• Cathedral of Oviedo. Plaza de Alfonso II El Casto, also known as Plaza de la Catedral

    Oviedo Cathedral

    Plaza de Alfonso II El Casto, also known as Plaza de la Catedral

    A Tour of Clarin’s Oviedo

    Antonio Fernández Insuela

    Professor of Spanish Literature at the University of Oviedo

    A city may be remembered for many reasons, among others, for the beauty of several of its civil and religious buildings, for having been the place where relevant events occurred or because a writer situates the characters from a prestigious national or international literary work there.

    Oviedo boasts a well-deserved reputation as a fictionalized city. Storytellers of the prestige of Leopoldo Alas Clarín, Ramón Pérez de Ayala and Dolores Medio situated the action of their stories in a place which, seen through the typical transforming veil of literary creations, may be largely identified with this city at various points in its social and cultural history.

  • Portico of Oviedo Cathedral. In the background, outdoor statue of King Alfonso II

    Portico of Oviedo Cathedral. In the background, outdoor statue of King Alfonso II

    Plaza de Alfonso II El Casto, also known as Plaza de la Catedral

  • This Tour of Clarin’s Oviedo aims to provide a significant sample of places in Oviedo linked to Leopoldo Alas Clarín (1852-1901), taking as a fundamental reference his novel, La Regenta (1884-1885). Though born in Zamora, he moved to Oviedo at an early age and, after graduating and taking his first steps as a lecturer, he settled permanently in the Asturian capital in 1883 as a university professor. Here he wrote dozens of short stories and novellas, several hundred newspaper articles and two novels, La Regenta (1884-1885), one of the most important Spanish novels, and Su hijo único (1890). Despite living in a relatively small city poorly connected to the capital of Spain, he was very mindful of the best of Spanish and European cultural thought, on account of which he was rightly described by his biographer Juan Antonio Cabezas as “the universal provincial”.

    In the preface to the 1900-1901 edition of Clarin’s great novel, famous novelist and playwright Benito Pérez Galdós, contemporary and friend of Leopoldo Alas, wrote the following:

    The events of La Regenta take place in a city that might well be called its author’s homeland, although he was not born there, as Clarín’s ancestral roots are clearly fixed in Vetusta and all his objects of affection dwell in Vetusta,both for those buried there and for those who gaily live in happy existence, affording hope; he has spent most of his existence in Vetusta; it is where his literary vocation began; in that melancholic, peaceful solitude he

    learned all he knows about literary and philosophical matters; his teachers were there, his pupils are there. More than a city, Vetusta is for him a house with streets, and the residents of the Asturian capital, one large, colourful family of different classes, of various social types mixed together.(...) Streets and people, nooks and crannies of the cathedral and the Gentleman’s Club, an atmosphere of passion and gossip, serious and ridiculous figures transposed from reality into the hands of art, reproduced with breath-taking precision in the reader’s mind, who ends up believing himself a Vetustan, and sees his shadow projected over mossy stones among the shadows of passers-by strolling along La Encimada, or at the foot of the arresting tower of the Main Church.

    Benito Pérez Galdós, "prólogo", en Alas (Clarín), Leopoldo, La Regenta. I, Madrid, Castalia, 1984, edición de Gonzalo Sobejano, 3ª edición, pág. 86.

    The characters in La Regenta, whether invented or inspired by real people, thus live in places which are easy to identify in many cases, as they are referred to by their real name or are only slightly veiled under fictitious names. In other cases, they are more difficult to identify, because the information on them is deliberately contradictory or imagined – let us not forget that La Regenta is a literary work, not a historical text. And several buildings, religious and civil, have disappeared.

    Let us have a look then at a significant sampling of these places in Oviedo – streets, squares, civil and religious buildings – linked to Clarín and his seminal work. The selected texts offer a brief historical or artistic description and are followed – in a different typeset – by different passages from La Regenta containing references to or descriptions of these places and what happens in them, indicating the chapter of the novel in which they appear.

    View of Fierro Street ande the Church of San Isidoro El Real form one corner of Plaza del Fontán

    Fierro Street and the Church of San Isidoro El Real from one corner of Plaza del Fontán