Beyond the Metaphors of Life

Article excerpt

MARTA MERCADER AND OLGA OROZCO, each in her own way, are members of what might be called the "Argentine Feminist Literature League," although neither writer can be labeled stereotypically. In their personal literary language, both criticize or reject traditional values in Argentine society in favor of a new liberating dimension of the human destiny. Both have fought hard for their intellectual independence and deserve recognition for having projected themselves into the predominately male world of ideas.

Mercader and Orozco stand on the shoulders of several generations of women who refused to conform to the predestined and passive role that denied them the opportunity to fulfill a literary vocation. One of the first women to triumph over these overwhelming social obstacles was Juana Manuela Gorriti, the subject of Marta Mercader's bestselling novel, Juanamanuela, mucha mujer (Juanamanuela, A Woman and More).

Born in Salta, Argentina, in 1818, Juana Manuela would have been fated to write only letters and diaries, like most women of her age and status. But secretive writing did not satisfy her intense and restless spirit. She resolved to leave public, printed testimony of an extraordinary life in which the drama of exile and a broken marriage was followed by the establishment of her own literary salon and a career in journalism. Juana Manuela also wrote biography and novels about the customs and attitudes of her times. Being both prolific and talented, she has entered history as the best woman writer of the second half of the nineteenth century. Furthermore, her example created a following of women novelists and reporters who were able to pressure magazine and newspaper publishers into accepting their contributions.

That was the beginning. Through perseverance and the quality of their works, women writers finally found the place they deserved in the Argentine literary scene toward the beginning of the twentieth century. These few authors were a cultivated, earnest lot who wrote celebrated novels, translated European authors, and covered current events for periodicals.

Beginning in 1931, Victoria Ocampo and the Sur generation (named after the literary review she created) defined the direction of Argentine literary life for the next thirty years. Ocampo belonged to the aristocratic class, but the fact that her family was well-to-do did not spare her from having to fight against the restraints of paternalism to attain a more stimulating and autonomous existence. She was painfully aware that women were outcasts in Argentina's complex, dynamic culture, and once noted that every woman writer had "in one way or another done what Jane Austen did: hide her manuscript under a blotter when visitors or servants entered the room."

When Peronism finally brought an end to the de facto rule of the landed gentry and its supporters in the army and the church, the great tradition of "Argentine Liberalism" (a form of laissez-faire conservatism), which was promoted by Ocampo and her publication Sur, also collapsed. Moreover, Peron's brand of nationalism and populism changed the intellectual climate of Argentina forever--the culture of the elite became the culture of the masses. At that point, Sur ceased to be in the vanguard, and by the end of 1970, it had lost its ability to influence or interpret what was happening in the country.

Another pioneer who paved the way for an important group of women writers was Silvina Bullrich. She was a member of what is known as the "Intermediate Generation." In various novels, short stories, essays and poems, she shrewdly explored the intricacies of the female soul. Moreover, she made no effort to conceal the fact that her viewpoints were always those of a female author. Bullrich's prose, full of irony and bitterness, did not succeed in hiding her romantic and sometimes religious nature. She once said: "The Christian faith made of us females, women. …