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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction



Memoirs of Leticia Valle

by
Rosa Chacel


general information | review summaries | our review | links | about the author

To purchase Memoirs of Leticia Valle



Title: Memoirs of Leticia Valle
Author: Rosa Chacel
Genre: Novel
Written: 1945 (Eng. 1994)
Length: 194 pages
Original in: Spanish
Availability: Memoirs of Leticia Valle - US
Memoirs of Leticia Valle - UK
Memoirs of Leticia Valle - Canada
Leticia Valle, Memoiren einer Elfjährigen - Deutschland
  • Spanish title: Memorias de Leticia Valle
  • Translated and with an Afterword by Carol Maier
  • Memorias de Leticia Valle was made into a film in 1980, directed by Miguel Ángel Rivas

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Our Assessment:

B+ : not entirely believable but a compelling voice

See our review for fuller assessment.




Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
The NY Times Book Rev. . 13/3/1994 Kathryn Davis

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The complete review's Review:

       Memoirs of Leticia Valle is written in the first-person, by a girl who has not yet turned twelve. Leticia Valle begins her account just before her birthday: she looks ahead to it, and the future, but first she must deal with the past and some recent events that have clearly marked her. These memoirs -- setting it down on paper -- allow her to try to come to terms with it.
       Obviously, something has happened. She is unable to come out and say what it was, but from the beginning she makes it clear that it was significant:

When I try to tell myself something about all that happened, I can only think of the phrase my father used: 'It's inconceivable, it's inconceivable.'
       Leticia starts her account in the present, but then relives what led up to this recent inconceivable event. She's a precocious girl, and allowed to a great deal of freedom. Her mother is dead, her father was presumed dead for many years before returning, but he is not much of a parental figure. With her essentially invalid father and an aunt Leticia moves to provincial Simancas, where she is allowed to do pretty much as she pleases.
       Leticia goes to school for a while, but then finds a more appealing alternative, taking singing lessons from Doña Luisa, the wife of an archivist, Don Daniel. Leticia is seduced by the household, fascinated by Luisa -- who is a mother figure (she has some very young children of her own) as well as teacher and friend. It's a complicated and not entirely healthy relationship, not helped by Letitia's precociousness and her own lack of any structured family life. Her response to Luisa sums things up fairly well:
     'I could easily be your mother,' she told me with her usual passivity.
     'Well, sometimes,' I answered, 'inside it seems to me that I could be yours.'
       Indeed, Letitia is not mature but often very adult -- and yet still a child. She recognises it as well -- noting: "The day of the celebration I was fifteen or twenty, the day after I was five or six", something that happens to her frequently. It tears her apart; only briefly, when her cousin Adriana who is about the same age comes to visit, can she be almost entirely child, and live and play and act that way.
       Eventually, it is also agreed that Leticia will take lessons from Daniel -- and that, of course, is where the real trouble starts. She wants to impress him, wants to learn -- though she's never had much of an education -- and struggles to do so. She's a bright girl, but the relationship between her and Daniel isn't merely one of pupil and teacher: as husband of Luisa, as a rare virile man in her life, Leticia also can't help but see more in him. She feels a special bond and affection, and though he generally treats her just as a student is clearly also fond of her. There's little sexual tension -- Leticia is pre-pubescent, and is hardly aware of the possibilities of sex -- but she is, apparently, a nymphet (as Nabokov would see it), and since she can't meet him as an intellectual equal she almost inadvertently presents herself in other ways that he may find appealing, hardly aware of what she might unleash. She doesn't mean to do it, but without ever having developed any understanding of what relationships between children and adults should be like (and with essentially no friends of her own age) her situation becomes one leading to what might be called seduction. It's all wrong, of course, but it's almost inevitable. Of course, it turns out all wrong as well.
       Memoirs of Leticia Valle builds slowly to that point (after which Leticia's circumstances are again changed, and perhaps offer some normality, if she can get over this). What's most remarkable and impressive is the presentation of Leticia's thoughts. The tone is far too mature -- most of the expression here is entirely adult --, but Chacel does convey Leticia's childish ignorance and limited, self-centred view of the world, and her childish misconceptions of the adult world very well. Despite pretending to be mature and independent, Leticia is filled with childish fears and beliefs; in her circumstances -- surrounded by entirely the wrong people -- , she is near-fatally misunderstood, leading to the catastrophe. "It's inconceivable", her father moans, but it's that limit of imagination and common sense of adults who could not foresee what might happen that is the real problem.
       Memoirs of Leticia Valle is an interesting pychological and social study, it's narrator's voice unbelievable (no eleven year old could express herself like this) but the feelings she relates quite convincing (and, admittedly, artfully presented). It is also impressive in how seriously it takes the child at its centre: though the girl lacks some understanding, her feelings and thoughts are never taken lightly or dismissed.

       Translator Carol Maier's thirty-page afterword (in '13 glosses') is also a fairly useful introduction to Chacel, this work, and the specific translation issues Maier faced.

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Links:

Memoirs of Leticia Valle: Memorias de Leticia Valle - the film: Rosa Chacel: Other books by Rosa Chacel under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Spanish author Rosa Chacel lived 1898 to 1994.

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© 2004-2008 the complete review

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