Photo of the exhibition ‘Clarín, un cuentista fantástico’,

In Oviedo, it is difficult to ignore the presence and influence of the nineteenth-century Spanish author, Leopoldo Alas “Clarín”, on the local patrimonial and literary landscape. An author, literary critic and journalist, Clarín (1852-1901) is an important figure in the region of Asturias, Spain.

Drawing on her doctoral research at the University of Birmingham, Isabel collaborated with the Biblioteca de Asturias on an exhibition that revealed a much lesser-known aspect of Clarín’s life and works. The exhibition ‘Clarín, un cuentista fantástico’ (‘Clarín, a fantastic storyteller’) consists of over 100 pieces pertaining to Clarín’s short fiction production, bringing together published anthologies, recent adaptations of short stories, critical and translated works, literary reviews and unpublished manuscripts and sketches.

The exhibition also displayed information on panels exploring the significance of Clarín’s interest in the fantastic throughout his published anthologies, as well as explaining the significance of the unpublished ‘fantastic’ manuscripts. The manuscripts ranged from narrative works such as ‘La oración olvidada’ (‘The forgotten prayer’) which bears similarities to a published fantastic story ‘Un viaje redondo’ (‘Round trip’), to philosophical essays such as ‘De lo metafísico’ (‘On the metaphysical’) which highlights the author’s intellectual interest in fantasy and the metaphysical.

The exhibition also displays publications of Clarín’s fantastic stories such as ‘Cuento futuro’ (‘Future story’) which is an early experimentation with science fiction, and ‘Tirso de Molina’ which explores modernity through time travel.

By drawing attention to the fantastic in one of Spain’s most prolific authors of the nineteenth century, Isabel's research feeds into a wider reconceptualisation of the fantastic tradition in Spain. Long considered a genre copied from British and American authors, the Spanish fantastic has  suffered from a lack of critical attention. However, as Clarín’s works demonstrate, the fantastic imagination in Spain enjoys a unique relationship to cultural and national identity and allows for a much more nuanced dialogue with modernity and science, Regeneration and politics, and decadence and degeneration.

Revealing a new aspect of Clarín’s work has been such an enriching experience - working with the Biblioteca de Asturias has been wonderful and it has taught me a lot about how to excite the public about my research. I wanted the exhibition to be just as much about including the public in research and new discoveries of archival materials, than about sharing my passion for fantastic literature and Clarín’s short fiction.

Isabel Cawthorn, Doctoral researcher

The exhibition was opened on 21st April with a ceremony which was attended by Clarín’s great-granddaughter, Ana-Cristina Tolivar Alas. The Biblioteca de Asturias holds the largest collection of original materials on Clarín since, in 2010, Ana Cristina and her brother Leopoldo Tolivar Alas deposited books, manuscripts, correspondence, serialised works and personal belongings. There are over 300 books in the collection alone.

The ‘Clarín un cuentista fantástico’ exhibition runs until 28th May 2023.