction, though, it must be acknowledged that this view only partially represents reality. That is, if it is true that 19th Century Spain was on the trailing edge of science and science-inspired culture, this is not to say that such things were absent. Beginning with scientific activity proper, during the 19th and into the early 20th Century, Spain was home to some of the leading lights of the day in fields such as histology, bacteriology, mathematics and engineering. What is more, there thrived in-country a variety of fora dedicated to the dissemination of information associated with scientific and technological advances: e.g., La Abeja and  La Ilustración Española y Americana.

Unfortunately, critical focus has historically tended to fall on 19th Century Spain’s lack of sophistication. What are the effects of the propagation of this half-truth? Most obviously, the perpetuation of an incomplete and less-than-fair presentation of the Spanish condition. Less obvious, though equally detrimental, are the consequences for investigations into and assessments of Spanish artistic, etc. production: “The thesis underlying these assumptions is that unless a country was at the cutting edge of scientific and technological innovation […] then works that actively intertwined fiction and science would not appear there” (Lawless 263). That is, knowing in advance that there is nothing or very little to see or hear vis à vis the scientific, many critics have become blind and deaf to the many reflections and resonances which such (presumably absent) scientific activities may have in coincident Spanish artistic compositions.  

The purpose of the current study, then, is to participate in the “general re-evaluatio[n]” (253) of Spanish SF of which Lawless speaks and to affirm, along with the critic, that “alternate historical reading which reconciles both the widespread view that Spain was, in terms of science, behind the times and the existence [in the national literature] […] of early examples of 19th Century SF [italics mine]” (263). Our manner of doing so will be by way of the consideration of a narrative—José Fernández Bremón’s 1875 “Un crimen científico”—which, we shall argue, reveals the clear influence of hard/coherent scientific concepts, if only one has eyes to see.   

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  • Spanish Peninsular Studies