- Spanish Female Writers and the Freethinking Press, 1879–1926 by Christine Arkinstall
Christine Arkinstall’s study is a major work of scholarship, a sorely needed comprehensive analysis of the historical and literary feminist freethinking press published in Spain at the turn of the century. Essays produced by women have historically been disregarded as subaltern interpretations, lacking their own intrinsic value, deemed unworthy of inclusion within canonical literature. Arkinstall’s text offers the first direct evidence that the contribution of female freethinking writers was instrumental to the beginnings of democracy and feminism.
The introduction, in addition to tracing an outline of the importance of literary and political associations as catalysts of freethinking activities and [End Page 384] democratic thought, also examines the issues, strategies, and origins of a discourse that strengthened women’s positions in the public arena and modified their roles within family and society.
Chapter one focuses on Amalia Domingo Soler, a prolific and precocious novelist and poet mostly recognized for her anticlerical views and her significant role in spiritist and freethinking circles. Through the meticulous reading of Domingo Soler’s literary works, Arkinstall traces an analogy between spiritism, Republicanism, and testimonio, drawing on Linda Brooks’s analysis of testimonio as “a poetics of performance” and John Beverly’s assertion it as a means to raise social awareness and consciousness of the rights of marginalized subaltern groups, including women.
Chapter two centres on the life and works of Ángeles López de Ayala, one of the most prominent freethinkers and feminist journalists in the radical press. Her political activities as well as her hundreds of political essays, written over a span of thirty years, grapple with the patriarchal and moral rhetoric of the state and overtly challenge the social conventions of her times.
In chapter three, Arkinstall deepens López de Ayala’s rebellious profile by engaging in a thorough analysis of De tal siembra, tal cosecha, a feminist play that reinterprets many of the patriarchal views outlined in José Zorrilla’s Don Juan Tenorio; El abismo, a melodramatic feuilleton oriented to further the interests of republicanism; and Primitivo, a short novella intended to promote secular education.
Chapter four examines Belén de Sárraga’s unwavering commitment to feminism, anticlericalism, and the Republican cause. Influenced by her involvement and political activism in liberal and anarchist movements in Europe and in Latin America, Sárraga sought to expand women’s opportunities through several freethinking newspapers and associations she created. Such associations contributed to the ideal of an egalitarian cosmopolitan society conceived as a universal community extending beyond individual, regional, and national concerns.
In the final reflections, Arkinstall summarizes the accomplishments of the three writers in their development of alternative paradigms of women’s subjectivity and, in addition, elaborates an insightful comment on their blatant omission from the literary canons.
Elegantly written and well researched, Arkinstall’s splendid description of the Spanish female writers and the freethinking press invites us to rethink the significant, and yet ignored, role of women in the struggle for democracy and the formation of the state. [End Page 385]