Marìa Luisa Bombal and Sherwood Anderson: Early Twentieth-Century Pan-American Feminism(s)

By Esplugas, Celia C. | College Literature, Spring 2013 | Go to article overview

Marìa Luisa Bombal and Sherwood Anderson: Early Twentieth-Century Pan-American Feminism(s)


Esplugas, Celia C., College Literature


The 1939 meeting between the Chilean author María Luisa Bombal and the North American novelist Sher wood Anderson in New York, when Bombal inter- viewed the US author for the Argentine newspaper La nación, grew out of inter- American literary interests grounded on the cultural inequities of their respec- tive societies.1 This meeting also brought to the forefront two socially aware and respected authors who deeply influenced the literature of their times by employ- ing innovative literary techniques.2 While Bombal was among the first Latin American writers to employ surrealism, Anderson challenged the conventional formulaic plot of the short story. Both authors portrayed the unsatisfactory per- sonal lives of their characters, and in particular female characters. This study examines how key stories from Anderson's Winesburg, Ohio, first published in 1919, and Bombal's novels La última niebla (1934) and La amortajada (1938) inter- rogate the cultural forces-social mores, family relations, and religion-that impede women's self-realization and alienate them from their constricting envi- ronments, sometimes leading them to emotional disturbance. Anderson's story cycle and Bombal's novels reflect the patriarchal constitution of their societies that, largely ignoring women's emotional needs, shattered their personal devel- opment and often their psychological balance.3 As critics of machismo, Anderson and Bombal forcefully interrogate the phallocentric power system that places women in subaltern positions.

While in the late 1930s Sherwood Anderson's readership seemed to be dwindling in the United States, in Latin America his writing was gaining a widening spectrum of readers, with varied interests and educational backgrounds (D. Anderson 1981, 155-71; Chapman 1966, 74-97). Anderson attracted the atten- tion of such well-known Latin American writers and critics as the Argentinian Eduardo Mallea and the Chilean María Luisa Bombal. When Bombal, already familiar with Anderson's works, interviewed him in New York, she confirmed both the inter-American cultural links and the literar y and social interests the two authors shared. In their writings, these authors denounce a macho society that frustrates woman's self-realization and undercuts her rights. In their respec- tive phallocentric environments, Anderson's and Bombal's women characters live a gendered existence in which the political dualities masculine/feminine, domi- nance/ subordination, and power/obedience conspire to stifle women's identities. It is essential not to overlook, in the configuration of transnational feminism, the different causes that subordinate women of the South and the North. However, in this comparison, I want to highlight an international commonality: women's fundamental need to defend their rights and self-realization, as shown in Ander- son's Winesburg, Ohio and Bombal's La última niebla and La amortajada.

According to his Diaries, Anderson first made the acquaintance of Latin American authors in May 1939, when he met María Luisa Bombal as well as sev- eral other Central and South American writers who were attending the World's Fair in New York. Anderson wrote in his diary on May 24, 1939, about meeting "a newspaper woman {Bombai, who] came from the Argentine" (1987, 236). And four days later, he noted: "Spent afternoon with . . . Maria Bombal-Chile" (236). In meeting Bombal, Anderson came to know one of the most talented authors of Latin American literature, who like Anderson was interested in the psychologi- cal trials of the individual.4 Like Anderson, Bombal focused on the portrayal of female solitude and anguish in a society largely insensitive to women's needs.5 These two authors established an enduring relationship with each other: Bombal not only interviewed Anderson and met with him four times during her stay in New York, but they also exchanged letters about a proposed trip by Anderson to South America (S. Anderson 1940b). Undoubtedly, Anderson highly appreciated Bombal's intellect, since he wrote in his diary on May 29, 1939, after their third meeting: "{An] . …

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