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Walter Fitzwilliam Starkie CMG, CBE, Litt.D (August 9, 1894 - November 2, 1976) was an Irish scholar, Hispanist, author and musician.

Born in Killineymarker, County Dublin, he was the eldest son of the noted Greek scholar and translator of Aristophanes, William Joseph Myles Starkie (1860-1920) and May Caroline Walsh. Starkie grew up surrounded by writers, artists and academicians. His father was the last Resident Commissioner of National Education for Ireland under British rule (1899-1920). His aunt, Edyth Starkie, was an established painter married to Arthur Rackham and his godfather was John Pentland Mahaffy, the tutor of Oscar Wilde.

He is now best known as a translator of Spanish literature, and as a leading authority on the Romani people (Gypsies). He spoke fluent Romany, the language of the Gypsies.


He was educated at Shrewsbury Schoolmarker and Trinity College, Dublinmarker, where he graduated in 1920, taking first-class honors in classics, history and political science. After winning first prize for violin at the Royal Irish Academy of Music in 1913, his father, wanting a more traditional career for his son, turned down an opportunity for Walter to audition for Sir Henry Wood, conductor of the London Symphony. He became the first Professor of Spanish at Trinity College in 1926; his position covered both Spanish and Italian. One of his pupils at Trinity was Samuel Beckett, who, however, reacted negatively, taking as mentor Thomas Rudmose-Brown, Professor of Modern Languages, described as "equally colourful" and probably incompatible.

As Starkie suffered with chronic asthma throughout his life, he was sent to the warmer climate of Italymarker during World War I where he joined the Y.M.C.A. providing entertainment for the British troops. After the armistice in November, 1918, in the town of Montebello Vicentinomarker, he befriended five Hungarian Gypsy prisoners of war and aided them in acquiring wood to construct makeshift fiddles. To one of them, Farkas, he became a bloodbrother and he swore that he would someday visit Farkas in Hungarymarker and mix with the Gypsy's tribe. This oath would later haunt him and affect the course of his life. While on tour in Northern Italy he met Italia Augusta Porchietti, an Italian Red Cross nurse who was singing to patients and wounded soldiers at a hospital ward in Genoamarker. They were married on August 13, 1921 and had a son, Landi William, and a daughter, Alma Delfina.

After the publication of his book on Luigi Pirandello, Starkie became a director of the Abbey Theatremarker in 1927 at the invitation of W.B. Yeats. Recent productions had been fraught with controversy, and one of his roles was to act as arbitor among the factions. However, at the start of World War II the British were eager to send Catholics down to Spain as their representatives, and so the Irish-Catholic, fiddle-playing Starkie was sent to Madrid as the British Council representative, which took him away from the theatre and nightlife of Dublin. He resigned from the Abbey Theatre on September 17, 1942.

He was one of the founders of the Centre International des √Čtudes Fascistes (CINEF). Its only yearbook, A Survey of Fascism (1928), had an article by him, Whither is Ireland Heading - Is It Fascism? Thoughts on the Irish Free State? During the 1930s he was an apologist for Mussolini, whom he had interviewed in 1927.

In general terms he was influenced by the Hungarian Odon Por, Machiavelli, and by the Irish poet and mystic George William Russell (AE) in his writing on co-operatives. He travelled to Abyssinia in 1935 and later wrote in favour of the Italian campaign there, opposing Eamon de Valera's call for sanctions, fearing they would further isolate Italymarker and drive Mussolini into an alliance with Hitler.

He was the founder and first director of the British Institute in Madridmarker (1940-1954), and opened branches in Barcelonamarker, Bilbaomarker, Sevillemarker and Valenciamarker. The Institute was backed by the British Council and through lectures and exhibitions worked to influence Spanish opinion during World War II and help maintain Spanish neutrality. Upon accepting this position he made a promise to Lord George Ambrose Lloyd not to write any new books and to put the "Raggle-Taggle Gypsies" to rest for the duration of the war. However, Spain, owing to her non-belligerent status, became an asylum for refugees from all over Europe, so his promise to curtail hobnobbing with Gypsies became impractical. During the war he also helped organize and operate an escape route for British airmen shot down over France.

