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Gender and Nation in the Spanish Modernist Novel

Roberta Johnson

Publication Year: 2003

Offering a fresh, revisionist analysis of Spanish fiction from 1900 to 1940, this study examines the work of both men and women writers and how they practiced differing forms of modernism. As Roberta Johnson notes, Spanish male novelists emphasized technical and verbal innovation in representing the contents of an individual consciousness and thus were more modernist in the usual understanding of the term. Female writers, on the other hand, were less aesthetically innovative but engaged in a social modernism that focused on domestic issues, gender roles, and relations between the sexes. Compared to the more conventional--even reactionary--ways their male counterparts treated such matters, Spanish women’s fiction in the first half of the twentieth century was often revolutionary. The book begins by tracing the history of public discourse on gender from the 1890s through the 1930s, a discourse that included the rise of feminism. Each chapter then analyzes works by female and male novelists that address key issues related to gender and nationalism: the concept of intrahistoria, or an essential Spanish soul; modernist uses of figures from the Spanish literary tradition, notably Don Quixote and Don Juan; biological theories of gender prevalent in the 1920s and 1930s; and the growth of an organized feminist movement that coincided with the burgeoning Republican movement. This is the first book dealing with this period of Spanish literature to consider women novelists, such as Maria Martinez Sierra, Carmen de Burgos, and Concha Espina, alongside canonical male novelists, including Miguel de Unamuno, Ramon del Valle-Inclan, and Pio Baroja. With its contrasting conceptions of modernism, Johnson's work provides a compelling new model for bridging the  gender divide in the study of Spanish fiction.

Published by: Vanderbilt University Press


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p. v

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pp. vii-xi

When I finished writing Crossfire: Philosophy and the Novel in Spain 1900-1934, my sense of accomplishment was somewhat diminished by an acute awareness that the book paid little attention to women writers. The focus of the book—philosophical fiction—precluded a full treatment of the cultural landscape of the period, especially since women did not for the most part write what I defined as philosophical fiction....

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Introduction: The Feminist Novel in Spain at the Crossroads of Modernism

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pp. 1-30

In a 1970s interview, Concepción Vilela, one of Carmen de Burgos’s colleagues at a Madrid Normal School in the early twentieth century, described Burgos (1867–1932) as “algo modernista” (qtd. in Starcevic 1976, 129). Burgos, according to Vilela, engaged in activities that other Spanish women of her time would not dare to attempt, such as having coffee alone at a public café...

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1: Women and the Soul of Spain

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pp. 31-68

Theory and reality diverged sharply over women’s place in the Spanish national landscape at the beginning of the twentieth century. The male-authored theory of the nature of Spain, which often allied women with the Krausist-inspired transcendental notion of an eternal Spanish tradition or Spanish national soul, clashed with the reality of women’s increasingly immanent and concrete role in a rapidly changing...

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2: Don Quixote as National Icon and Modernist Ideal

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pp. 69-110

After the Spanish army lost eighty ships and one thousand men in the brief 1898 war with the United States, one Spanish newspaper article observed, “We were the only people capable of fighting for honour alone, we were gentlemen, we were Quixotes” (qtd. in Butt 1998, 4). Especially in the first decade after the disaster, many male intellectuals who engaged in the national soul-searching that began before the war...

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3: The Domestication of a Modernist Don Juan

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pp. 111-144

After José Zorrilla debuted a romantic version of the classic Don Juan legend in 1844, the figure increasingly became associated with national values. José Álvarez Junco notes the role of historical novels and plays in creating a public sense of national tradition in the nineteenth century (both Tirso de Molina’s original play and Zorrilla’s reworking take place in the Spanish imperial sixteenth century)...

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4: Baroja’s, Unamuno’s, and Azorín’s Failed Feminists

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pp. 145-184

Carmen de Burgos’s La entrometida (1924) reflects the schizophrenic situation in which Spanish women found themselves in the 1920s. They were caught between increasing expectations for equality and independence and the old social norms that were still firmly in place. As in both the rest of post–World War I Western Europe and the United States...

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5: Biology as Destiny: New National Discourses on Gender Inform the Novel of the 1920s and Beyond

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pp. 185-223

If at the turn of the century and in the first decade of the twentieth century, woman-centered discourse marshaled social arguments in favor of women’s education to further national progress, by the 1920s and 1930s, scientific, biologically centered discourse dominated public conversations about gender. Biological considerations on the nature of the sexes fueled new polemics over gender...

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6: Vanguard Feminists Dream the Nation

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pp. 224-273

Rosa Chacel charted brave new territory in her essays on gender and in her novel Memorias de Leticia Valle, but she did not spring from a vacuum. She may have encased feminist ideals in a more vanguard novelistic format, but Carmen de Burgos, Margarita Nelken, Federica Montseny, and Concha Espina, who, like Chacel, were pro-Republican feminists, paved the way for her messages on gender...

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Conclusion: A Legacy and a Prophecy

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pp. 275-280

When the niña bonita, the Spanish Republic, succumbed to its own internal divisions and the superior Nationalist forces, women’s dream of a new sociopolitical order metamorphosed into the thirty-five-year nightmare of Francisco Franco’s dictatorial regime. The social revolution that included so many shifts in women’s roles was dramatically reversed. The Franco government...


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pp. 281-311


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pp. 313-336


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pp. 337-349

E-ISBN-13: 9780826591746
Print-ISBN-13: 9780826514363
Print-ISBN-10: 0826514367

Page Count: 368
Publication Year: 2003

OCLC Number: 61859546
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Gender and Nation in the Spanish Modernist Novel

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Subject Headings

  • Spanish fiction -- 20th century -- History and criticism.
  • Sex role in literature
  • National characteristics, Spanish, in literature.
  • Modernism (Literature) -- Spain.
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