- Rewriting Womanhood: Feminism, Subjectivity, and the Angel of the House in the Latin American Novel, 1887-1903 by Nancy LaGreca, and: Passionate Subjects/Split Subjects in Twentieth-Century Literature in Chile: Brunet, Bombal, and Eltit by Bernardita Llanos M., and: Displaced Memories: The Poetics of Trauma in Argentine Women's Writing by M. Edurne Portela
The three books under review make real contributions to the study of women and of Latin America. The first two build on the extensive scholarship on gender and Latin America in the past few decades and examine novelistic production within a variety of temporal and geographic contexts. The third makes a decisive contribution to trauma studies by its examination of fictionalized testimonies from Argentina's "Dirty War" in the 1970s and '80s.
Nancy LaGreca's Rewriting Womanhood: Feminism, Subjectivity, and the Angel of the House in the Latin American Novel, 1887-1903 is an excellent source on women's history and literature of the period. The book is deeply researched and meticulously documented. LaGreca focuses on three novels by women: La hija del bandido (The Bandit's Daughter) (1887) by Refugio Barragán de Toscano (Mexico, 1846-1916); Blanca Sol (1888) by Mercedes Cabello de Carbonera (Peru, 1845-1909); and Luz y sombra (Light and Shadow) (1903) by Ana Roqué (Puerto Rico, 1853-1933). The introduction reviews scholarship on nineteenth-century women writers in Latin America and presents the aims of the study. For each novel, LaGreca includes two chapters: one on the historical context for women in each country (Mexico, Peru, and Puerto Rico, respectively), and another on the struggle for identity and agency by the female protagonists. The "Angel of the House" in the subtitle refers to the ideal then imposed on women, at least on women of certain social classes—an ideal of modesty, submissiveness, and self-abnegation. The dates of the title are important because this period is associated with Latin America's conflictive encounter with modernity and modernization. As LaGreca sees it, these novels propose alternative paths for bourgeois women because the protagonists' adventures illustrate and shape new [End Page 192] visions of female subjectivity. These novels are not canonical works, but their revival is due to recent feminist scholarship.
La hija del bandido is set in Mexico in the unsteady years between the colonial period and the early republic. LaGreca examines Barragán's context of Porfirian Mexico (1876-1911), its limitations on women's circulation, and the impact of Positivist philosophy. Barragán, a widowed schoolteacher, supported her children through her teaching and writing. Her novel of adventure and intrigue tells the story of María, a motherless daughter of a bandit leader. Her sheltered upbringing—she is raised in caves where the bandits hide out—prevents her from knowing her father's motives; she believes that he hides from political enemies. On her 15th birthday (the quinceañera in many Latin American cultures marks the transition to adulthood) she learns the truth and decides to abandon her home. In a novel with multiple story lines, LaGreca focuses on María's adventures—she travels alone, solves crimes, and rejects a marriage proposal—and her rejection of her father and his name. Using Lacan's symbolic "Name of the Father," she situates María's actions as a reworking of the symbolic order.
Blanca Sol by Mercedes Cabello de Carbonera, usually considered a naturalist novel, rewrites womanhood through the actions of its protagonist Blanca and other female characters. The chapter on women's legal status and education in nineteenth-century Peru sheds light on what leads Blanca, an intelligent woman with social skills...