The Culture of Cursilería

Bad Taste, Kitsch, and Class in Modern Spain

The Culture of Cursilería

Book Pages: 424 Illustrations: 19 b&w photos Published: January 2003

Author: Noël Valis

Cultural Studies, Literature and Literary Studies > Literary Criticism

Not easily translated, the Spanish terms cursi and cursilería refer to a cultural phenomenon widely prevalent in Spanish society since the nineteenth century. Like "kitsch," cursi evokes the idea of bad taste, but it also suggests one who has pretensions of refinement and elegance without possessing them. In The Culture of Cursilería, Noël Valis examines the social meanings of cursi, viewing it as a window into modern Spanish history and particularly into the development of middle-class culture.

Valis finds evidence in literature, cultural objects, and popular customs to
argue that cursilería has its roots in a sense of cultural inadequacy felt by the lower middle classes in nineteenth- and early-twentieth-century Spain. The Spain of this era, popularly viewed as the European power most resistant to economic and social modernization, is characterized by Valis as suffering from nostalgia for a bygone, romanticized society that structured itself on strict class delineations. With the development of an economic middle class during the latter half of the nineteenth century, these designations began to break down, and individuals across all levels of the middle class exaggerated their own social status in an attempt to protect their cultural capital. While the resulting manifestations of cursilería were often provincial, indeed backward, the concept was—and still is—closely associated with a sense of home. Ultimately, Valis shows how cursilería embodied the disparity between old ways and new, and how in its awkward manners, airs of pretension, and graceless anxieties it represents Spain's uneasy surrender to the forces of modernity.

The Culture of Cursiler
ía will interest students and scholars of Latin America, cultural studies, Spanish literature, and modernity.


"The Culture of Cursilería will be hailed within the budding field of Spanish cultural studies as a pioneering exploration of the relations between feelings and socio-historical transformations." — José A. Valero , European Journal of Cultural Studies

"The Culture of Cursilera must be considered a work of seminal contribution to the field." — Brian J. Dendle, Romance Quarterly

"[A]mbitious and thought-provoking. . . . This is a stimulating study that opens up a wide avenue of further work and speculation." — Alison Sinclair , Journal of Spanish Cultural Studies

"[E]xhaustive. . . . Cursi and cursilería are not the book's subject but a pinhole through which to look at the whole of Spanish life and culture in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. No small task, and Valis's volume tackles it superbly. A dense and difficult book but immensely rewarding. . . . For sheer intellectual stimulus, this powerful . . . book is the best value-for-effort I can imagine." — Isabel Quigly , TLS

"I found the book a fascinating foray into literary theory and cultural studies, especially admiring Valis' effort to anchor cursilería with timely historical references and her convincing argument on its historical and contemporary importance." — David Ortiz Jr. , Society for Spanish and Portuguese Historical Studies Bulletin

"This brilliant contribution-and challenge-to Spanish cultural criticism builds on Noël Valis's extensive previous critical studies. . . . Valis's book offers a treasure trove of obscure and little-known sources. . . . [O]ne of the most important books of Hispanic criticism to appear in the last decade. . . . The scholarly apparatus complementing Valis's text is a testimony to the intellectual rigor of both the author and Duke University Press: Forty-seven pages of notes and thirty-eight pages of bibliography." — Maryellen Bieder, Symposium

"We have been waiting for The Culture of Cursilería for a long time and it was well worth the wait. There is no substitute for vast and meticulous research, breadth and depth of knowledge, a mature vision, and nuanced arguments. Noël Valis has combined all these to give us an account of Spain's transition to modernity that truly captures an inner sense of social shift." — Roberta Johnson , Hispania

“Noël Valis offers brilliant, innovative insights into a cultural phenomenon that illuminates many aspects of nineteenth- and twentieth-century Spain. As perhaps one of the most distinguished cultural critics of Hispanic studies today, Valis takes an interdisciplinary approach to expose the links between text, economics, politics, and historical events.” — Harriet S. Turner, University of Nebraska

“Noël Valis's writing is powerful and insightful. Her arguments are brilliant, subtle, and carefully textured; they cleverly elucidate the duality of cursi. This is an important, imaginative, fully accomplished book that will be essential reading for anyone interested in understanding more fully the cultural and literary realities of Spain a century ago.” — David T. Gies, University of Virginia


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Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Noël Valis is Professor of Spanish at Yale University. Her previous books include The Decadent Vision in Leopoldo Alas and The Novels of Jacinto Octavio Picón.

Table of Contents Back to Top
List of Illustrations



1. On Origins

2. Adorning the Feminine, or the Language of Fans

3. Salon Poets, the Becquer Craze, and Romanticism

4. Textual Economies: The Embellishment of Credit

5. Fabricating History

6. The Dream of Negation

7. The Margins of Home: Modernist Cursileria

8. The Culture of Nostalgia, or the Language of Flowers

9. Coda: The Metaphor of Culture in Post-Franco Spain




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Winner, MLA Katherine Singer Kovacs Prize

Additional InformationBack to Top
Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-2997-8 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-3000-4
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