The Iron Maiden of Seville by Barbara Nadel

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This is another in the series of my occasional lectures about long forgotten fictional literary figures and their works. That is fictional as in I have entirely made it up. I thank you.

‘The Iron Maiden of Seville’ otherwise known as ‘Blood on my Spike’ was a daring and ground breaking work first published in 1901. At the tail end of the greatest era of Gothic literature man has ever known, the Victorian age, ‘The Iron Maiden of Seville’ was written by Alfonso de Alcazar de Toledo a reclusive Spaniard rumoured to live only on ground up stone. He was also completely toothless. In later life, he liked to dress up as General Franco and make his pet alligators, Wally and Willy, march to patriotic nationalist anthems. But he always said he was never a fascist. Sadly for Alfonso, few believed him especially when, in 1941, he opted to dress in the style of the Italian fascist dictator, Benito Mussolini.

Written when Alfonso was just seventeen, ‘The Iron Maiden of Seville’ is an account of the life and times of the piece of torture equipment known as the Iron Maiden. Basically this was a human shaped sarcophagus filled with sharpened metal spikes designed to cause horrific pain, injury and eventually death to anyone who has the misfortune to be put into it. The story, such as it is, is told from the point of view of the instrument of torture itself and charts the progress, in graphic and vein bursting detail,  of the agonies of those whose fall victim to the Maiden’s embrace. It only ends (thank God) when the Maiden’s owner, the tawny port maddened Infanta Uracca, has an unfortunate accident with a set of castanets and ends up in a sixteenth century equivalent of a home for the bewildered.  The last we see of the Maiden is as it is being bricked up in the cellar of the Infanta’s castle together with a device that shoots a bolt up the victim’s anus and a rat called Xavier who eventually loses his mind.

To say that ‘The Iron Maiden of Seville’ was not well received by the Spanish literary establishment when it first appeared is slightly understating the case. One critic called it ‘An abomination of boredom’ while another dubbed the book ‘Probably the most awful thing I have ever read’. But because Alfonso’s parents were silly rich types with no idea they did pay to have ‘The Maiden’ translated into ten languages, including English. George Bernard Shaw was so appalled by the events that take place on page 432 that he apparently took to his bed for a week. Winston Churchill called it ‘a catalogue of sick phantasy that I will personally fight on any beach that will have me’. The occultist, opium freak and coprophile Aleister Crowley on the other hand, loved it. ‘I have never read such a work of shit spattered genius in all my born days,’ he said in 1923 while drinking laudanum from the bra of a Sicilian cross dresser.

So opinions were divided but with rather more emphasis on the negative point of view. In protest at this lack of acknowledgement of his genius, Alfonso took to the stones more passionately than ever which meant that for the entirety of 1930 he didn’t got to the toilet once. In 1931, in excruciating agony, he was eventually delivered, by the local vet, of a twenty pound bolus of bauxite which he decided to call Maximilian. It was this bolus which, in 1960, when Alfonso died, inherited his entire estate. Just as immobile and unresponsive as he was at birth, Maximilian continues to own Alfonso’s estate and still doesn’t tell any of the servants what to do.

Oddly Alfonso did briefly marry a girl called Penelope in 1935. Of course she had to agree to legally adopt Maximilian but then she was not a girl of great intellect and in fact spent most of her time with Alfonso digging her own grave and designing floral tributes. In 1936, by spooky coincidence she did die and oddly she had puncture wounds, consistent with death by Iron Maiden, all over her body. Alfonso made sure that her floral tributes were exactly as she would have wanted.

Alfonso de Alcazar de Toledo never wrote another book after ‘The Iron Maiden of Seville’. Just before his death, in an entirely naked interview with the actor Marlon Brando who really wanted to adapt his book for the big screen, Alfonso said that if the world couldn’t be bothered with his oeuvre then he couldn’t be bothered to put on clothes. Brando later said that Alfonso’s naked body was so skinny and disgusting he almost gave up food for an hour.

When the end came in 1960, it came predictably, hand in hand with acute constipation. Unable to rouse Maximilian to help him, Alfonso died on the bidet with the one and only tomato he had ever tried to eat clutched desperately in his left hand. And as for ‘The Iron Maiden of Seville’? Well it was out of print for years but was recently picked up by a small press based on Foulness Island, Essex. Known as the Foule Press it is very popular with people who wear black a lot and have their genitalia pierced.

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Barbara Nadel
2 comments on “The Iron Maiden of Seville by Barbara Nadel
  1. Thanks for bringing this tragically overlooked classic to my attention, Barbara. I must rush immediately to Foulness and get copies for Christmas presents for all my least favourite relatives.

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