Washington Irving and “El estudiante de Granada” Posted by on Nov 29, 2012 in Spanish Culture

Today is the anniversary of Washington Irving’s death. This North American writer spent some time travelling around Spain, and it was during his visit to Granada that he wrote his “Tales of the Alhambra”. This is quite an interesting book, because it is a mixture of “costumbrismo” (a literary genre that explains local customs), and exoticism. In these tales he narrates everyday life events; he presents his readers people from the city, people he met and loved to talk to, and a whole collection of legends and stories about the magic that shrouds the Arabic Fortress.

But it is not about the Tales that I want to write today. Some years ago, a new short story, not very well known in Spain, was translated and published with the name of “El alquimista de Granada” (The alchemist of Granada). Although its original name in English was “The student of Salamanca”, I think the Spanish translation is more accurate with the book content.

It is a gothic story, similar to that of Anne Radcliffe, Horace Walpole or Mathew G. Lewis. It is the story of an unruly student from Salamanca who comes to waste some time in Granada. In the library he finds a mysterious erudite worn in black, who is said to be an alchemist, and the young decides to know more about him. So he follows the strange man to an old mansion outside the city. Once in there, he perceives a feminine silhouette, and he falls madly in love with this ethereal woman…

As you can see, there are adventures, romance, mystery, dungeons, references to the terrible Inquisition processes, but also a great description of this Nasrid city, and some of its most wonderful places. If you know Granada, you will think you are back to ancient times while you read this book, and will probably admire more the actual city.

Hoy es el aniversario de la muerte de Washington Irving. Este escritor norteamericano pasó algún tiempo viajando por España, y fue durante su visita a Granada que escribió sus “Cuentos de la Alhambra”. Es este un libre interesante, ya que es una mezcla de costumbrismo y exotismo. En sus Cuentos narra hechos de la vida cotidiana; presenta a sus lectores gente de la ciudad, que conoció y con quienes le entusiasmaba charlar, y toda una colección de legendas e historias sobre la magia que envuelve la fortaleza árabe.

Sin embargo no sobre los Cuentos que quiero escribir hoy. Hace algunos años, una nueva historieta, no muy conocida en España, fue traducida y publicada con el nombre de “El alquimista de Granada”. Aunque el título original en inglés era “El estudiante de Salamanca”, creo que la traducción española es más fiel al contenido del libro.

Se trata de una historia gótica, similar a las de Anne Radcliffe, Horace Walpole o Mathew G. Lewis. Es la historia de un díscolo estudiante de Salamanca que viene a pasar algún tiempo en Granada. En la biblioteca encuentra a un misterioso erudito vestido de negro, de quien dicen es alquimista, por lo que el joven decide averiguar más sobre él. Por lo tanto sigue al extraño personaje hasta una vieja mansión a las afueras de la ciudad. Una vez allí, percibe una silueta femenina, y se enamora perdidamente de esa joven etérea…

Como podéis ver, hay aventuras, romance, misterio, mazmorras, referencias a los terribles procesos inquisitoriales, pero también una fabulosa descripción de esta ciudad nazarí, y algunos de sus lugares más bellos. Si conocéis Granada, creeréis que habéis vuelto a tiempos remotos mientras leéis este libro, y posiblemente admiraréis más la ciudad real.

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About the Author: Magda

Hi all! I’m Magda, a Spanish native speaker writing the culture posts in the Transparent Language Spanish blog. I have a Bachelor’s in English Philology and a Master’s in Linguistics and Literature from the University of Granada, in Spain. I have also completed a Postgraduate Certificate in Education, and then worked as an English teacher in several schools and academies for several years. Last year was my first at university level. In addition, I work as a private tutor, teaching English and Spanish as a foreign language to students and adults. In my free time, I’m an avid reader and writer, editing and collaborating in several literary blogs. I have published my first poetry book recently. And last but not least, I love photography!


  1. Linda Prindle:

    I am excited about reading this book. I am going to Salamanca, Spain in May to study in a Spanish Abroad program. I read reviews about the various cities in Spain and since I love medieval architecture so much, I selected Salamanca(and Madrid). This book should really put me in the mood! My language learning brain cells deserve a rest so I enjoy reading about Spanish culture.

    • Magda:

      @Linda Prindle I´m sure you will have a graet time in Salamanca, it is such a wonderful city! If you also have the chance, you have to visit Toledo, it is even more impressive (in my oppinion). It would be great if you shared your experiences with us after visiting Spain.
      Good luck Linda!

  2. Servicio de Limpieza Granada:

    Nos ha gustado mucho la web, enhorabuena, nos pasaremos por aquí sin duda en otras ocasiones, un saludo