Imagining Spain: Historical Myth and National Identity by Henry Kamen - review by Michael Jacobs

Michael Jacobs

A Golden Age?

Imagining Spain: Historical Myth and National Identity


Yale University Press 256pp £25 order from our bookshop

Faced with a country of such exceptional regional and cultural diversity as Spain, foreign travellers from the early nineteenth century onwards developed romantically simplistic notions of a land in which extremes of cruelty, austerity and mysticism were set against the sensuality and joy of the Moorish south. Almost simultaneously the Spaniards themselves, in their attempts to establish a hitherto lacking sense of national identity, mythically reinterpreted their Golden Age past.

Whereas the still widely current (and endlessly studied) romantic clichés about Spain have merely led recently to some awful writings on the country, myths about the early modern period – according to Henry Kamen – have played an important part in the ‘formation of contemporary Spanish attitudes’. Indeed, Kamen’s stimulating and original new book has a broad present-day resonance, touching as it does on general issues of nationhood, and making you reflect on how vital myth is to all nationalist movements.

Imagining Spain may not be Kamen’s most accessible work, but this ‘short essay’ of 210 closely printed pages is one that brings together not only all his gifts as an historian, but also the main themes of his principal books (including the exile’s vision of Spain as featured in the

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