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Reviewed by:
  • Histories, Cultures, and National Identities: Women Writing Spain, 1877-1984
  • Catherine G. Bellver (bio)
Histories, Cultures, and National Identities: Women Writing Spain, 1877-1984, by Christine Arkinstall. Lewisburg: Bucknell University Press, 2009. 250 pp. $53.50.

Despite its subtitle, Histories, Cultures, and National Identities is not a panoramic view of one hundred years of women writing about history, culture, and national identity. Instead, it incorporates into these topics studies of three women writers: a playwright whose works appeared in the last quarter of the nineteenth century, a poet writing a hundred years later during the Franco dictatorship, and a novelist who wrote novels in the post-Franco years. Arkinstall departs from the premise that gender always underpins history, culture, and politics. She proposes to explore the manner in which these women authors venture into those traditionally masculine domains, their aspects that the women underline, the ways women define nation, and how they envision the world. She thus uncovers the implications of gender beneath the multiple social themes and literary works studied.

Part one is devoted to three plays by Rosario de Acuna, a forgotten and prolific writer of fiction and nonfiction. Arkinstall skillfully embeds her analysis of the characters of the plays within a matrix of information on the cultural values of the period, Spanish history, and the liberal politics of the playwright. She also underscores the counterbalance in Acuna between, on the one hand, a defense of individual economic independence and republican federalism and, on the other, a critique of certain features of liberal or progressive ideology. Arkinstall next explores the poetry of Angela Figuera from the 1950s and 1960s as subtle expressions of dissidence. The poet reworks Christian symbols approved by the dictator's regime to undermine its reactionary conceptualization of history and nation and of time and space.

Finally, Arkinstall examines two novels by Rosa Chacel, one from 1976 and the other from 1984, that evoke her youth. Chacel is seen as rejecting the opposition between a socialist ethic and an avant-garde aesthetic and as believing instead that modernism could revamp a stale culture, language, and class system. The manner in which Chacel renegotiates the masculine modernist configurations of the spaces of home and city are also studied. Arkinstall cleverly, but not altogether convincingly, ties Chacel's [End Page 398] novels from the post-Franco era into the years of the first third of the twentieth century and maintains that there is in them a message for the Spain of the eighties. Unlike the first two parts of the book, which examine two women's confrontations with the society in which they live, the part on Chacel centers on the novelist's reflections on the past. With Chacel, Arkinstall attempts to bridge the wide chronological gap that stretches between Acuna and Figueroa. Well-aware of the long temporal span covered in her book, Arkinstall does, to her credit, specify the features she perceives as uniting the three writers: their critique of liberal thought, an awareness of gender politics, their marginalization and the limited recognition of their work, and their emphasis on the liberal ideology associated with Republican ideals.

In the end, any suggestion in the book of excessive broadness of scope or selectiveness of example is overridden by these similarities as well as by the consistency of Arkinstall's argumentation and her unifying premise. She weaves the multiple threads of gender, history, politics, and culture with striking agility to create a book that is at once meticulously detailed and fluid. From the outset, she reveals a solid grounding in scholarly theory, especially that relating to cultural studies and gender studies. She also reveals a thorough knowledge of Spanish history. Histories, Cultures, and National Identities should appeal to anyone concerned with cultural studies from a feminist perspective as well as to Hispanists interested in the women writers of Spain neglected by the literary canon.

Catherine G. Bellver
University of Nevada, Las Vegas
Catherine G. Bellver

Catherine G. Bellver is Distinguished Professor of Spanish at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. A specialist in twentieth-century Spanish literature, she has published innumerable studies, primarily on the poetry of the twenties and thirties and on post-Spanish...


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