He was professor of comparative literature at the University of Madrid, from 1947 to 1956. After he retired from the British Institute he accepted a university position in the United States. It was his third American tour, taking him to the University of Texas, Austinmarker (1957-58), New York Universitymarker (1959), Kansas Universitymarker (1960), Colorado Universitymarker (1961), and finally to the University of California, Los Angelesmarker (1961-70) where as Professor-in-Residence he was assigned to lecture in six Departments (English, Folklore-Mythology, Italian, Music, Spanish-Portuguese, and Theatre).

After his retirement from U.C.L.A.marker he returned with his wife, Italia Augusta, to live in Madrid. After suffering from a severe cardiac asthma attack he died on November 2, 1976. Italia followed him six months later on May 10, 1977. They are buried in the British Institute Cemetery in Madrid.

The academic Enid Starkie was his sister.


He won fame for his travels and was profiled by Time Magazine as a modern-day 'gypsy'. He published accounts of his experiences as a university vacation vagabond following the trail of the Gypsies in Raggle Taggle, subtitled "Adventures with a fiddle in Hungary and Roumania" and sequels, Spanish Raggle Taggle and Don Gypsy which are picaresque accounts in the tradition of George Borrow, with frontispieces by Arthur Rackham. His observations of Gypsy life, while more anecdotal than scholarly, provide rich insights into these shadowy, nomadic people. Just as important Starkie's life serves as an example. As Julian Moynahan said in reviewing Scholars and Gypsies for The New York Times Book Review (November 24, 1963): "Many lives have been more interesting and enviable in the telling than the living, but not so here. Emerging from the shadow of a somewhat blighted inheritance, Walter Starkie chose and enjoyed a lifelong freedom which most of us throw away with both hands on the day we leave school and take our first jobs." He was the President of the Gypsy Lore Society from 1962 to 1973.

In addition to publishing a 1964 translation of plays from the Spanish Golden Age in the Modern Library volume as Eight Spanish Plays of the Golden Age, he published an abridged translation of Don Quixote for Macmillan Publishers. In 1937 Harold Macmillan persuaded him to do an abridgement with the thought of reaching more readers. Starkie wrote a 116 page prelude for his translation which, due to his promise not to publish during the war and his commitment as director of the British Institute, did not appear until 1954. This edition was illustrated with decorations from the drawings done by Gustave Dore in 1863 for the French translation. It was reprinted in paperback with a shorter introduction in 1957. In 1964 his unabridged version of Don Quixote was published by New American Library. Written in contemporary English, both have been in print since their publications, and are considered highly accurate, but Starkie does occasionally put Irish slang and phrase construction (e.g. the phrase "I'm thinking", instead of "I think", and the oath "Bad 'cess to you!") into the mouths of its peasant characters. This is a trait he repeats in a translation of a brief one-acter by Lope de Rueda published in Eight Spanish Plays of the Golden Age.


  • Jacinto Benavente (1924)
  • Luigi Pirandello (1926)
  • Raggle-Taggle: Adventures with a Fiddle in Hungary and Romania (1933)
  • Spanish Raggle-Taggle: Adventures with a Fiddle in Northern Spain (1934)
  • Don Gypsy: Adventures with a Fiddle in Barbary, Andulusia and La Mancha (1936)
  • The Waveless Plain: An Italian Autobiography (1938)
  • Grand Inquisitor (1940)
  • In Sara's Tents (1953)
  • The Road to Santiago: Pilgrims of St. James (1957)
  • Spain: A Musician's Journey Through Time and Space (1958)
  • Scholars and Gypsies: An Autobiography (1963)
  • Homage to Yeats, 1865-1965: Papers Read at a Clark Library Seminar (1965)

Works Translated

  • Tiger Juan - Ramon Perez de Ayala (1933)
  • The Spaniards in their History - Ramon Menendez Pidal (1950)
  • Tower of Ivory - Rodolfo Fonseca (1953)
  • This is Spain - Ignacio Olague (1954)
  • Don Quixote - Cervantes (1954 & 1957 abridged)
  • The Deceitful Marriage and other Exemplary Novels - Cervantes (1963)
  • Eight Spanish Plays of the Golden Age (1964)
  • Don Quixote - Cervantes (1964 unabridged)



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