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Marginal Subjects: Gender and Deviance in Fin-de-siècle Spain (review)

From: Anales Galdosianos
Volume 47, 2012
pp. 115-117 | 10.1353/ang.2012.0008

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Akiko Tsuchiya's Marginal Subjects: Gender and Deviance in Fin-de-siècle Spain is an impeccably researched and illuminating study of representations of gender deviance in late nineteenth-century Spanish literature and culture. In the most comprehensive analysis on this topic to date, Tsuchiya argues that cultural anxieties regarding the breakdown of traditional gender roles led to attempts to reassert normative behavior through various types of scientific and sociological inquiry as well as through representations of gender deviance in literature and the visual arts. Paradoxically, however, attempts to control nonconformity through scientific study and especially through artistic representation actually revealed the instability of normative categories and blurred the boundaries between deviance and normalcy. The inability to clearly demarcate the norm from the pathological and to regulate the latter problematized attempts to contain disorder and ultimately served to open up new spaces of subjectivity. Tsuchiya also shows how fears about gender identity were intricately related to the larger question of social organization, which involved issues such as one's position within the social hierarchy in the emerging consumer society.

Marginal Subjects concerns itself primarily with literary texts and with the figure of the female deviant. While Tsuchiya explores gender representation in the fields of science, medicine, anthropology, and criminology, the majority of chapters use this as background information to inform analyses of literary works, mostly canonical texts, but also works by the radical naturalist Eduardo López Bago, and the lesser-known female writer Matilde Cherner. Tsuchiya explains her primary interest in the literary text in terms of its ability to best reveal "the ambiguities and contradictions at the root of cultural anxieties about deviance" (4). Furthermore, most chapters focus primarily on female characters such as adulteresses, prostitutes, or seduced women. The number of examples of such women is not surprising considering that "sexual deviance itself became gendered as feminine" despite empirical evidence of more cases amongst men (15). Nevertheless questions of male gender identity come into play in many of the analyses and Tsuchiya dedicates an entire chapter, chapter four, to the question of the crisis of masculinity.

Tsuchiya's study bases its analyses on the theoretical works of prominent cultural critics such as Michel Foucault, Michel De Certeau, and Judith Butler, amongst others. She also builds both on the more theoretically-based literary and cultural analyses of Hispanists from the U.S. academy, and the more historically-oriented studies of Spanish scholars. Moreover, she engages with works that study similar questions in other European countries of the time, acknowledging that while these studies help illuminate circumstances in Spain, Spain was indeed unique due to the stronger influence of the Catholic Church, the failure of liberalism, and the lack of widespread industrialization.

Chapters one and two explore the question of female deviancy in two novels by Benito Pérez Galdós, La desheredada and Fortunata y Jacinta. In La desheredada, the protagonist, Isidora Rufete, attempts to improve her social standing by refashioning herself through consumerism and by exploiting the sexual desires her body excites. Turning her own body into an object of consumption, refusing marriage, and moving about in public spaces are all ways that she effectively resists class and gender norms despite the forces within the novel that attempt to regulate her behavior. In Fortunata y Jacinta the Micaelas convent functions as an institution of surveillance and control charged with duty of reforming two deviant female characters: Fortunata and Mauricia la Dura. Whereas Fortunata, unlike Mauricia, initially emerges from the convent a reformed woman, her ultimate rejection of the institutions of marriage and family is a form of resistance to the disciplinary system that seeks to control her.

Chapter three looks at representations of the figure of the female reader. Along with the rise in female literacy in the second half of the nineteenth century, an abundance of discourses arose that related reading in women to sexual transgression and unrestrained consumerism. Artistic images of the female reader published in illustrated magazines in Spain portray their subject as totally absorbed in her reading, oblivious to the gaze of the artist, and often in a state of sexual arousal. In short, the concern in both artistic and literary texts is...



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