Feminism and identity in three Spanish American novels, 1887-1903
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In this study I focus on the novels La hija del bandido by Refugio Barragán (Mexico, 1887), Blanca Sol by Mercedes Cabello de Carbonera (Peru, 1888), and Luz y sombra by Ana Roqué (Puerto Rico, 1903) to show how the narratives encoded alternative models for womanhood in the post-independence era, when the hegemonic norm was that of the domestic Angel of the House. I examine the social, historical, and legal burdens faced by women of the bourgeoisie (in regard to education, dress, mores, marriage, and property), to then analyze how authors represent these struggles symbolically. My socio-historical research is based in part on field work at the Biblioteca Nacional and Centro de Documentación Sobre la Mujer (Lima), and the Biblioteca Nacional José Martí (Havana). I have dedicated two chapters to each novel. In the first, I detail the historical frame as outlined above. The second chapter highlights the authors’ symbolic attempts to forge models of subjectivity that portray women empowered by agency (i.e., who act publicly rather than domestically, who travel unchaperoned, who refuse to marry, etc.). While I reference diverse theorists according to the focus of each narrative (Laura Otis, Victor Turner, and Judith Butler, among others), my conclusions draw heavily on post-Freudian theories of identity of Jacques Lacan and Julia Kristeva. In the case of Barragán, I read the female heroine’s rebellion against her father as an unresolved Oedipal drama that allows her to attain freedom by perpetuating the liminal (threshold) mode, rather than enter prescribed heterosexual adulthood. Cabello’s novel exposes the falsity of the Mary/Eve dichotomy in order to broaden models of womanhood. Finally, Roqué’s narrative defends female sexual pleasure by using medical discourse—at a time when masculinist rhetoric employed it to essentialize and objectify women. This exploration adds to scholarship on early Spanish-American feminism by viewing it in regard to personal identity, agency, and public participation, rather than focusing on how women’s fiction fits into a nation-building agenda.