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Skepticism and Literature in Nineteenth-Century Spain

A nineteenth-century Spanish story offers a devastating critique of pseudomedicine. In at least twelve ways, it anticipates the bogus rationales offered for today’s quack medicine.

“… take me to Spain.” —“Spanish Caravan,” The Doors

The idea of Spain in the minds of foreign visitors has T evolved substantially over the past three centuries. From an illiterate and savage country whose outlook may be synthesized in the dictum attributed to Voltaire that “Africa begins in the Pyrenees” or the commentary of Casanova upon entering Spain in 1767 (“Wretched Spain!”) (Casanova 1894), to its later transformation into a romantic and exotic place full of brave men and passionate women. This latter vision persisted and was made universal in the twentieth century through portraits of the Spanish Civil War (1936–1939) as depicted in the narratives of Hemingway and Orwell, among many others. From these, Spain’s devotion for bullfighting was then singled out as representative of the country as narrated in Hemingway’s novel The Sun Also Rises, which made Pamplona’s San Fermín celebrations famous worldwide. This oversimplified depiction of a highly diverse Spanish society was insightfully analyzed by the expert musicologist Judith Etzion in her landmark work on the Spanish fandango (Etzion 1993), a style of music and dance popular in eighteenth-century Spain. The truth is that many different “Spains” have existed in the Iberian Peninsula over the past three centuries and that different travelers have found what they were looking for, choosing to single out only one of many different realities.

Despite the presumed transition from an uncultured nation to a romantic and exotic one, disdain for science in Spanish society has been a traditional view that has remained constant during this time. Jules Verne best conveys the international view of science in nineteenth-century Spain. In his novel From the Earth to the Moon, originally published in 1865, Verne describes the international contribution to the cost of the voyage to the moon, for which he states:

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