Friday, February 13, 2015

Cecil Charles

Unless you are a Cuban historian who has investigated every imaginable aspect of José Martí's life down to the smallest minutiae, it is unlikely that you have ever heard of "Cecil Charles." Even what appears to be "obvious" about this author is not. This name, which sounds vaguely aristocratic and English, is not; nor did it belong to a man. It is the pseudonym of a Wisconsin writer, transplanted first to Chicago and then New York, who enjoyed much notoriety in the late 1880s as the "other woman" in an infamous divorce case, which was reported on the front pages of all the New York papers for years. Her real name was Lily Curry, but as she claimed to have been once married to the defendant in that case, one Michael P. Tynan, she styled herself "Lily Curry Tyner" for the duration of the trial, dropping the "Tyner" when it was revealed in court that she was the defendant's mistress, not his wife. Afterwards, she did not resume the name "Lily Curry" but adopted "Cecil Charles" as her nom-de-plume. It was under that name that she would publish the first translations of José Martí's Versos sencillos three years after his death under the suggestive title Tuya [New York: Richardson, 1898]. She also wrote a series of recently rediscovered articles about Martí, whom she had met in 1890 when she enrolled in a Spanish class that he taught at New York's Central Evening High School. Besides being his pupil, translator and a devoted supporter of his revolutionary plans, she may have been the last great love of José Martí's life. She claimed as much in a syndicated article entitled "Martí as a Lover," which was published anonymously two months after the Cuban poet-patriot was killed in one of the first battles of  Cuba's War of Independence (later co-opted and subsumed in the "Spanish-American War"). This article also contains extracts from José Martí's love letters to Charles. As she did not wish to offend his survivors by these disclosures — or to have them traced backed to her — she created a fictional recipient for them, a "Marie Desquez," the last of her alter egos. In 2011, Professor Jorge Camacho, chair of the Spanish Department at South Carolina University, made known the existence of "Martí as a Lover" in an article published in Diario de Cuba. He did not, however, attribute the article to Cecil Charles or anybody else, nor did he identify "Marie Desquez" as Cecil Charles. In our own study of the text at the José Martí Blog, it was established, based on internal evidence as well as striking parallels to other acknowledged works by Charles, that she and no other could have authored it. Professor Camacho agrees with this attribution and shares our conviction that Cecil Charles is the author of "Martí as a Lover."

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