restricted access House/Garden/Nation. Space, Gender, and Ethnicity in Post-Colonial Latin American Literature by Women (review)
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Reviewed by
Ileana Rodríguez. House/Garden/Nation. Space, Gender, and Ethnicity in Post-Colonial Latin American Literature by Women. Durham: Duke UP, 1994. 223 pp.

The cover of Ileana Rodríguez’s House/Garden/Nation offers an iconic version of the argument to come through its well-chosen and effectively arranged photographs. At the upper left, two Victorian-garbed white, European, or Creole women are seated in a garden that could be anywhere; neither looks directly at the camera (us) although one of the women eyes the other—responding to the pleasure of her company or complicitous, perhaps, in the look her compañera directs to an invisible audience. The other photo (lower right) features a black or mulatto woman in a Victorian gown looking directly at the camera; she is standing alone in a definitively tropical setting. The intervening photo that separates her from her sisters in the corner is a blur of vegetation providing background for the title’s continuation: Space, Gender, and Ethnicity in Post-Colonial Latin American Literatures by Women. Women’s different worlds intersect here, in the wilderness, jungle, or garden, in their disparate relationships to it and to its representation. Rodríguez poses the garden as a metonymic representation of the nation, a place where [End Page 858] the women writers she examines stage the conflicts of liberal nationality at transitional moments in Central America and the Caribbean.

The significance of cultivated land is essential to Rodríguez’s readings, for it is this space that connects economics and independence to the legal system and territoriality. The author aims to reconstitute Nature, identified as the hegemonic element in the construct of the nation, in terms of its domestication or reappropriation as garden by marginal groups. In this view she is positioning herself against principal, predominantly male models that reformulate the wilderness through agriculture or rationalization (Andrés Bello comes to mind), a fundamental part of the modernizing project in many Spanish American foundational fictions. The author proposes an alternative view of modernization here by focusing on two transitions to modernity; one she names “neopositivist” (this is exemplified by the “classic” novels of nation formation such as Doña Bárbara and La vorágine) and the other is marxism (illustrated here by testimonial literature). Neither of these terms accounts for the corpus of female-authored texts she will consider, texts that reveal discrepancies “in what the referent nation is supposed to become.” The question that guides our reading, then, is: what do these narratives of those excluded from the governing concept of the nation, its subsequent modernization and revolutionary movements, produce?

After mapping out her theoretical territory, Rodríguez briefly considers the male-dominated canon, a consideration that will serve as a point of reference in the argument to follow. This first section of the book, “The Masculine,” sometimes seems to depend upon vaguely defined gendered terms; the author discusses the “masculinization” of the state, for example, but, aside from marking a slide from metonymy to metaphor, doesn’t explain the gendered inflection. For this reason some of her most intriguing comments about these well-read texts leave us hanging. Her analysis of the construction of revolutionary subjects in male-authored testimonios of Sandinismo, however, is clearer and quite original. The attention to Sergio Ramírez, Tomás Borge, and Omar Cabezas’s exclusion of the feminine in their “inverse” depiction of the mountain wilderness as initial national moment is insightful and will provide a context and later link to the urban narrative of Giaconda Belli (chapter 6). [End Page 859]

This foreshadowing of connections to come and reference to texts treated in other chapters is a constant in this book, part of the “feminine,” cumulative method Rodríguez proposes in her introduction. The continual cross-referencing undermines our desire for coherence and at times makes reading a frustrating experience, for the readers are left to make the connections. Moreover, the cumulative methodology is to some extent undermined in the next section—“The Feminine”—in which each chapter focuses on a specific author and nation: Teresa de la Parra, Dulce María Loynaz, Jean Rhys, Simone Schwarz-Bart, and Giaconda...