The Americas 62.4 (2006) 666-667
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This delightful little volume (the text minus the appendix runs to less than 90 pages) studies the ways in which members of the middle and upper classes understood and expressed love and affection in late colonial and nineteenth-century Río de la Plata. Although magazine articles and novels are also cited, the book is based largely on private correspondence; fundamentally, it is the stories that emerge from these letters that make this study so engaging. Readers learn about the desperate, and ultimately unsuccessful, [End Page 666] attempts by Victoria Antonia Pesoa to convince her husband to return from Paraguay to resume marital life in Buenos Aires, about Juan Ramón Balcarce's abandonment of his "amada negrita" María Victoria Pereira y Mariño in the face of parental opposition to their marriage, and about the impact of the Rosas dictatorship on the romantic life of Vicente Fidel López and other members of the Generation of 1837. The 34-page appendix offers a rich selection from these letters, including the poignant missives of María Guadalupe Cuenca to her husband Mariano Moreno, who was already dead at the time of their writing. Any reader interested in the history of private life during the transition from colony to republic will enjoy this book.
Readers looking for a sustained engagement with the literature on romantic love, on the other hand, will be (a little) disappointed. Mayo states clearly that his book aims at allowing readers to "feel these loves from the past and to 'understand them' through their own amorous life without the necessity of conceptual mediation" (p. 14). Nonetheless, the book does offer some conceptual mediation through its analysis of the changing meaning of love from 1750 to 1860. Mayo maintains that during this period love ceased to be understood in terms of voluntad, and was instead described, in positive terms, as a passion. This, he argues, reflects the growing influence of romanticism in colonial and early-national Río de la Plata. While in the late eighteenth century love was described (at least by the young) as a noble sentiment—which, Mayo argues, itself reveals the beginnings of a romantic sensibility—passion was generally regarded as a disruptive force, and love was not considered a sufficient reason for marriage. By the middle of the next century, however, lovers proudly proclaimed their passionate longings in quintessentially romantic terms. Mayo thus implicitly endorses the interpretation offered by such works as Ramón Gutiérrez's When Jesus Came the Corn Mothers Went Away (1991), which likewise found evidence for the growth of romantic love in the nineteenth century, albeit in a different part of Spanish America.
Perhaps in keeping with his desire to downplay "conceptual mediation," Mayo engages only intermittently with such broader historiographical contexts. For instance, his interpretation of eighteenth-century "enlightened" attitudes toward love wholly ignores the substantial literature on the cult of sensibility, which encouraged men as well as women to express their emotions, and which prized sincerity above all other virtues. Similarly, he offers scant discussion of the impact of the Council of Trent on earlier marriage practices, the significance of the Bourbon clampdown on unapproved marriages in shaping late colonial understandings of passion, and the importance of the (alleged) nineteenth-century decline in the honour system in altering understandings of all personal relationships, including those between husbands and wives. (Honour indeed plays a surprisingly minor role in explaining colonial attitudes to love and marriage.) As a result, the interesting overlaps between Mayo's study and the growing body of work on these topics remains largely latent. Nonetheless, Porque la quiero tanto is a useful and highly readable book that will be enjoyed by anyone interested in the cultural meanings of love in Spanish America.