- Spanish Female Writers and the Freethinking Press, 1879–1926 by Christine Arkinstall
In the last five years, several studies have emerged on the broad topic of women and writing in the Spanish-speaking press1 that focus on periodicals whose readership consisted primarily of women, and many more before these have made significant contributions to our understanding of women’s involvement in nineteenth-century periodicals. However, as Christine Arkinstall points out in the introduction, almost none of these “examine[s] the women’s press of a more politicized, anticlerical nature and directed at readers of both sexes” during the fin de siècle period (13–14). Arkinstall’s study succeeds in filling that gap. She highlights three writers—Amalia Domingo Soler (1835–1909), Ángeles López de Ayala (1856–1926), and Belén Sárraga (ca. 1873–1950)—whose work, either previously unknown or ignored, proves to be fundamental for re-focusing the contribution of women to politics and culture in turn-of-the-century Spain. Furthermore, by highlighting and linking together these writers, Arkinstall provides additional historical context for the women journalists who later continued the fight to create a non-gendered public space for female voices.
The book comprises four chapters, organized in chronological order with Domingo Soler first, then López de Ayala, and finally Sárraga, plus an introduction that outlines the methodological and theoretical foundations on which the argument is built, and a conclusion that points the way toward future research. Arkinstall devotes each chapter to the work and life of a single writer, with the exception of López de Ayala whose literary work is considered separately from her periodical and political production. In this way, she succeeds in introducing readers to each writer individually [End Page 100] while also highlighting the professional and personal friendships that existed between them, as well as their frequent collaborations.
Beyond biographical sketches, Arkinstall’s analysis centers on how the freethinking press provided an opportunity for women to “articulate their political opinions not just through more literary vehicles . . . but more directly through their political essays” (14). She explains that the “transnational impetus of freemasonry kept these women in close contact with what was occurring in other nations . . . and facilitated their formulation of common objectives”, and that “freethinking associations contributed to the ideal of a cosmopolitan society envisaged as transcending gender, class, ethnic, political, and national boundaries” (9). To elucidate these points and further illuminate these writers’ contributions as public intellectuals to Republican circles in fin de siècle Spain, Arkinstall draws on Habermas’s theory of the public sphere and cosmopolitanism, as well as the work of her fellow scholars, including Lou Charnon Deutsch, Mary Ellen Bieder, Susan Kirkpatrick, Alda Blanco, and others.
While Arkinstall establishes the commonalities between the writers throughout each chapter, she’s careful to capture their different perspectives. As a well-known spiritist,2 Amalia Domingo Soler’s work is the best-documented of the three writers. She founded and edited the spiritist periodical La Luz del Porvenir (The Light of the Future), co-founded with López de Ayala the Barcelona Sociedad Autónoma de Mujeres (Autonomous Society of Women), a major feminist organization, wrote poetry and many letters, and published her Memorias de una mujer (Memories of a Woman) in 1912. Arkinstall’s analysis focuses on three key themes: the spiritist discourse in La Luz del Porvenir and its goal of a more egalitarian society; the relationship of spiritism and testimonio in Memorias de una mujer, and the role of Sus más hermosos escritos (Their most beautiful writings) in creating a feminist public through essays and letters exchanged between Domingo Soler and her freethinking peers.
Unlike Domingo Soler, Ángeles López de Ayala’s work begins to stray from the spiritist tradition and exhibits a more political quality. Such was her dedication to political activism, Arkinstall affirms, that López de Ayala’s “indefatigable presence in the radical press over the course of thirty-five [End Page...