Cecilia Böhl de Faber

* 24.12.1796 (Morges/Switzerland) 07.04.1877 (Sevilla) Spain
Fields of activity: Writer Costumbrista and Realist
Author: Matilde Eiroa

Cecilia Boehl de Faber, -Fernan Caballero -

The daughter of the German Hispanist, Nicolás Böhl de Faber, consul of Prusia in Cádiz and married to a native Cádiz woman whose mother was Irish, Francisca Javiera de Larrea y Aherán —known by the pseudonym of Corina—. During the first few years of her life she was educated by her grandmother in Germany. Cecilia drew sustenance from the personalities and literary works of her parents. Her father collected and studied Spanish popular poetry and classical theatre and was one of the best defenders of the theatre of the Spanish Golden Age playwright, Pedro Calderón de la Barca. Her mother, who translated the works of Lord Byron, collected Andalusian characters, proverbs and customs, an interest that she instilled in Cecilia and that comprised the precedent to her works and research. Cecilia therefore inherited the German Universalist spirit and the strict Spanish tradition, a unique combination that enabled her to see national life with a different focus. Furthermore, she had the opportunity to travel to different countries, which was very unusual at that time.

Although she was precocious in her romantic life she was unlucky in her relationships and had three Spanish husbands and one British lover. She was widowed by her husbands: first by the infantry captain Antonio Planells (1816) who took her to Puerto Rico where he died. After a period of time in Hamburg, she returned to Cádiz where she got married for the second time, this time to the Marqués de Arco Hermoso (1822). The couple settled in Seville and their house became an active cultural centre. In 1835 she was widowed again and Cecilia decided to travel to France and Great Britain, where she lived a passionate romance that ended in disaster. Nevertheless, she did not give up on her love life and back in Seville she married her third husband, a younger man called Antonio Arrom de Ayala (1837), the consul of Spain in Sydney and a romantic archetype: attractive, sensitive, intelligent, and a keen painter and musician, but who took his own life in 1863. When her husband died, a huge sentimental tragedy came over her.

The writer’s life revolved around endeavours to become financially and romantically stable, but she never fully achieved either. Her social life developed in a Catholic and conservative environment, in which she became friends with Queen Isabel II and the writers Juan Eugenio de Hartzenbusch and Washington Irving when he lived in Seville, and used to hold a literary gathering in the living room of her house.

She took the pseudonym of Fernán Caballero in 1849 to publish La Gaviota (The Seagull), taking it from a town in La Mancha where a crime that captured her attention had taken place. This decision to use a pseudonym was common among women writers and journalists —regardless of whether they were conservative or progressive— in order to avoid their work from being rejected and criticised on account of them being a woman, and, in her case, with foreign roots.

She became a professional writer late in life due to financial reasons, after being widowed, going bankrupt and rejecting an allowance from the queen and another from the Duke of Montpensier. In her work, her ideology can be observed as conservative and Catholic, but not exclusive or fundamentalist. As a woman and writer she revealed a double personality that becomes apparent in her correspondence and in her literary work: in her letters she is happy, spontaneous and intuitive; in her work she is serious, moralist and writes with a didactic and informative purpose. In the national sphere she found the best ingredient against foreign ideas, and this led to her providing a different version of Spanish life to that provided by foreign writers. Most notable in her way of thinking is the yearning for lost paradises and the absence of an ideal society which, from her point of view, could be found in towns and in the countryside. She believed in a social organisation led by God, in which each of us occupies a place from birth, and with this she understood that we cannot fight against the “natural” order of things.

The writer never considered herself to be sentimental and her works resembled realism. Her novels appear like a collection of descriptions of customs of Andalusia and Madrid, in which she would draw a gallery of characters, traditions, dress, trades and popular expressions. In her prologues she insisted that she did not invent, but rather copied reality, observing people and speaking to them. Consequently, she is considered to be a pioneer of Spanish realism. In this regard, Cecilia combines traditionalism, folklore culture and Andalusian tradition, through which she earned her reputation as a promoter of national folklore. Her work became common reading material among the middle class, who were witnessing intense social, economic and technological changes: railways, industrial capitalism, liberalism, banks and companies, new values and new behaviours.

Some of her stories place her on a par with writers such as the Grimm brothers, revealing a universality that flows throughout her work. Among the main titles of her works are: La Gaviota (1847) (The Seagull), Clemencia (1852) (Mercy), Cuentos populares andaluces (1852) (Popular Andalusian Stories), Más largo es el tiempo que la fortuna (1853) (Time is longer than fortune), La familia Alvareda (1856) (The Alvareda Family), Genio e ingenio del pueblo andaluz (1855) (Temper and wit of the Andalusian people), Un servilón y un liberalito (1859), La farisea (1865) (The Pharisee)


1813: After living in Germany for several years with her grandmother, she returned to Cádiz with her parents.

1816: First marriage and trip to Puerto Rico.

1818-1820: She lived in Hamburg.

1822: Second marriage and residence in Seville where she was very socially and culturally active.

1835: Trips to France and Great Britain.

1837: Third marriage, residence in Jerez de la Frontera.

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