His Only Son: with Dona Berta (Paperback)

Staff Pick Badge
His Only Son: with Dona Berta Cover Image
By Leopoldo Alas, Margaret Jull Costa (Translated by)
Special Order - Subject to Availability

Staff Reviews

A comedy of manners and a classic of Spanish literature, Leopoldo Alas' book focuses on Bonifacio, a timid and a failed clerk, a man who is frightened of everything, including his wife. Bonifacio falls in love with a second-rate opera singer who believes him to be a wealthy patron. Part satire, part heartfelt snapshot of provincial Spain, HIS ONLY SON, is a tender and often hilarious novel.

— From Mark recommends...


The unlikely hero of His Only Son, Bonifacio Reyes, is a romantic and a flautist by vocation—and a failed clerk and kept husband by necessity—who dreams of a novelesque life. Tied to his shrill and sickly wife by her purse strings, he enters timidly into a love affair with Serafina, a seductive second-rate opera singer, encouraged by her manager who mistakes Bonifacio for a potential patron. Meanwhile, Bonifacio’s wife experiences a parallel awakening and in the midst of a long-barren marriage, surprises them both with a son—but is it Bonifacio’s? In the accompanying novella, Doña Berta, the heroine of the title, an aged, poor, but well-born woman, forfeits her beloved estate in search of a portrait that may be all that remains of the secret love of her life.

While largely unknown outside of Spain, Leopoldo Alas was one of the most celebrated writers of criticism in nineteenth-century Spain and employed his satirical talents to powerful and humorous effect in fiction. His Only Son was Alas’s second and final novel, full of characteristic humor, naturalistic detail, descriptive beauty, and moral complexity. His frail and pitiful characters—irrational, emotional actors drawn inexorably toward their foolish fates—are yet multidimensional individuals, often conscious of their own weaknesses and stymied by their very yearnings to be more than the parts they find themselves playing.

About the Author

Leopoldo Alas (1852–1901) was the son of a government official, born in Zamora, Spain. He attended the University of Oviedo and the University of Madrid, receiving a doctorate in law. A novelist and writer of short stories who adopted the pseudonym Clarín (Bugle), Alas was one of Spain’s most influential literary critics. He became a professor of law at the University of Oviedo in 1883 and published his first and best-known novel, La Regenta, in 1884; his second novel, Su único hijo (His Only Son), was published in 1890. He died in Oviedo at the age of forty-nine.

Margaret Jull Costa has been a literary translator for nearly thirty years and has translated works by novelists such as Eça de Queiróz, José Saramago, Javier Marías, and Fernando Pessoa, as well as poets such as Sophia de Mello Breyner Andresen and Ana Luísa Amaral. She has won various prizes, most recently the 2015 Marsh Award for Children’s Fiction in Translation for Bernardo Atxaga’s The Adventures of Shola. In 2013 she was invited to become a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature and in 2014 was awarded an Order of the British Empire for services to literature. In 2015 she was awarded an honorary doctorate by the University of Leeds.

Praise For…

His Only Son is the most intense, the most refined, the most intellectual, and the most sensual novel that nineteenth-century Spanish literature has produced.” —Azorín

“When I read His Only Son and Doña Berta, I was bowled over by the audacity of the plots, by the diverse cast of characters, and by Alas’s ability to be entirely engaged
by his characters.” —Margaret Jull costa, from the introduction

“A delight to read.” —A Common Reader blog
“A Flaubert-type novel [that] displays the author’s power of psychological analysis.” —Harvey L. Johnson, The South Central Bulletin

Product Details
ISBN: 9781681370187
ISBN-10: 1681370182
Publisher: NYRB Classics
Publication Date: October 4th, 2016
Pages: 336
Language: English