Para el amor nunca es tarde. [English title: Never too late for love].
[Barcelona?]: 1920. 8-1/4 x 11 inches. 60pp, recto only. Burgundy cloth photo album with gilt title and ornament stamped to spine, brown paper leaves reinforced with cloth at the gutter. 55 b&w photographs + 6 cyanotypes, 3-1/2 x 5-1/2 inches each; holograph text in verse, in Spanish. All but two photos are pasted in one per page; two additional photographs are laid in, one a duplicate possibly removed from another album, and one on a loose leaf of black construction paper and seemingly unrelated to the text. Light wear to spine ends and corners; front hinge gently split; light dampstaining to edge of front endpaper; text of one page smeared from contact with moisture, although there is no damp-staining and the text is still readable. Very Good.
An original proto-fotonovella, relating in dramatic fashion the tale of four young couples who fall in love despite opposition from their guardians -- who, it turns out, are themselves a pair of star-crossed lovers who fell in love during an unnamed 19th-century war in the United States (presumably, the Civil War). Their tales are told through detailed, staged photographs of amateur actors paired with occasionally rather clumsy verse.
The story begins with four sisters -- Betty, Jilly, Molly, and Nelly -- who live with their stern spinster aunt, Miss Arabella Arrowrock, in a palatial home in New York City. The sisters are romantically involved with four brothers -- Dick, Fred, John, and Jack -- who are under the care of their uncle, Florentin Williamson. Although the brothers are supposed to be immersed in their studies, they are much more interested in romance, and sneak out to meet their beloveds, standing on the girls' windowsills to woo them under cover of night. However, they are spotted by a maid, Judith, who immediately reports to Miss Arrowrock that "[i]nstead of being asleep, each one [of the girls] is at their window making love with strange men."
The young women and men get in serious trouble with their respective guardians, and Arrowrock and Williamson forbid their charges from seeing their as-yet-unknown lovers again, threatening to disown them if they disobey. Arrowrock and Williamson, who are friends, then meet, and resolve to marry of their charges quickly, not realizing that they are already intimately acquainted with each other. Neither the sisters nor the brothers know who the others' guardian is, and the sisters hatch a plan to scare off their suitors through grotesque makeup and outlandish outfits. The brothers are disgusted, but the sisters recognize them at once, and all four couples secretly resume their relationships, believing they are capable of duping their elders.
Naturally, Arrowrock and Williamson overhear them gloating about their successful charade, and are furious. Arrowrock sits on a bench to recover herself, and Williamson approaches and recounts the story of how they met in their youth. An extended flashback scene follows, set during what this cataloguer presumes is meant to be the American Civil War, although that is never explicitly stated. Arrowrock, like many daughters of the aristocracy, worked as a nurse in a hospital tending to the war wounded, and Williamson, who was a soldier then, was sent to the hospital to recover from being wounded. As Arrowrock nurses Williamson back to health, he develops strong romantic feelings for her, but never dares to tell her; even on their last night together, when they both attend a ball at the close of the war, Williamson can't work up the courage to confess his love.
Back in the present, the nieces and nephews have been eavesdropping. They convince Arrowrock and Williamson to marry and let them marry each other, since it was they who brought their aunt and uncle back together to make their feelings known. All five couples are then married simultaneously in a mass ceremony, and the nieces leave home, presumably to live with their new husbands; Arrowrock and Williamson remain in the former's palatial home.
The story's emphasis on finding true love is strongly reminiscent of the fotonovelas rosas (pink photonovels) or fotonovelas suaves (smooth photonovels) that were popular in the Spanish-speaking world in the mid-20th century, albeit without some of the tropes of those later creations. Photonovels as we know them today emerged in Italy in the late 1940s, and the present album presents as a sort of prototype of the photonovel, resembling its content and use of visual narrative It also has an extremely high production value for being homemade: the night scenes are presented in cyanotypes; indoor scenese that take place at night show electric lights switched on; and their are numerous costume changes and multiple extras.
A cast photo and list at the beginning reveals that many of the actors were related. That, the fact that this album is likely unique or at least one of a very limited quantity, and the photo laid in at the rear, which seems to be of a real wedding between two older people in 1922, suggests that this may have been a keepsake or even a wedding gift. Moreover, the album's final lines read, "Y adios, amigo lecter: esta historia ... que ahora empieza / para ti, ya termino." ["Farewell, dear reader: this story ... which has now begun [has,] for you, now ended."]