Ignacio Selva, the Spanish detective who wanted to surpass Sherlock Holmes


Emilia Pardo Bazán, in front of her typewriter

Emilia Pardo Bazán, in front of her typewriter

Sherlock Holmes and Hercule Poirot are the most famous detectives in mystery novels, but between Conan Doyle’s English and Ágatha Christie’s Belgian there was another more traditional and cosmopolitan, the Madrid Ignacio Selva, who starred in the unpublished and homonymous novel written by the first woman to dare with the detective genre, Emilia Pardo Bazán.

The writer from A Coruña has been a forerunner in almost everything throughout her life, was an ‘influencer’, journalist, feminist … and as a fan of Conan Doyle’s ‘novels’, as she called them with some contempt because “they have neither strength nor art”, she wanted to write “the perfect detective novel”, the professor of Literature at the University explains in an interview with Efe from A Coruña José María Paz Gago.

‘Jungle’ was that attempt to make the perfect detective novel, but in the end he was left alone in that, since he did not get to publish it. He realized that “he had not succeeded”, that he had not surpassed Conan Doyle, of whom at least four novels are preserved in Pardo Bazán’s library. “It was not at the level of the rest of his work,” says Paz Gago, who has just published with Ézaro publishing house ‘Los misterios de Selva’, a work in which he brings together two texts and which begins with the short novel ‘The drop of blood ‘, published by the Coruña writer in 1911, in which she presents the detective Ignacio Selva and where he solves a crime. At the end of that story in Madrid, a city full of mysteries, he will return to write new cases in the following two years that the detective will solve in this unpublished novel called ‘Jungle’.

Ignacio Selva is somewhat depressing, rich, a dandy who for entertainment is dedicated to criminal investigation and which Pardo Bazán wants to provide with the psychological depth that he believes Conan Doyle’s novels do not have, which he considers “superficial” and therefore even uses Sigmund Freud’s terminology. The elegant environments, the feminine and careful sensitivity of Pardo Bazán give life to the adventures of this Spanish detective, who has an English colleague, Stickley, with whom he is in contact in this novel about an international theft of works of art .

The description of Madrid, which compares with London, or a castizo and also very cosmopolitan Ignacio Selva, who likes donuts in front of English customs such as tea, are some of those brilliant narratives, such as the sensual love story between the protagonist and the detective in a dark room.

The mechanized pages have been found in the legacy of the writer who was transferred in 1971 from her family home on Goya Street in Madrid to A Coruña, where her house on Rúa Tabernas would be donated by her daughter to be the headquarters of the Royal Galician Academy. Between the furniture and the works of art comes a couple of suitcases with manuscripts, texts, cooking recipes, and all this ends provisionally in the Palacio de María Pita while the house of Tabernas is under construction to house the Academy.

A young professor discovers this unpublished novel and even in that decade the Academy was unsuccessfully interested in publishing it, it was passed from hand to hand; the typescript was in bad shape, with strikeouts and pen corrections, with fine print, and incomplete, so “the dream of the archives fell asleep,” recalls Paz Gago.

At the end of the 90s, with the start-up of the House Museum and the cataloging of the Pardo Bazán archive, a young Ricardo Axeitos, a professor at the UDC and a student of his work, rediscovered the text, tried to rearrange it and found some pages traspapeladas, which also includes two versions, two drafts that complement each other. “That is the basis of my work, in which I have used technology, enlarged scans, magnifying glasses and spotlights,” Paz Gago details about this. reconstructive edition, to which he dedicated three “passionate” months and that houses some of the best pages of the Coruña writer.

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