Academic journal article MELUS

Gendered Nationalism in Xicotencatl

Academic journal article MELUS

Gendered Nationalism in Xicotencatl

Article excerpt

In 1826, the William Stavely Publishing House of Philadelphia first published what is now a little discussed anonymous historical novel in Spanish entitled Jicotencal. Long familiar to mainstream Americanist scholarship as a center of Anglo-American revolutionary history, Philadelphia, in the early nineteenth century, was also a hotbed for liberal political ideologies, one of which promoted complete political separation between Spain and its territories in the Americas. As such, the novel emerged as one of many endorsing not only political independence, but also a cultural distance between the Americas and Europe. The liberal political charge of the text explains the author's decision to publish the piece anonymously since Fernando VII of Spain often proclaimed death sentences in absentia for political dissidents of Spanish territories. Fernando VII issued one such death sentence for Felix Varela, a Cuban priest, philosopher, and political liberal, who fled to the United States, where, well-known literary critics Luis Leal and Rodolfo J. Cortina have persuasively argued, he wrote Jicotencal: the first hispanophone historical novel written in the United States, or in the Americas. (1)

Despite these claims for primacy, which leading nineteenth-century scholars have corroborated, the text was only recently "recovered" in Spanish form by the Recovering the U.S. Hispanic Literary Heritage series in 1995; and Jicotencal was not translated into English until Guillermo I. Castillo-Feliu published his translation in 1999 as Xicotencatl. (2) Despite the recent English access to the text, English language scholars have given little academic attention to the novel because Americanists continue to largely ignore non-English writings and Latino/a cultural forms; ethnic Americanists persist in focusing mainly on twentieth-century literary forms; and US Latin Americanists continue to ignore the issue of hispanophone US literary production. (3) Moreover, the handful of Latin Americanists who have critically examined the text have focused on debating the authorship of the text to the extent that they have largely ignored its issues of post-coloniality and gender. Most scholars, therefore, have only peripherally examined how the text represses history while dismissing the female as a participant and constructor of that history.

Moctezuma, as the primary power in pre-colonial Mexico, resisted the Spanish colonial enterprise while the second most powerful nation in pre-colonial Mexico, Tlaxcala, became the Spaniard's greatest ally. In 1821, three hundred years after Cortes conquered the Aztecs, and eleven years after Mexico achieved independence from Spain, Agustin de Iturbide I became emperor of the new nation and fashioned a royal court in the Spanish tradition after disbanding the Mexican national congress. As such, Xicotencatl revisits and aestheticizes the moment of colonial conquest into a series of moral and political lessons for the novel's contemporary readership. The text oppositionally represents the historical trajectory of the fall of the Aztec empire and dramatizes classical history into a partisan glorification of the Amerindian past in order to summon the social conscience of the novel's contemporary period against reinstating a European monarchy in post-independence Mexico.

Georg Lukacs argues that modern writers of historical novels such as Xicotencatl "take from the historiography and historical philosophy of their time not only facts, but the theory that these facts may be freely and arbitrarily interpreted [...] and therefore that it is necessary to 'introject' one's own subjective problems into the 'amorphousness' of history" (244). As such, he rightly identifies this manner of fictionalizing history as "the decline of bourgeois realism," in which the historical novel develops into the social critical novel because the author's "moral subjectivism" interprets the historical past "into a moralizing fable intended to dramatize the superiority of virtue over vice" (78-80). …

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