Academic journal article Bulletin of Hispanic Studies

From Decline to Regeneration: Gender Relations and Nation in Sofía Casanova's la Madeja

Academic journal article Bulletin of Hispanic Studies

From Decline to Regeneration: Gender Relations and Nation in Sofía Casanova's la Madeja

Article excerpt

The recent surge of interest in Sofía Casanova's writings and life shows that scholars have awoken to the importance of this author's place in the literary and cultural landscape of late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century Spain.1 In the last two decades, critics have paid attention to Casanova's tumultuous life (Alayeto 1992; Martínez Martínez 1999) and her participation 'in the forging of "modern" Spain' (Hooper 2008: 9) through her narrative (Johnson 2003: 131-34; Paredes Méndez 2003: 93-118). Yet, while the author's novels and short stories, particularly those published before 1915, underwent recent re-exami- nation (Hooper 2008; Filipowicz-Rudek 2003) other genres, such as Casanova's non-fiction works, poetry, and her single theatrical play, La madeja (1913), have remained largely unexplored.

In the past, critics limited their studies of La madeja to a plot summary and the circumstances under which the play was brought into the prestigious Teatro Español for its premiere (Galerstein and McNerney 1986: 71; O'Connor 1988: 148; Simón Palmer 1989). More recently, John C. Wilcox (2005) situated Casanova's work in the context of the early twentieth-century Spanish female dramatists' response to the country's decadence. Laura Burgos-Lejonagoitia (2010), for her part, examined the play with regard to the author's concerns with gender matters. I agree with both scholars that gender issues and the country's decline are the major topics that Casanova addressed in La madeja. At the same time, I believe that those themes are deeply interrelated. The writer's presentation of gender relations deserves further exploration since, as in her previous works such as El doctor Wolski (1894), Más que amor (1908), and La mujer española en el extranjero (1910), Casanova tied the interactions between men and women to more issues than the causes of Spain's degeneration.

In what follows, I examine the extent to which the author linked gender relations to Spain's post-1898 crisis of identity and the country's problematic path to regeneration. In addition to expanding on the ways in which the writer used courtship, marital problems, and sibling interactions to scrutinize the past and the causes of the country's decadence, I explore the manner in which Casanova deployed these relations to address current dilemmas and concerns related to the future and hopes for rebuilding Spain as a strong nation.

Before entering the world of Casanova's protagonists, it bears noting that the years following Spain's defeat at the hands of the United States in 1898 and the loss of its last colonies marked a period of ongoing hectic debate about the reasons for the country's decline, the nature of its identity, and the different paths proposed for its revitalization. As Edward Barker has noticed, in post-1898 Spain, as in other parts of fin de siècle Europe, writers, artists, and intellectuals 'did not seek merely to replicate or reproduce historical developments' (2000: 155). Instead, they considered it 'their moral duty to intervene in the widest range of public affairs' (2000: 157). They perceived themselves as agents 'not only of intellectual and artistic creativity, but of political and social change as well' (154).

Yet questioning 'Spain's political system, its national character, and Spanish nationhood itself ' (Balfour 1997: 49), and participating in the debate over the country's regeneration was not limited to male authors. Even though, as Marye- llen Bieder affirms, not a single female writer occupies a secure place in the canon of the pre-Civil War Spanish fiction, 'the years from 1898-1910 observe [...] the emergence of new voices in parallel with those of the '98 authors' (1992: 312). Using the sentimental plot 'as a smoke screen for their examination of social and political concerns' (Hooper 2008: 18), these female authors relied on short fiction to engage in the debate on the country's past, present, and future. However, short fiction was not the only genre through which women writers marked their presence in the debate. …

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