- Marginal Subjects: Gender and Deviance in Fin-de-siècle Spain
Deviancy, Prostitution, Gender, Sexuality, Subjectivity, Lou Charnon-Deutsch, Akiko Tsuchiya
The question posed in this book is to what extent the gender deviant in nineteenth-century Spanish novels plays a significant role in challenging socially established norms by negotiating new forms of subjectivity and agency. Fans of Tsuchiya’s decades-long research on the late-nineteenth-century novel will applaud this comprehensive exploration of the productive deployment of gender deviancy in canonical writers Galdós, Clarín, and Pardo Bazán, as well as lesser known naturalist writers Eduardo López Bago and Matilde Cherner. The conclusion Tsuchiya draws is that nineteenth-century novels to a greater or lesser degree create a space where subjects are able to mobilize resistance to the normalizing discourses of a society that was increasingly concerned with observing, classifying, and disciplining subjects who challenge bourgeois ideals of gender conduct. In a series of tightly argued, character-based case studies, Marginal Subjects argues that the persistent use of the gender deviant trope in Spanish fiction indicates anxieties about social and national identities, especially about women in a changing society in which it was feared that gender indifferentiation posed a threat. These deviant subjects, some male, but mostly female, differ in the degree of agency they are able to exercise over their bodies and identities, producing in some cases “significant fissures in Restoration society’s dominant structures of power and knowledge.” Some novels, notably Clarín’s Su único hijo, in the end tend to reinstate (although [End Page 107] not entirely successfully) prevailing gender norms, and others, such as those of López Bago, reveal male desire and fantasies resulting in a reinscription of deviant subjects within dominant patriarchal paradigms despite the author’s politically progressive agenda. Novels by Galdós, on the other hand, reveal the author’s deep ambivalence about gender transgression. For their part, Pardo Bazán and Cherner, like many women writers of their generation, tend to be more self-aware as writers, slipping less readily into conventions of the male gaze in the construction of their narrators, and yet they do not always open spaces for a richer feminine subjectivity.
The introduction rehearses the various social and historical factors that are relevant to the discussion of deviancy in the last decades of the nineteenth century, a very useful and informative review of the subject written, as always, in Tsuchiya’s clear and cogent style. Chapters One and Two on Galdós’s La desheredada and Fortunata y Jacinta examine the constant negotiation of the subjectivity of the characters Isidora, Fortunata, and Mauricia, calling attention to the instability of the boundary between the normal and the deviant through the women’s conscious deployment of their own bodies. Isidora and Fortunata especially pose a threat both to class and gender boundaries by pursuing their own course of desire and negotiating their own places within the culture of consumption instead of remaining passive objects of masculine sexual pleasure and contemplation. Isidora “generates her own end to the story” of her deviancy by escaping the prescriptive measures urged on her by Miquis and other characters, while Fortunata refuses inscription in the bourgeois family and other spatial enclosures meant to correct her deviancy. No “docile body,” to use Sandra Bartky’s term, Mauricia refuses to submit her disordered body to discipline; even her mental disorder and death, according to Tsuchiya, are a form of resistance, a strategy in defiance of the bourgeois codes that seek to constrain her.
Pardo Bazán’s Amparo, on the contrary, is not as convincingly transgressive as the characters examined in the first two chapters. The subject of Chapter Three is the representation of both visual and literary women readers, among whom Amparo is one of the most fascinating examples. This chapter offers an unusual teaming of the visual and the literary that reinforces the identification between female reading and sexual transgression that raised anxiety about women’s education, social progress and...