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Masculinity, Femininity, Solidarity: Emilia Pardo Bazan's Construction of Madame de Stael and George Sand

From: Comparative Literature Studies
Volume 40, Number 4, 2003
pp. 372-393 | 10.1353/cls.2003.0029

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Comparative Literature Studies 40.4 (2003) 372-393

The Galician author, Emilia Pardo Bazán (1851-1921), who introduced first French naturalism and then the Russian novel to Spain, was an accomplished writer of novels, short stories, and essays such as the literary criticism I examine here. In addition to her notorious La cuestión palpitante (1883), an introduction to French naturalism and a general literary history of France, Pardo Bazán wrote extensively on French literature. From 1910 to 1914, she produced a three-volume study, La literatura francesa moderna, with volumes titled El romanticismo, La transición, and El naturalismo. She also taught literature briefly at the university level (1916), and her lectures on French lyricism appeared posthumously as El lirismo en la poesía francesa (1923).

Given her pivotal role in French letters, it is not surprising that Madame de Staël (Anne-Louise-Germaine Necker, 1766-1817) plays an important part in all of Pardo Bazán's histories of French literature. Staël the critic figures as heroine of Pardo's criticism, perhaps in part because of the similarity of the two women's careers as cosmopolitan philosophers of literature. Much like Staël, Pardo Bazán presents herself as an authority on literary issues by virtue of her verbal presence: both writers share a steady, confident voice, unsilenced by adversity. Pardo praises Staël, using images that inevitably lead the reader to suspect an autobiographical subtext. In her discussion of French romanticism, Pardo Bazán claims that De l'Allemagne "sólo podía escribirlo, después de peregrinar por toda Europa, una persona tan saturada de simpatía y de curiosidad intelectual que, sin ser poeta ni artista, vibraba como las cuerdas de las arpas eolias al soplo de las corrientes poéticas" ["could only have been written by a person who had wandered all of Europe—a person saturated with sympathy and intellectual curiosity who, without being a poet or an artist, vibrated like the cords of an aeolian harp in the breeze of poetic currents"]. The project described is Staël's introduction of Germany to the French, but a reader familiar with Pardo Bazán's biography and body of work cannot help but read her statements as self-referential: she also travelled extensively in Europe, remained intellectually curious throughout her life, wrote prose instead of poetry, and responded with sensitivity to international artistic developments of all kinds. In her incorporation of Staël, Pardo Bazán behaves in a manner characteristic to women authors of the nineteenth century, who "looked to models, both to assess what it was acceptable to write about and to embolden themselves when they might be overstepping boundaries." Clearly, throughout her characterization of Madame de Staël, Pardo Bazán also seems to be describing herself, envisioning in Staël the fortitude for which she also strived.

In contrast, Pardo Bazán attempts to distance herself from the French writer George Sand (Amandine-Aurore-Lucile Dudevant, née Dupin, 1804-1876). Pardo Bazán rejects "Jorge" Sand by calling Sand's lyricism "un largo acceso de egoísmo" ["a long fit of selfishness"], and scorning Sand's ideas of sexual liberation. For Pardo Bazán, Sand exhibits "la inmoralidad intrínseca del lirismo individualista" ["the intrinsic immorality of individualist lyricism"], exalting passion at the expense of humanity, and espousing a theory of love so outrageous that the Spanish writer refuses to discuss it in her criticism. Although Pardo Bazán tempers her attacks on Sand with defenses and qualifications—curiously, often in the same texts in which she reviles Sand—Pardo's contrast of "good" Staël with "bad" Sand tends to predominate. When she rejects George Sand, Pardo Bazán closes a door on a heritage she sees as distinctly female, since she considers Sand a modern exponent of the lyric tradition initiated by Sappho. Pardo Bazán's problematizing of Sand, Sappho, and the legacy of lyricism she ties to womanhood mirrors her distancing of herself from other Spanish women writers, a phenomenon described by Maryellen Bieder. The implication of this willful forgetting of female precursors and contemporaries is clear: when Pardo Baz&aacute...



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