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Barbarita, A Forgotten & Scandalous 1920’s Gibraltarian Novel

Rosario Pérez · Photos: Gibraltar Old Photos (Grupo de Facebook) / Fran Montes

Literary researchers José Juan Yborra and Iñaki Irijoa have Rediscovered Barbarita: A Forgotten & Scandalous 1920’s Gibraltarian Novel by Hector Licudi

Literary researchers José Juan Yborra and Iñaki Irijoa have rescued from oblivion the only novel, published in 1929, by Gibraltarian journalist Héctor Licudi.

“The Gibraltar of the 20’s was very different to what it is now… It was marked by a strong colonial influence, but culturally it was much closer to Spain, with more fluidity at the frontier, and an atmosphere in the Calle Real, the Indian bazaars and the Theatre Royal, which were much frequented by artists from across the border…

All this is perfectly depicted in ‘Barbarita’, including descriptions that clearly highlight the author’s journalistic background.”

José Juan Yborra and Iñaki Irijoa
Professor José Juan Yborra and Iñaki Irijoa

Professor José Juan Yborra found out about the existence of this novel eight years ago, when the Tangiers branch of the Instituto Cervantes commissioned a study into literature written in Spanish in Gibraltar.

The study entitled ‘La frontera estéril’ found that literary production both in English and Spanish. throughout this 200 year period in Gibraltar had been, “quite scarce, but not to say poor.”

The only actual novel published by a Gibraltarian writer was found by Yborra at the Gibraltar Garrison Library and is entitled ‘Barbarita’.

The author was Hector Licudi, and the book which was published in Madrid by ‘Mundo Latino’ (a powerful publisher in its day, under the Compañía Iberoamericana de Publicaciones), had seen the light in 1929.

Although, it wasn’t exactly a physical book that was held at Garrison Library… but a photocopy of an original which had been redacted and was missing a few pages.

Garrison-Library-Coronel-Fyers-y-Drinkwater-Reach-Alcance
Gibraltar Garrison Library

This was only one of a series of surprises that the discovery of ‘Barbarita’ would bring the well-known Algeciras based professor and intellectual, and one that gave rise to a literary investigation that was years later joined by Iñaki Irijoa Lema, Yborra’s former student who was finishing his master’s degree in Literary Studies and Comparative Literature at the Complutense University of Madrid.

“As a researcher, I longed to continue investigating the curious history of this practically unknown novel, and Iñaki and I are now in the first phase of a much more serious and extensive study, both from a literary, linguistic and narratological point of view, as well as from a sociological perspective,” Yborra explains.

Yborra and Irijoa have not ruled out a reprint of the novel in order to bring it to the attention of today’s public.

Barbarita Novel 1929 Hector Licudi

‘Barbarita’ is a gallant novel, very typical of the era. Its protagonist, Enrique Irban, is a cultured young man who feels “suffocated” by the weariness and boredom of life in a small town like Gibraltar, where everyone knows each other. He becomes involved in a series of passionate and erotic relationships with different women, one of them being ‘Barbarita’, the inspiration for the title.

According to the two researchers, this autobiographical novel, was not well received by the Gibraltarian community of the time. A major contributing factor to the book’s poor reception was the fact that some people felt that they were being personally alluded to.

Licudi, who worked for one of the three great Gibraltarian newspapers of the 20’s – ‘El Anunciador’ (which was published in Spanish alongside El Calpense) – ended up having to leave the Rock. He moved to Madrid where he remained until his death in the 1950’s.

Hector Licudi
Author of Barbarita Hector Licudi

Although ‘Barbarita’ – with a prologue by another journalist and writer of the time, Eduardo Zamacois – had a considerable print run, José Juan Yborra and Iñaki Irijoa have only been able to find two copies: one at the National Library in Madrid, and the other at Princeton University, New Jersey (to which they had access thanks to their friend Álvaro Baquero, a professor at the University of Staten Island, who was able to obtain permission for a loan for consultation, under the condition that the book did not leave the USA).

How ‘Barbarita’ came to Princeton is yet another mystery that this curious literary investigation aims to answer.

Literary researchers José Juan Yborra and Iñaki Irijoa have Rediscovered Barbarita: A Forgotten & Scandalous 1920’s Gibraltarian Novel by Hector Licudi

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