Today we are going back in time to rescue an old book, Granada, guía emocional. This historical document was written for tourists in the city of the Alhambra at the beginning of the 20th century. And we can discover the story of María de la O Lejárraga and Gregorio Martínez Sierra, a couple who lived in Spain at the start of the 20th century and fell in love through their mutual passion for the theatre.
Granada, guía emocional is unique because, in its form, it is written and aimed at the female, and its content is ful of practical tips for women visiting Granada. Some commentators have pointed out that it would be difficult at that time, as women were usually accompanied by their husbands, brothers or fathers, and rarely enjoyed tourism alone. Thus, those who have analysed this work have concluded that it could have been a publication disguised as one for women, because its target audience in reality was a group that was banned. In conclusion, it is the first guide aimed at homosexual male tourists, and is signed by Gregorio Martínez Sierra, Spanish Modernist writer, dramatist and theatre impresario.
A life dedicated to the fight for equality
This Madrid author was married to María de la O Lejárraga, a teacher from la Rioja, who was fascinated by literature. She was born at the beginning of 1900, an age in which women who dedicated themselves to this discipline or many others were frowned upon. The relationship between María and Granada was always very close, and she was elected deputy to the Congress of the Republic by the city in 1933. She was also designated vice-president of the Commission for Public Instruction. She always had values associated with feminism and was one of the most active voices speaking out for equality between men and women, and those with fewer economic resources. She was a member of the Socialist Party, and as a result of the Civil War, she had to seek exile in Argentina, where she died in 1974, 100 years after her birth.
There are many gaps in the story of the marriage between María and Gregorio. It was not until 1953, a time when they were already separated, when María wrote Gregorio y yo: medio siglo de colaboración, a book of memoirs which tells of their life together. it reveals that all the books by her husband were in reality written by her. Gregorio signed a document in which he recognised María’s co-authorship, but he never renounced his rights.
It is curious that, until after their separation and with María now living in Argentina, Gregorio wrote to her to commission texts, and she sent them to him, for them later to be signed by him.
Important work in the theatre
Despite their somewhat dark history, the two are recognised as the pioneers of many interesting cultural initiatives from before the Spanish civil war. They founded various literary journals, such as Vida Moderna, Helios and Renacimiento. And, even more importantly, they created the Teatro del Arte, which led directly from the Théâtre d’Art of Paul Fort, the Théâtre de l’Oeuvre of Lugné Poe or the Teatro de Arte in Moscow. In the company they founded they were surrounded by the best artists of the era. One of them, Manuel de Falla, discovered the Alhambra thanks to María. Through this friendship various very important collaborations arose, including El amor Brujo and El sombrero de 3 picos. The couple were also very close to poets such as Juan Ramón Jiménez or Federico García Lorca. However, it was Gregorio who was taking the credit, while María remained anonymous.
María de la O Lejárraga is not only the author of works signed by her husband but it has also been demonstrated that works by other authors, such as El pavo real by Eduardo Marquina, were also written by her hand. A surprising anecdote is that in exile she tried her luck in Hollywood, and approached Walt Disney with a script entitled Merlín y Viviana. Apparently he never told her anything about the script, but later brought to the screen La dama y el vagabundo (The Lady and the Tramp), which was clearly inspired by María’s story.
This article is a tribute to this intellectual, writer, dramatist, translator and activist, a woman, like so many others, who was silenced by history.