Academic journal article Eighteenth Century: Theory and Interpretation

Gender, Translation, and Eighteenth-Century Women Dramatists: Elizabeth Griffith's the School for Rakes (1769) and María Lorenza De Los Ríos Y Loyo's El Eugenio (1801)

Academic journal article Eighteenth Century: Theory and Interpretation

Gender, Translation, and Eighteenth-Century Women Dramatists: Elizabeth Griffith's the School for Rakes (1769) and María Lorenza De Los Ríos Y Loyo's El Eugenio (1801)

Article excerpt

Early modern women overcame significant obstacles of education and culture to write and publish.1 The recuperation of eighteenth-century European women's writing during the last several decades has been characterized by debate about how to evaluate these formerly neglected writers and texts and about whether female authors employed gendered strategies in their work. The very public aspect of drama intended for the popular stage made it especially risky for women writers to present their own views about women's lives, while drama written for private performance might allow greater liberty of expression.2 This essay approaches the question of gender and playwriting in the eighteenth tury by two translations/adaptations of Pierre-Augustin Caron de Beaumarchais's Eugénie (1767) written by women who shared a common Enlightenment literary tradition: Elizabeth Griffith (1727-93) and María Lorenza de los Ríos y Loyo, Marquesa de Fuerte-Híjar (1761-1821).3

In her study of early modern women dramatists, Margarete Rubick claims that Restoration and turn-of-the-century English women dramatists had little sense of a feminine writing tradition. She finds, however, that overall they did take more interest than male dramatists in representing the emotions of female characters. They more frequently presented the female protagonists' perspectives in a sympathetic light, and in their plays, "female figures, not men, stitute the of reason and normality." Rubick notes that in sentimental comedies, nevertheless, even women playwrights frequently represent "female passivity and victimization" to ensure the audience's sympathy for a virtuous but passive heroine.4 Betty Rizzo states a "rule" for reading eighteenth-century women's writing: try to identify the "deeply held convictions" that could only be expressed by "indirection."5 This would entail a special attention to dramatic tensions, themes, or polemics that have been displaced onto secondary characters and plots or expressed through veiled rhetoric or allusions. Focusing on the representational aspect of drama, Laura Engel reminds us of the importance of the performance of gender and identity fashioning for eighteenth-century English women dramatists.6 Because of the centrality of these performances of gender, certain themes tend to predominate in women's plays. Studying Spanish female dramatists of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, for example, Alexander Samson finds that they "focus more profoundly on female friendship" and create more complex and active roles as subjects for their female protagonists, a conclusion also reached by Perry Gethner in his study of early modern French women playwrights. Teresa Soufas finds that Spanish women playwrights of that period reflect Renaissance feminist concerns and tend to show the effects on women of men's transgressive behavior.7 Because of the significant obstacles to women's access to literacy and instruction in eighteenthcentury Spain, María Jesús García Garrosa observes that female education became one of the predominant themes of drama written by Spanish women.8 The interest of eighteenth-century women dramatists in Enlightenment values such as education, however, was problematic. Helena Establier Pérez claims that they lived with "permanent schizophrenia" because of the contradiction between their literary vocation and the masculine gendering of reason. She insists that critics must use gender as an analytic tool to tease out the tension women writers reveal between conformity to social norms and their daring appropriation of enlightened reason.9 We contend that another useful strategy for the study of women's writing in the eighteenth century is comparative analysis, especially across linguistic and national boundaries.

Griffith and Fuerte-Híjar, influenced alike by the didactic goals of Enlightenment theater, worked in in different cultural contexts and with distinct goals as authors. Yet their work bears comparison because they employ similar strategies of indirection to provocatively critique gender roles. …

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