As Mario Vargas Llosa points out, in his preface to our newly published edition of Los jueves de Leila — in Duncan Wheeler's translation, Thursdays with Leila — Corín Tellado is an author who has to be seen in quantitative terms.
...in all likelihood, the most significant sociocultural phenomenon in the Spanish language since the Golden Age. What might ostensibly appear to be heresy — and from a qualitative perspective it is — ceases to be so if we begin to view things in quantitative terms. Borges, García Márquez, Ortega y Gasset, any of the most original thinkers and writers in my language that you might care to mention, none of them have reached as many readers or had so great an influence on the way in which people feel, speak, love, hate, understand life and human relations, than María del Socorro Tellado López, Socorrín to her friends.
She wrote so many novels that even estimates of her output differ, but Wikipedia gives a total of over 5000, itemising around 780 of them in what it calls her 'selected bibliography'. Tellado was prolific on a scale that really isn't comparable to anybody in English. Here's Sam Jones, writing in the Guardian article about our edition:
If she has an equivalent in the English-speaking world, it is Barbara Cartland rather than George Eliot. But her escapist tales of love and loss, suffering and redemption, have sold more than 400m copies – and a great deal more than that if the millions of pirated Latin American editions are counted. In 1962, Unesco declared her the most-read Spanish author alongside Cervantes.
But as Nan Spowart points out, writing in The National:
Cartland’s 723 books are dwarfed by the number Tellado produced...
And Barbara Cartland wrote a book every two weeks. Enid Blyton (762 titles) got it down to one. Tellado could manage a novel in just two days, thanks in part to a publishing contract which wasn't far from indentured labour. Besides, Cartland revelled in being a celebrity: she was Princess Diana's step-grandmother and bragged about her affairs with dukes. Tellado, by contrast, seems to have been so modest and unassuming that she was barely even aware of the size of her readership. When you write a novel as frequently as other people might do the washing-up, it probably doesn't seem a big deal.
Duncan Wheeler, a Hispanist at the University of Leeds, says that he has been 'spending summers watching bullfights and reading Corín Tellado novels', the better to understand popular culture as Spain made its transition from fascism to democracy. Franco approved of Tellado: and not only because her harmlessly escapist tales were opium for the masses, but also because they seemed wholesome. Once he and his censorship were gone, though, Tellado became rather racier, and even turned to erotica under the sexily foreign pseudonym 'Ada Miller'. And she was never quite so predictable or demure as her publishing statistics or choice of genre would suggest. Asked why he chose Thursdays with Leila, Duncan says:
First, it had a plot which was more risqué than people tend to assume was allowed in 1960s Spain, yet it had no problems passing the censor. Second, it was both exotic (set in the US) but clearly related to the lives of everyday Spanish women — this was what first drew me to reading Tellado. Third, it's a really engaging plot and both it and its follow-up were singled out by a number of her original readers I spoke to. In terms of why I wanted to translate this book, it largely came about as a way of teaching myself about romance novels. In my upcoming book The Cultural Politics of Spain's Transition to Democracy, I try and cover popular culture but I wanted to avoid the pitfalls I see in much academics who work on popular music (I'm a big rock music fan) of just applying their models and not really having a thorough grounding in popular culture in and of itself.
English readers can have their first taste of Corín Tellado now, and an online edition is available at JSTOR: so if you would like to raise her lifetime sales to 400,000,001, now's your chance.