- Gender and Modernity in Spanish Literature: 1789-1920 by Elizabeth Smith Rouselle
Gender and Modernity in Spanish Literature: 1789-1920 explores the intersections of the two categories mentioned in its title through the study of Spanish literary works written over a period of 131 years. Each chapter examines the work of one male author and one female author through the theme of disillusion. The introduction roughly defines modernity through passing references to critics such as Jürgen Habermas and Gilles Deleuze and Gelix Guattari, and to some of the historical events that sparked off modern political reforms and that provide the chronological time frame for the term. Regarding the concept of modernity within a specifically Spanish context, Rousselle cites important scholars such Michael Iarrocci, Roberta Johnson, Susan Kirkpatrick, and Jo Labanyi, but mentions their works only briefly to say whether they focus on men or women writers, in order to show how her own study is unique in its balanced focus on both. The introduction also provides some working definitions of the concept of disillusion and touches on some of the ways in which modern life was experienced differently by men and women. This section of the introduction, at only ten and a half pages, is rather cursory. The remaining pages of the introduction are dedicated to summarizing the eight chapters to follow.
Chapter one studies José Cadalso’s Cartas marruecas (1789) and Josefa Amar y Borbón’s Discurso sobre la educación física de las mujeres (1790), contrasting Cadalso’s pessimistic deception regarding Spain’s modernity with Amar y Borbón’s mild disillusion with women’s status in society. The moderate disenchantment of José Mor de Fuente’s epistolary novel La serafina (1802) and Mar Lorenza de los Ríos’s play La sabia indiscreta (n.d.) is the subject of chapter two. These first two chapters together aim to show how the Enlightenment values of balance, moderation, and reason keep in check these works’ expressions of disappointment. Moving from the Enlightenment to Romanticism, chapter three looks at four artículos de costumbre by Mariano José de Larra and two novellas by Rosalía de Castro: El caballero de las botas azules (1867) and El primer loco (1881). Rousselle looks specifically at the representations of masculinity through Larra’s despair and ultimate suicide and the feminized and hysterical male characters in Castro’s works. Rouselle then begins her transition to realism by examining Fernán Caballero’s Simón Verde (n.d.) and Benito Pérez Galdós’s Marinela (1878) in chapter four. She argues that in these novels Caballero displays her disillusion with positivism’s reactionary agenda regarding gender, while Galdós shows his disenchantment with its use of physical difference as the basis for discrimination and marginalization.
Chapter five studies Leopoldo Alas Clarín’s Su único hijo (1890) and Emilia Pardo Bazán’s La quimera (1903) through the lens of fin-de-siècle decadent discourse and argues that the main characters in the two novels are able to maintain a degree of illusion only through their idle, contemplative, states. Chapter six returns to works authored by Galdós and Pardo Bazán, Nazarín (1895) and Dulce dueño (1911) respectively. Rousselle looks at how these two novels present mysticism as an antidote to modern disillusion, and argues that society is more accepting of mysticism in men (Nazarín) than in women (Lina, in Dulce dueño). Chapter seven positions itself squarely in the twentieth century and examines Pío Baroja’s El árbol de [End Page 542] ciencia (1911) and Carmen de Burgos El perseguidor (1907). Rousselle emphasizes the protagonist’s disillusion with the discourses of science in the former novel, and the protagonist’s discouragement with the state of feminism in the latter. Chapter eight turns to Blanca de los Ríos’s Las hijas de don Juan (1907) and Miguel de Unamuno’s Dos madres (1920) and argues that both works reveal the authors’ dissatisfaction with gender roles and the state of the family, which...