This definitive edition of the best Latin American travel account is by any standard an exceptional piece of work. The text is supported by some 250 pages of elaborate notes, appendices, introduction, and an invaluable index. Fisher’s specialty is graphics, and the 300-odd illustrations reveal his expertise. They include well-chosen contemporary drawings from numerous sources incorporated into the text, a score of maps of the author’s travels, and 150 plates. Over a period of twenty-five years the editors have retraced Fanny Calderón’s every step, meticulously recording in notes and photographs the present condition of sites which she described. In short, they have produced a volume which, except for its weight, should delight any discerning traveler or Mexicanist.
The editors, who are preparing a biography of Mme. Calderón, are the first to use a quantity of her manuscripts and memorabilia, particularly two volumes of her intermittent journals on which she based the 1842 edition of Life in Mexico. The original text has been skillfully augmented by interpolating new material from the journals in bold-face type. From this new material the editors have filled in the names left blank earlier and have discussed these individuals in the notes. With new evidence the Fishers have been able to go further than Felipe Teixidor, whose two-volume annotated translation of the work (México, 1959) they duly recognize as a landmark.
The additions from the journals lengthen the text by about one fifth. They principally affect the first third of the account and appear only infrequently thereafter. Mme. Calderón was never afraid to speak her mind in print. She did, however, suppress in the book many of her most critical and spicy first impressions. She could be merciless: Sra. Alamán was “one of the most prudish women in all Mexico” (p. 291); President Bustamente looked like “a little old New York merchant or doctor—fat and pursy” (p. 107); Mme. Santa Anna “upon the whole looks like an old and unhappy chambermaid, endimanchée” (p. 67). More significantly, influenced by her husband’s position and by her own growing attachment to Catholicism and Hispanic life, she suppressed many of her original Protestant and Anglo-Saxon reactions to Mexican culture. The additions are everywhere a lively improvement, though they do not invalidate the traditional version.
This edition enhances the value of the work for scholars. For instance, we now have a more vivid and precise portrayal of the still-vibrant viceregal aristocracy of Mexico City which warmly welcomed Spain’s first post-independence ambassador and his wife in 1840. Fanny Calderón was on intimate terms with a number of the great families—the Adalids (Sánchez de Tagle), the Vivancos (Cuevas), the Cortinas (Gutiérrez de Estrada), the Fagoagas. They introduced her to convents, to their many haciendas, to their private masses in the Sagrario, to their works of charity, to their días de campo in Tacubaya and San Agustín. She said she found hardly a person (“except amongst the present race of soldiers raised by the revolution”) who was not nostalgic for viceregal days (p. 475). Could this acute and wide-ranging observer, who knew well her Mora and her Zavala, have been completely shielded from liberal, anti-clerical, and hispanophobe sentiments? Or were they perhaps weaker than we have assumed—at least in Mexico City before the war with the United States? One is led to conclude that such a vigorous elite as Mme. Calderón describes must have been more than merely “residual” in nineteenth-century Mexico.