"Feminine" Bestsellers: Gender and the Question of Modernity in the Spanish Short Novel (1907-1936)

Antorino, Thomas, Spanish - Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, University of Virginia
Anderson, Andrew, AS-Spanish, Italian & Portuguese, University of Virginia

This study analyzes the ways in which women writers of early twentieth-century Spain explored the complex relationship between gender and modernity. Between 1907 and 1936, the novela corta became one of the most popular and lucrative ways to publish for writers in Spain, and it is a useful medium through which scholars can track the ways in which women writers engaged with the most pressing questions about women's social, political, and cultural roles in a rapidly changing society. By organizing my analyses around three main female archetypes--the turn-of-the-century New Women, the modern woman of the 1920s, and the conservative woman--I argue that underlying all of these texts is a general anxiety surrounding modernization and its perceived effects on theoretically stable gender relations. Chapter One focuses on three novels: Concepción Gimeno de Flaquer's "Una Eva moderna" (1909), Ángela Barco's "Fémina" (1910), and Emilia Pardo Bazán's "La dama joven" (1914). I analyze the ways in which the female protagonists of these texts are conflicted between conventional theories of "appropriate" female behavior and modern expressions of individual desire. In many ways, these tensions represent broader concerns about Spain's own uneven modernization. Chapter Two explores figure of the modern woman of the 1920s as a symbol of an ideal, emancipated womanhood that embraces modernity. In particular, I focus on Margarita Nelken's "La aventura de Roma" (1924), Concha Espina's "Aurora de España" (1927), and Carmen de Burgos's "¡La piscina! ¡La piscina!" (1930). Chapter Three deals with more conservative representations of womanhood. In this chapter I analyze the ways in which the female protagonists of Sofía Casanova's "Princesa del amor hermoso" (1909), Blanca de los Ríos's "Los diablos azules" (1910), and Pilar Millán Astray's "Las dos estrellas" (1928) represent a specifically anti-modern warning about the dangers of modernity on gender relations. In sum, I not only reveal the intellectual diversity of women in early twentieth-century Spain concerning their own positions in a modernizing society, but I also explore the ways in which the specific genre of the novela corta problematizes the common gendering of popular culture in nineteenth- and twentieth-century Spain as inherently "feminine" and therefore inferior. The society in which women writers of early twentieth-century women lived might have been strictly patriarchal, but this is not to say that they did not experience or benefit from the changes brought about by the modernization of different sectors (cultural, political, social) of Spanish public life. In fact, the small yet significant role of Spanish women in the production of the novela corta is proof that modernity was opening new literary opportunities to new generations of women writers who, whether or not they viewed modernity as beneficial to Spanish society, were nevertheless active participants in the modernization of Spanish society and literature.

PHD (Doctor of Philosophy)
Gender, Modernity, Novela corta, Spain, Spanish women writers, Ángela Barco, Concepción Gimeno de Flaquer, Emilia Pardo Bazán, Margarita Nelken, Concha Espina, Carmen de Burgos, Sofía Casanova, Blanca de los Ríos, Pilar Millán Astray
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