Thursday, May 19, 2016

"M. de S.:" José Martí's False "Disguise"

How 300+ Articles in The [New York] Sun by Another Author Were Wrongly Attributed to José Martí by Ivan A. Schulman. After 50 years, the Real Author Revealed.

In "José Martí y el 'Sun' de Nueva York: nuevos escritos desconocidos," published first in the Anales de la Universidad de Chile [Number 139, pp. 30-49], in 1966, and reprinted two years later in La Gaceta de Cuba [Number 65, June-July 1968, pp. 22-25], U.S. hispanicist Ivan A. Schulman announced that he had identified over 300 hitherto uncollected articles by Marti that had appeared in The Sun over twelve years (1882-1895). All the attributed articles from this period were signed with the initials "M. de S." The fact that Schulman does not cite the exact number of "M. de S." articles published in The Sun, nor deigns to provide even a partial list, much less entire articles, suggests that he never knew the real extension of his alleged discovery. Apparently, having convinced himself that "M. de S." was Martí's alter ego, everything which appeared above those initials was assigned to the Cuban without the need to keep a tally or perhaps even sight unseen. If Schulman had actually read all 300+ articles, it is possible that he might have disabused himself of this conceit. That he took ten years to publish his findings indicates that there was indeed some vacillation. In fact, the first to report Schulman's discovery was not Schulman but his teacher and mentor Manuel Pedro González, who made it a point in all his books to mention the "M. de S."attribution as an undisputed fact even before Schulman had staked his claim to, and made his case for, the articles. If accepted as authentic, these 300+ articles would constitute the largest single addition to the canon since Gonzalo de Quesada published the first edition of Martí's Obras Completas. The prospect of making such a contribution can pacify many doubts and feed many illusions.

Schulman recognized — as he could hardly hope to conceal it — that the "M. de S." articles were quite unlike anything that Martí had ever written before: impersonal and conventional; ironic and satirical; snobbish and fawning; frivolous and irrelevant for the most part. But rather than dismiss the articles on that account, Schulman posited that these incongruities were actually intentional, and rather than refute Martí's authorship, confirmed it. The incongruities, amounting to "self-disfigurement," as Schulman admits, formed part of an elaborate "disfraz" [disguise] which Martí had allegedly assumed when chronicling the gossip of European courts and allied topics, not because he would have been personally embarrassed to be known as a transatlantic gossip-monger, but because The Sun's editor, Charles A. Dana, noted for having pioneered personal journalism in the U.S., had prevailed on a penurious Martí to de-personify his prose style because The Sun's readers, supposedly, couldn't stomach its "tropological richness." Only by willfully "bastardizing his natural prose style," "drowning the artist" and "strangling his aesthetics," "disguising his ideology and personal inclinations," and "suppressing characteristic moral and social observations," could Martí's writing, in Schulman's estimation, pass muster at what Martí himself considered the world's best-written newspaper. Thus was born the un-Martí who, according to Schulman, wrote the "M. de S." articles in The Sun.

Schulman based his identification of "M. de S." with José Martí on external rather than internal factors, or what he calls "coincidences more than fortuitous:" the first "M. de S." article appeared in The Sun within a year of Martí's last acknowledged contribution (signed José Martí), and the "M. de S." byline disappeared completely from The Sun a month before Martí's death. The other piece of so-called evidence is of a similar character: the "M. de S." byline appeared for the first time in The Sun just a couple of months after Martí had severed his connection with La Opinion Nacional, of Caracas, where he wrote under the pseudonym "M. de Z." Of course, two men are not one and the same man because they enter and leave through the same door at the same time. Nor does the fact that Martí wrote under the pseudonym"M. de Z." to protect himself and his editor from persecution by Venezuelan dictator Guzman Blanco prove that Martí adopted "M. de S." in order to shield himself from the embarrassment of prostituting his genius and defacing his art. For Martí, even when writing a paid advertisement for gym equipment in La América, was always and unmistakably Martí. His writing could raise the level of any subject, but never did he write beneath his ability when treating any subject.

