The Case of the Ugly Suitor: and Other Histories of Love, Gender, and Nation in Buenos Aires, 1776-1870

The Case of the Ugly Suitor: and Other Histories of Love, Gender, and Nation in Buenos Aires, 1776-1870

The Case of the Ugly Suitor: and Other Histories of Love, Gender, and Nation in Buenos Aires, 1776-1870

The Case of the Ugly Suitor: and Other Histories of Love, Gender, and Nation in Buenos Aires, 1776-1870

Synopsis

In 1840 Gumerscindo Arroyo hoped to marry Francisca Canicoba, but her father forbade it. Consequently, Francisca took her father to court for permission to marry, where he objected on the grounds that Arroyo was simply too ugly. In the courtrooms of nineteenth-century Buenos Aires, children battled parents in order to fulfill their romantic desires and marry the mate of their choice. Parents and guardians also struggled for custody of young children, which some did out of love while others were greedy for child labor. In courtrooms and elsewhere, women challenged their traditional status as social and intellectual inferiors. Though all these struggles existed in earlier times, the nineteenth century injected a new dynamic into such conflicts: Argentina's revolution against Spain and the subsequent attempts by political and intellectual leaders to craft a new nation out of the vestiges of Spanish colonialism. The family, many leaders recognized, was the vital building block of the nation. Hence, matters of the heart and hearth intertwined with matters of the state. Examining family conflicts and the political and legal backdrop of those cases reveals strong continuities in attitudes about gender and family. At the same time, ideological influences of the revolutionary movement combined with the practical needs of nation building to create new freedoms and new identities for women and children over the course of the nineteenth century. The Case of the Ugly Suitor brings these family and national struggles to life, many times in the words of the participants themselves.

Excerpt

No one will ever know how ugly Gumesindo Arroyo really was. We do know he was too ugly for José León Canicoba's taste, and it was Canicoba's daughter Francisca who fell in love with Gumesindo.

Gumesindo Arroyo lived in the port city of Buenos Aires and, as of March 1842, he had been visiting the Canicoba home for two and onehalf years. But Mr. Canicoba, perhaps naively, did not expect this visitor to one day become his new son-in-law. When Gumesindo and Francisca asked permission to marry, Canicoba flatly refused for several reasons. Arroyo was too old for Francisca, and he did not have the means to support a family. But Mr. Canicoba saved his most passionate argument for another reason: Gumesindo Arroyo was simply too ugly.

The worried father had powerful cultural and legal traditions to strengthen his case. First, he was the patriarch of the family, and Hispanic culture gave patriarchs extensive control over their wives and children, at least in theory. Furthermore, Francisca was a minor and thus needed her father's permission to marry. Canicoba bolstered his opposition by citing a colonial marriage law issued in 1776 by the king of Spain, a law later extended to Buenos Aires and other New World holdings. The Pragmática sanción para evitar el abuso de contraer matrimonies desiguales (hereafter known as the Pragmatic on Marriage) gave parents the right to block their children's marriages to “unequal” partners. Although Buenos Aires broke from Spain in 1810, a host of colonial laws, including the Pragmatic on Marriage, remained in place until the late nineteenth century. Fortunately for Francisca and Gumesindo, the pragmatic also allowed children the right to challenge parental opposition in court. If children took parents to court, the resulting suit was known as a disenso, from the Spanish root word “to dissent.” In such a case, a civil judge would hear the stories of both sides and their witnesses and rule in a manner that, in his eyes, would benefit the family and the state.

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