Basque Legends: Collected, Chiefly, in the Labourd
By Wentworth Webster
Paperback, ISBN 978-1-935709-89-3
In A Book of the Basques, Rodney Gallop notes that, “one Englishman, and one alone, has lived long enough among the Basques to write with authority upon their character, customs and language: the Reverend Wentworth Webster.” Based on information that Webster collected from servants and other domestics in the closed world of the nineteenth-century Basque etxe (house, but with a meaning much more powerful and comprehensive than we expect from the English word), especially from Stephana Hirigaray, who he employed as a maid in the Basque Country. As a French Basque woman with rural roots, Stephana Hirigaray had more than stories to give to her employer. She had an insider’s knowledge of the culture in which those stories were embedded. Hirigaray belonged to a Basque moral community in which Basque master/servant relationships were notably equal. In rural Basque culture, servants ate at the same table as their employers, who considered them as members of the family. Thus, the master/servant relationship between Webster and Hirigaray is likely to have been influenced by that Basque emphasis on equality. First published in 1877, Basque Legends consists of more than forty-six stories (and variations thereof) that feature supernatural figures such as the Tartaro or Cyclops, the Seven-Headed Serpent, and Basque fairies known as lamiñak. In addition, Webster collected stories about witches and sorcery, animal tales (such as “Acheria, the Fox”), fairy tales, and religious tales. It also contains an original essay on the Basque language by Julien Vinson, an in-depth collection of Basque poetry, and a modern introduction by Sandra Ott.