Eve's Enlightenment: Women's Experience in Spain and Spanish America, 1726-1839
Responding to a gap in the literature at the junction of Enlightenment studies, Hispanic studies, and women's studies, Catherine Jaffe and Elizabeth Franklin Lewis have compiled an interdisciplinary anthology on women's experiences of the Enlightenment in Spain [End Page 399] and—to a much lesser extent—Spanish America. This volume highlights the ambivalence that characterized women's experience of the Enlightenment in the face of lingering stereotypes about their inherent inferiority, embodied in the image of Eve. The 13 essays examine how women negotiated this ambivalence through writing, material culture, and changing social behavior, often subverting negative gender stereotypes. They also ask how others represented women during this transitional time and what gaps existed between women's lived experiences of the Enlightenment and representations of them. These essays represent diverse approaches and an international assembly of contributors. That said, the reader interested specifically in Spanish America would be disillusioned to find that only three of the 13 essays deal with the region.
In the introduction, the editors situate the volume squarely within Enlightenment and women's studies, reflect on the centrality of experience as an analytical category, and introduce a number of central themes. The essays are organized into three parts. Part 1 focuses on women's writing and education. Four essays ask how women writers navigated the liminal space between tradition and Enlightenment. Mónica Bolufer Peruga provides a sort of theoretical prologue by pointing to the dynamic space between tradition and modernity in which women's experience and writing took shape. Frédérique Morand, María A. Salgado, and Elisa Sampson Vera Tudela focus on women writers who exemplified this literary maneuvering, the latter in Mexican conventual writing. Isabel Morant Deusa points to the tension between tradition and Enlightenment present in Josefa Amar y Borbón's 1790 treatise on women's education, which is referenced by several other authors in this volume.
Part 2 seeks to understand the impact of Enlightenment values and new social practices on women's daily lives. The authors examine nonliterary sites—the home, the street, textiles, and the female body—in which women experienced the shift from traditional values and customs to enlightened ones. María López-Cordón Cortezo shows that the increased presence of royal women in the public eye modeled new social customs for other women. Rebecca Haidt argues that women's activity through a secondhand textile economy made a real impact on the local economy, although it went unnoted in the official records. They share with Sampson Vera Tudela a view of the home and the cloister, respectively, as permeable spaces where women's daily practices came into contact with the male-oriented world outside. María José de la Pascua Sánchez studies female agency, examining how women living independently of men employed tactics for pursuing "new life projects" (p. 140). Finally, Beatriz Quintanilla-Madero focuses on theories of female hysteria in eighteenth-century Mexico, showing how enlightened perspectives confronted traditional gender stereotypes in the space of the female mind and body. These essays offer a fresh look at sources available for the study of women's history, particularly of those women who did not participate in the republic of letters and therefore did not leave documentary evidence of their experiences.
Part 3 examines the representation of women in literature and visual art. Lucy Harney's comparative study of Cirilo Villaverde's mulata protagonist, Cecilia, underscores changes in stereotypes about race and gender in response to shifting ideologies in Cuba. Catherine Jaffe finds that a letter describing a woman's library reveals ambivalence toward women [End Page 400] readers based on concerns about their supposed inability to reason. Looking at the Spanish sentimental novel, Ana Rueda traces a shift in the concept of sensibility toward a gendered notion of sentimentalism, which was politicized as the antithesis to reason and an inappropriate response to Spain's problems. Finally, Janis Tomlinson analyzes the representation of various women in the artistic works of Francisco Goya y Lucientes. She concludes that the Enlightenment provided many of the ideals and stereotypes embodied by Goya's female figures, including majas, enlightened mothers, and women of "heroic stature" (p. 234).
Though diverse in their approaches, the essays in this volume converge around common themes and often enter into dialogue with one another. Several essays rethink methodologies for studying women's history and seek to shed light on women's daily experience, recognizing the gaps that lie between those experiences and documentary evidence representing them. The majority draws from extensive bibliographies and makes explicit references to other scholarship in the respective fields. The work is successful in its attempt to better understand women's history and "[the] Enlightenment's contribution to modern gender ideology" (p. 6). It is also accessible enough to the non-Hispanist so as to be useful for a comparative study of women in the Enlightenment in different national contexts.