In "Seis crónicas inéditas de José Martí," published in Cuban Studies 29 [1999], the late Carlos Ripoll and I challenged on various grounds Schulman's attribution of the "M. de S." articles to Martí. The reader is referred to that volume if he is interested in our reasons for rejecting Martí's authorship. The most compelling and simplest is that the final "M. de S." article published  in The Sun, entitled "Paris Street Cleaning" (which the author refers to as "the toilette" of the city), is dated April 2, 1895, when Martí, who had already left New York for the last time, was ensconced at the old pirate-base of Great Inagua island, in the Bahamas. By the time it was published, on April 14, Martí and Máximo Gómez had succeeded in landing clandestinely in Cuba and were deep in the rebel manigua. Supposing that Martí was not preoccupied with other things during the last days of his life, how had he obtained the information to write that article (which is full of statistical data) and how was it smuggled out of the island — and why? Would Dana have asked Martí to write a 1750-word essay on garbage collection in Paris rather than a report from the trenches on the outbreak of war in Cuba? Is this, then, Martí's "Sanitary Testament," which complements his "Political Testament" and his "Literary Testament?" The absurdity of such a conjecture is so obvious and undeniable that the claim itself is its own refutation. Nevertheless, there are still those — including Ilian Stavans and Laura Lomas — who accept Schulman's attribution even after it was debunked in Cuban Studies. Stick the name "Martí" to something and it is very difficult to remove it.

As I wrote (to) Ripoll 20 years ago, "[i]t would be nice (but hardly necessary) to identify the real 'M. de S.' It is, rather, up to Schulman to show that Martí is 'M. de S.,' and that, of course, is impossible because he is not." I recognized later that it is more than "nice," indeed, it is imperative to discover the real identity of the author of the "M. de S." articles; for only then can Martí finally be free of the threat to his reputation posed by their capricious attribution to him. The answer, I suspected, was to be found in The Sun; itself and nowhere else. And that is exactly where I found it, among 280,000 other articles published in that period. Schulman had scoured the newspaper for all articles signed "M. de S.," which was almost a mechanical task. He did not, however, look for articles about "M. de S.," presuming no doubt that Martí would not want or consent to be unmasked in The Sun after so much trouble to conceal his identity and "strangle his aesthetics."

The real "M. de S." did not mind in the least being outed by her own paper since the attendant publicity served her ends. It was to promote her first novel that she consented to let her readers in on what was already an open secret. The Sun's book review, published on January 4, 1890, (p. 5, column 4), disposed of her anonymity: "The author is a newspaper correspondent widely known and esteemed. Readers of THE SUN have long been familiar with her work through the versatile and admirable European letters signed "M. de S." English social life has been minutely studied by Mme. Van de Velde and the results of her keen and appreciative observation are apparent in "Dr. Greystone.'" The Writer, a Boston-based monthly still published today, also identified Madam Van de Velde as the author of The Sun's "M. de S." column [Feb. 1890, Vol. IV, No. 2, p. 45]: "The New York Sun's European correspondent who writes under the signature "M. de S." is a lady, Mme. Van de Velde, who lives in London, and who has just published a novel, 'Dr. Greystone.'"

M[aria]. de S[auges]. Van de Velde (1833-1913), who wrote under her actual initials, was the wife of the Danish ambassador to the Court of St. James, and the editor, translator and benefactor of the American-expatriate author Bret Harte, who died in her home and was interred in a tomb designed and paid by her. with the inscription: "In faithful remembrance, M.S. Van de Velde." She was the author of French Fiction To-day [1891), and of Random Recollections of Court and Society [1888] and Cosmopolitan Recollections [1889], which treated at length the same subjects that she covered in her columns in The Sun and The London World. All of these books have recently been re-issued by print-on-demand publishers in India.

Ironically, in his article attributing Mme. Van de Velde's body of work in The Sun to José Martí, Ivan A. Schulman almost hit on the truth before dismissing it in favor of his version of magical realism: "On reading and analyzing the articles signed "M. de S." (as well as the one article signed "de Z.") the idea occurred to us on more than one occasion that, perhaps, this might be the work of a European, French, or Spanish columnist." Schulman quickly abandoned that idea after consulting several dictionaries of pseudonyms (which he lists in his article) and not finding an entry for "M. de S." in any of them. Why he would think that this confirmed his case for Martí is a question which he must now ask himself and which we cannot answer. Nor can we explain his assertion that "[d]espite Martí's artistic dissatisfaction [with the "M. de S." articles], and taking into account all of their imperfections, these writings do not diminish Martí's literary stature." Schulman could not be more wrong. The mere suggestion that Martí could have authored them is in itself damaging. If these articles had been admitted into the canon, as Schulman advised, the damage would have been catastrophic and perhaps irremediable.

Schulman's misattribution of the "M. de S." articles did have the unintended and indirect effect of rescuing Madame Van de Velde's writings from obscurity and elevating them light years beyond their merits. In this article, I have had to out "M. de S." a second time so that she might regain possession of what rightfully belongs to her. Thanks to Schulman's gaffe, Madame Van de Velde literary reputation (such as it is) has not only been burnished, but her name is now linked through history with not just Bret Harte's but José Martí's. She is really the only winner in this comedy of errors which had a 50-year run and closes today.

This article was originally published in Spanish in Cuba Encuentro on May 13, 2016 as:
"M. de S.": el "disfraz" falso de José Martí