Academic journal article Hispanic Review

A Stranger in My Own Land: Sofía Casanova, a Spanish Writer in the European Fin De Siècle

Academic journal article Hispanic Review

A Stranger in My Own Land: Sofía Casanova, a Spanish Writer in the European Fin De Siècle

Article excerpt

hooper, KiRSTY. A Stranger in My Own Land: Sofía Casanova, a Spanish Writer in the European Fin de Siècle. Nashville, TN: Vanderbilt UP, 2008. 235 pp.

Female writers and female writing have always been topics of interest for critics and scholars alike. It appears, however, that Spanish female writers and their works, especially those of the fin de siglo period, have not captured enough interest and attention. Kirsty Hooper's A Stranger in My Own Land stands on its own merit by offering an intellectually stimulating study of one of those less-studied authors: Sofia Casanova. In her book, Hooper sets out to examine the place of the Galician- born writer's authorship within both Spanish and Galician tradition at the turn of the nineteenth century, as well as the biographical, social, political, and cultural contexts of her early narrative. In doing this, Hooper attempts to show "the dispar- ity between the evidence of active participation in fin de siglo social, cultural and political debates by women such as Casanova and their absence from the historical record" (8).

In her famous speech "La mujer española en el extranjero," given at the Ateneo de Madrid in 1910, Casanova complained that Spanish women had been erased from the European intellectual map "cual Atlántida que devoró el mar" (1). Up until now, Casanova's complaint has become a self-prophecy, since there have been no scholarly studies about her works. With this book, however, Hooper makes sure that Casanova's radical and poignant representations of gender, social class, race, national identity, and contemporary politics find their way to His- panists and Galleguistas alike. Although her book offers what some would consider close readings of literary texts, Hooper's distinctive and clever readings of Casano- va's early fictional writings are contextualized within the personal, social, and political climate of their production. The truth is, as Hooper points out, it is very difficult for those who are interested in lesser-known female authors like Casanova, Concha Espina, and Blanca de los Ríos, or even more mainstream writers such as Emilia Pardo Bazán and Carmen de Burgos, to find adequate "models of criticism and interpretation," since they have been "developed in response to a limited range of narrative modes and narrative voices from which women writers are, by default, excluded" (172).

The introductory chapter, taking the quote from Casanova's speech as its title, situates the author in her sociohistorical context as it also analyzes the conditions of female writers in Spain and Galicia at the fin de siglo. In other words, Hooper attempts to find a place for Casanova both within Spanish and Galician letras at the end of the nineteenth century with the objective to "challenge the familiar narrative with alternative ways to seeing, reading and understanding the fin de siglo, a goal that can be achieved only through serious and searching analysis of the writings of the women who contributed so critically to this crucial period in the formation of modern Iberian identities" (22). However, Hooper's text also allows readers to see the relevance of this type of study for the present; her purpose is not necessarily to "reconstruct the fragmented history of women's writing" (11) in Spain or Galicia, but to demonstrate that "accurate bio-bibliographical and textual details" (12) allow scholars to properly evaluate the great literary and narrative histories taking into consideration contemporary female writers.

In chapter 2, Hooper explores Casanova's novel El doctor Wolski (1894) within traditional readings of female literature (considered as an autobiographical text about a female character and her marriage to a Polish doctor), but she also makes an argument, following Gillian Rose's critical approach, about the role of "paradoxical space." According to Hooper, Rose's concept is as intrinsic to the novel's plot as it is emblematic of Casanova as a writer, since Casanova moves between her desire for public recognition of authorship and what Hooper calls "the need to maintain 'feminine' respectability" (26). …

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