Virginia Woolf in Mexico and Puerto Rico

Article excerpt

Postcolonial studies have stirred renewed interest in the way in which ideas move across borders in non-exploitive and non-violent ways. Postcolonial studies have forced us to ask whether the internationalism that a writer like Virginia Woolf envisioned in Three Guineas really fosters coalition-building across borders while not replicating the very structures of oppression that it intends to undo; whether Woolf posited an internationalism that is Eurocentrism in disguise or mere political detachment; and whether her aesthetic ushered in women-centered writing practices of liberation. More to the point, the theoretical developments in transnational feminism--invested in destabilizing the spatial boundaries of nation-states and in revealing the complex relationships between the concepts of gender and nation in an age of global interconnectedness--have further intensified the analysis of the uneven, unequal, and complex relationships among women in places as different as England and Spanish America.

This essay inserts itself in the general debate on how ideas permeate those borders and in the specific assessment of Virginia Woolf as a precursor of writers "outside" the English tradition, that is to say, of writers who read her work across the frontiers of language, history, and culture. It compiles, assesses, and classifies scattered commentary by two contemporary writers of Spanish America, one of whom was and the other still is a professional writer, on the well-known but still elusive figure of Virginia Woolf, thus continuing to document her impact on Spanish America. Writers as diverse as Rosario Castellanos (1925-1974) and Rosario Ferre (b. 1938)--responsible for the consolidation of feminism in Mexico and Puerto Rico respectively--evoke Woolf's work and aesthetic in a series of early-career essays largely neglected by both translators and critics, as Maureen Ahern said when she published the first English translation of a dozen of Castellanos's essays (39). In such writings, they rehearse the very principles of an enlightened and women-centered aesthetic modeled after Woolf's that provides early impetus to the creative work of their lifetime. In short, this essay traces Woolf's crucial role as precursor of and narrative model to two women in the Spanish-speaking world who wrote later in the twentieth century in countries where Woolf could not have imagined her influence would be felt. In addition, this essay places the countries of their birth in a transnational context through the critiques of nation of two of their most important women of letters.

The parameters of the debate that extends the influence of Virginia Woolf across cultures has been defined most notably in Woolf studies by critics like Patricia Laurence and Susan Stanford Friedman. Both have written extensively about the conditions under which Woolf's texts found new locations in countries as different as China, Taiwan, and India among others. The debate that contextualizes Virginia Woolf in Spanish America, on the other hand, though relatively easy to de fine, has yet to reverse its invariably unilateral direction. Over the last fifteen years and without exception, the few articles that examine this exchange seem bogged down in the connection between Virginia Woolf and her contemporary, the Argentine Victoria Ocampo, editor of the literary magazine Sur (Houseman, 1990; Meyer, 1990; Garcia-Rodriguez, 1992; Guinazu, 1995; Laurence, 1999; Parrott 2004). This list of articles also includes the most recent one: Laura Maria Lojo Rodriguez's thoroughly researched article that not only seals chronologically the links between both authors but also documents the centrality of Victoria Ocampo and of Argentina to the translation and circulation of Virginia Woolf in Spain. This article reconstructs their legendary exchanges and assesses their impact well beyond their encounters in England.

However, other writers--whose reputations are well established by now but were not contemporaneous with Woolf--have also scrutinized her work and were eager to promote it in the Spanish American world. …