- Geographies of Urban Female Labor and Nationhood in Spanish Culture, 1880–1975 by Mar Soria
Geographies of Urban Female Labor is a well-researched, theoretically interdisciplinary study of cultural representations of Spanish urban working women, particularly as such representations relate to dominant nation-building discourses, in a range of theatrical, literary, and filmic texts produced between 1880 and 1975. Through a comprehensive examination of works by familiar authors such as Benito Pérez Galdós, Emilia Pardo Bazán, Ramón Gómez de la Serna, and Carmen Martín Gaite, in addition to lesser-studied authors like Luisa Carnés and Ángeles Villarta, the book explores the intersections between female work, national identity, and the economy, and, in doing so, reveals an “urban geography of social inequalities derived from the imposition of liberal capitalism” (243). Constituting the first [End Page 187] academic book to study female labor in nineteenth- and twentieth-century Spanish culture, Mar Soria’s study traces depictions of urban female workers from turn-of-the-century zarzuelas to postwar short fiction, culminating in a consideration of late-Francoist cinema. Soria’s decision to analyze highbrow novels and films alongside popular short novels and plays, as well as to incorporate both liberal and conservative texts, not only underscores the pervasive ideal of domestic femininity in Spain, but also highlights the ways in which cultural representations of urban female workers echo competing and, at times, contradictory discourses on modernity, nationhood, and women’s roles in society.
Beginning with the enthralling story of the nineteenth-century murder of Luciana Borcino and the ensuing trial of Higinia Balaguer that captured the attention of the Spanish public (including Benito Pérez Galdós), the introduction singles out the figure of the urban working woman as “an unexplored model of femininity” representative of diverse discourses on gender, class, space, and Spanishness (2). In this context, Soria presents the myth of female domesticity, personified in the recurring figure of “the ángel del hogar,” as both a repository of national identity and a way of inculcating a gendered middle-class ideology across classes. Through this framework, the book sets out to examine the ideology of the “angel in the house’s” influence on cultural depictions of urban female workers, a study underpinned by interdisciplinary theories of gender and class, and carried out in dialogue with the work of feminist scholars of space such as Doreen Massey and Linda McDowell.
The first chapter addresses the popular zarzuela of género chico, short musical plays that depicted everyday urban working-class life, with an attention to the representation of working-class female characters, such as cigar makers, women who made flowers, and risqué song performers (cupletistas). Examining Ángel Munilla and Luis Ferreiro’s Las Cigarreras (1887), María Martínez Sierra’s La suerte de Isabelita (1911), and Juan José Lorente’s Los de Aragón (1927), Soria’s reading of the figure of the urban working-class woman positions such subjects as “repositories of a true Spanish national spirit” (37). Despite contemporaneous upper-class perceptions of urban working-class women, which viewed urban female workers as abject, the zarzuelas studied in this chapter frame the working-class woman as the ideal embodiment of pure (castiza) Spain. While such works acknowledge new social and cultural changes brought about by modernity such as the mechanization of production and migration to the main Spanish cities, the working-class female protagonists ultimately serve as a means of appeasing middle-class fears of gender and class unrest and national disintegration through their continuation of a castizo way of living.
The second chapter analyzes the representation of maids and needleworkers in Benito Pérez Galdós’s Tormento (1884) and Emilia Pardo Bazán’s “El mundo” and “Casi artista” (1908), respectively. Moving beyond critical studies focused on the figure of the often unhappy and dissatisfied bourgeois housewife, Soria, following geographer Doreen Massey’s idea of the home as a place “constructed out of movement, communication, [and] social relations” (73), underscores its importance as a...