Beaumarchais in Seville


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An Intermezzo

Hugh Thomas

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A vivacious account of the journey to Spain that inspired The Marriage of Figaro and The Barber of Seville

In 1764-65 the irrepressible playwright Beaumarchais traveled to Madrid, where he immersed himself in the life and society of the day. Inspired by the places he had seen and the people he had met, Beaumarchais returned home to create The Barber of Seville and The Marriage of Figaro, plays that became the basis for the operas by Rossini and Mozart that continue to delight audiences today. This book is a lively and original account of Beaumarchais’s visit to Madrid (he never went to Seville) and a re-creation of the society that fired his imagination. 

Drawing on Beaumarchais’s letters and commentaries, translated into English for the first time, Hugh Thomas investigates the full range of the playwright’s activities in Madrid. He focuses particular attention on short plays that Beaumarchais attended and by which he was probably influenced, and he probes the inspirations for such widely recognized characters as the barber-valet Figaro, the lordly Count Almaviva, and the beautiful but deceived Rosine. Not neglecting Beaumarchais’s many other pursuits (ranging from an endeavor to gain a contract for selling African slaves to an attempt to place his mistress as a spy in the bed of King Charles III), Lord Thomas provides a highly entertaining view of a vital moment in Madrid’s history and in the creative life of the energetic Beaumarchais.

Hugh Thomas is a member of the House of Lords in London and the author of numerous books on the history of the Spanish world. He lives in London.

"Hugh Thomas's joyous, elegant and stylish Beaumarchais in Seville shows how much fun history can be."—Arthur Schlesinger, Jr.

"Grimy streets, grim politics, greedy aristos, grasping parvenues, a grand guignol. Hugh Thomas's disciplined imagination conjures vividly Beaumarchais' world and mind."—Felipe Fernandez-Armesto, Tufts University

"Beaumarchais' Spanish adventure is related with wit and high spirits by the distinguished historian Hugh Thomas: Mozart would surely have loved to set the whole episode, as here described, to music."—Antonia Fraser, author of Marie Antoinette: The Journey

"Hugh Thomas has written a brief, witty and enlightening account of the origins of those two key works: The Barber of Seville and The Marriage of Figaro. He brings to life Beaumarchais in the glittering epoch of profound frivolity before the French Revolution ruined all."—Paul Johnson

"A famous watchmaker's progress? How to fix an unfaithful lover? A ravishing picture of mid-18th century Madrid? A foretaste of The Marriage of Figaro? All of these, and immensely enjoyable."—Brian Urquhart, Former Under Secretary General of the United Nations

“Thomas follows Beaumarchais to Madrid for a year to plumb the playwright’s cultural and professional exploits and chart his megalomaniacal ambition. Along the way, Beaumarchais introduces us to situations and people that will eventually make their way to the stage. However fascinating the fictional lineage of Figaro and Almaviva, the book’s deeper gratification exists in a nuanced, critical, conscientiously researched portrait of the driven man who gave them birth.”—Booklist (starred review)

“Mr. Thomas is fascinating in his discussion of the Spanish influence on Beaumarchais’s work. . . . [He] has given us the gift of a superb romp through a mesmerizing but neglected interlude in history.”—Barbara Probst Solomon, Wall Street Journal

"[An] entertaining book."—P.N. Furbank, New York Review of Books

"[a] delightfully readable and engrossing book, whose main intention is to relate the extraordinary circumstances that led a former watchmaker to write two of the most influential and popular plays of the eighteenth century."---Michael Jacobs, Literary Review

"... a learned and lively book."---Raymond Carr, The Spectator

"This book is tremendous fun to read.  It is nourished, moreover, by an extensive root system: Beaumarchais's plays, personal correspondence and memoirs (not least his Mémoire d'Espagne), together with meticulous familiarity with earlier biographies of the dramatist, contemporary travellers' accounts, and scholarly historical work about eighteenth-century Spain."—Eric Southworth, Times Literary Supplement

"A very thorough and vivacious description of the eighteen months that Beaumarchais spent in Madrid. . . . An insightful study of the history of mid-18th-century Spain."—Barbara Petrosky, Rocky Mountain Review

“… [a] hugely entertaining little book.” - London Review of Books

"[Thomas] produces a lively, entertaining social and cultural history of 18th-century Spain." —The Globe and Mail
ISBN: 9780300136333
Publication Date: January 6, 2009
192 pages, 5 1/2 x 8 1/4
21 b/w photos