Javier Marías’ A Heart So White in Valencia

“Once you’ve finished a novel, what happened in it is of little importance and soon forgotten. What matters are the possibilities and ideas that the novel’s imaginary plot communicates to us and infuses us with.”  

from Infatuations by Javier Marais


This weekend study in Valencia, Spain was run on November 16-18  2018 and  May 18-20  2018 and is currently on offer for the weekend of November 15 – 17 2019.

About A Heart So White

Javier Marías is a Spanish writer steeped in the literary canon, and particularly influenced by Shakespeare, Sterne, Proust and Faulkner. Our initial study of ‘The Infatuations’ in Valencia was so enriching that a second Marías novel has been selected for a salon in Valencia in November.

‘I did not want to know, but I have come to know’ is the famous first phrase of ‘A Heart so White’ (the title is a highly apposite quotation from ‘Macbeth’).  What the narrator did not care to investigate was the death, before he was born, of his aunt which led to his own existence as his father then married his deceased wife’s sister. As in many of his closely interlinked novels, Marías begins with an account of a violent episode; its repercussions form the highly discursive ‘plot’ of the book, an underlying structure which allows Marías free rein to dissect, in Proustian sentences, human behaviour,  our relationships, our loves, our jealousies, our dissimulations, our betrayals, our need to know what sometimes we might more comfortably ignore, the power of language to inform or confound.

Marías writes at a time when Spain is at last confronting its civil war and the repercussions of a policy, post-Franco, of ‘forgetting’ the horrors committed on both sides in order to avoid further bloodshed and to democratise the country:  no ‘truth and reconciliation’, no accountability, and therefore no justice. And democracy was swiftly adopted, but every Spanish family carries the effects of that war, and Marías, with others of his generation, explores in his fiction the ambiguities of memory, the question of guilt, the need to enter the narrative and to take responsibility for one’s action – or inaction.

—by Elspeth Ferguson

About Valencia:

Land of paella and palm trees, Beaux Arts buildings , Moorish influence , exotic and joyously authentic… the third largest city in Spain, Valencia is still largely unspoiled and  literally has everything: a vibrant food scene (and oh, the wine!), a pristine Mediterranean beach, cultural attractions including the architecturally stunning City of Arts and Sciences, churches galore (this is Spain, after all) and, for foodies, the glorious Mercat Central – at 8,160 sq. meters, the largest covered fresh food market in Europe.  But what really shines through is the juxtaposition of the general atmosphere of ‘joie de vivre’ – Valencians love a fiesta- and the soul of the city, concealed amongst cobbled alleys and hidden squares, magnificent and crumbling and lit by a most extraordinary light… every stroll an adventure, every vista a revelation, so much to discover.


About the writer:

It is an intellectual journey to consider literature outside of my own cultural view…not realising how limited my understanding of Spanish writing is until pressed to come up with a title other than Don Quixote or Lorca. I have been turning over ideas about the category of national identity for writers: how much is a writer’s voice a product of a particular time & culture, how much does the reader need to understand (or gain an understanding of) a culture’s history and unique concerns through a novel? Contemporary Spanish writers share the global genre evolutions of realism and modernism; their country’s history of violent upheaval, fascism and a re-born democracy imprint the literature. Yet the shared struggles around love, loss, jealousy, betrayal move me into this lesser-known world.

If you would like to request this study or have any questions about it, please contact us.



Posted on

July 26, 2018