Academic journal article Hispanic Review

Rules of Gender, Reserve, and Resolution in Pardo Bazán's Insolación

Academic journal article Hispanic Review

Rules of Gender, Reserve, and Resolution in Pardo Bazán's Insolación

Article excerpt

Gender Confusions

From the moment of Emilia Pardo Bazán's entrance into the public sphere, criticism of her work has been marked by gender considerations and confusions. Noted in the 1880s by Menéndez Pelayo for meeting the standards of "la literatura más varonil" (113), and more recently for its feminist inclinations, her writing has been subjected to a peculiar scrutiny. In her own time, Pardo Bazán was attacked by contemporaries for endorsing naturalism despite being a woman. Yet she was also identified by and with the most respected male literary authorities. Avoiding the markers of sentimental literature in her novels enabled a fellowship with Galdós, Clarín, and Pereda, who praised her in articles and correspondence as a modern artist. Such commanding figures as El Impaniai editor José Ortega Munilla placed her novels on a par with theirs: "Es Usted uno de los tres novelistas contemporáneos españoles y mi juicio sincero la coloca entre Galdós y Pereda" (Freiré López, Cartas inéditas 123). Pardo Bazán's brand of naturalist-inflected realism strayed far enough from the techniques of popular literatura femenina to lend her not only male attention, but a masculine mask as well. In the process it made her the exception that upheld the rule, the hierarchy that posited masculine writing as superior to feminine.

If Pardo Bazán transgressed what seemed a rigid standard, she did not eradicate its gender laws. Often the sole female author included in Spanish realist canons and reading lists, she is even now referred to in some literary histories and critical pieces as "la Pardo Bazán" - with the placement of the feminine definite article before the proper name denoting a familiarity that in a scholarly context sounds out of place, if not contemptuous. The exceptionality signaled by the article, however, is attributed less often to her femininity than to the alleged masculinity of her pen. I would argue that it is the act of crossing over, her literary transvestism, which sets her apart from most Restoration male and female authors. To some, her writing is a travesty of the authorial gender standard. Judith Butler writes that "drag is subversive to the extent that it reflects on the imitative structure by which gender is itself produced" (125). By defamiliarizing the familiar, drag unsettles the observer, bringing to light a process of creation, the construction of gender. Pardo Bazán's writing, too, awakens such self-consciousness by reflecting on the production and reproduction of narrative conventions, those characteristic of both male and female authors, even as it participates in them. Moreover, much of her fiction destabilizes the standard roles and representations of women within literary movements (including the realist and popular sentimental novel) and interrogates literary topoi (such as the strategic employment of marriage in resolutions). Her narrative works thereby perplex many and provoke the array of wavering readings that keep gender at the forefront of scholarship on her novels.

Such ambivalence was not generated only in the wake of feminist criticism. Despite her defiance of literary and social expectations, many of the very nineteenth-century readers who included Pardo Bazán in elite circles at once refused to let go of her difference. Her evasion of a number of cultural categories and strictures may have accentuated the sense that she did not fit a simple or preexisting mold: she was an educated woman in a largely illiterate population; a single mother, separated from her husband, in a somewhat traditionalist society; and a literary authority in a world of letters dominated by men. The unease regarding her behavior, or her infiltration of typically masculine spheres of behavior, appears at times to have contaminated readings of her works, lending some critiques - such as those of Insolación, a short narrative published in 1889 - a note of moral outrage as they rail more against sexual perversions than literary failures. …

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