Academic journal article Bulletin of Hispanic Studies

Hildegart in the 1930s: Her Politics and Her Image

Academic journal article Bulletin of Hispanic Studies

Hildegart in the 1930s: Her Politics and Her Image

Article excerpt

Academic studies that examine Hildegart, a 1930s left-wing political activist, are beginning to emerge as Spain's twenty-first century recovery of historical memory project, legalized under the Ley de la Memoria Histórica in 2007, is recovering many voices and lives silenced by the Franco dictatorship and the Transition's 'pacto de olvido'.1 Despite the current lack of support by the ruling Partido Popular, the recovery project continues to thrive in the academy. For example, Alison Sinclair's highly regarded book, Sex and Society in Early Twentieth-Century Spain. Hildegart Rodríguez and the World League for Sexual Reform (2007), offers an analysis of Hildegart's heretofore unexamined personal correspondence to Havelock Ellis.2 Through her reading, Sinclair re-establishes Hildegart's role at the centre of intellectual dialogues around eugenics and sexual reform both in Spain and in the broader context of Europe. Yet much of Hildegart's role in the Second Republic remains to be examined. As Richard Cleminson notes in his review of Sex and Society, 'Indeed, rather than answering all the questions about the life of Hildegart, the Spanish Liga and Aurora, Alison Sinclair's volume poses fresh inquiries and is suggestive for future research' (2009: 268). Taking up the call to flesh out a more complex picture of Hildegart's political persona, in this paper I examine Hildegart's place in the political arena of the 1930s as well as material representations of her - specifically, 1930s textual and photographic documents. My analysis of this material reveals a Hildegart who embodies a complex hybrid of the nineteenth-century ángel del hogar - the traditional model of the subservient female whose domain was exclusively the domestic sphere - and the twentieth-century nueva mujer, already popular in other parts of Europe and the United States. Moreover, these contradictions of Hildegart more broadly reveal the contradictions within feminism in Spain at the beginning of the twentieth century.

Introduction

Known in history simply as 'Hildegart', Hildegart Leocadia Georgina Hermenigilda María del Pilar Rodríguez Carballeira was born in Madrid on 14 December 1914 (Registros Civiles 1916: No. 1661283/07).3 A precocious child, she was an active political speaker and writer from 1929 to her death in 1933, at the age of eighteen. Today she is known through popular culture as the victim of a heinous filicide, shot at point-blank range in her sleep by her own mother, Aurora Rodríguez Carballeira.4 Anyone would be fascinated by this child prodigy and her horrifying death, and the drama is undeniably prime material for a bestseller. The primary focus of public attention around Hildegart has been on her bizarre life and tragic murder. As early as 1972, when Franco's dictatorship began to wane, the left-wing Hildegart and her story received renewed attention in Spain - a process that has since ebbed and flowed and is recently gaining more traction in today's era of reality television and unsolved mysteries.5 The tragedy of Hildegart's death has also played a key role in determining how she was depicted in popular culture and, consequently, is known in today's collective memory.

It is worth noting, as Rosa Cal and Alison Sinclair both observe, that some of the 1933 coverage of Hildegart's murder and the 1934 coverage of her mother's trial was itself sensationalist. Cal notes the right-wing press sexualized the crime, accusing Aurora of jealousy.6 Sinclair points out that 'plausible storylines were mixed with fantastic ones' (2007: 151). Some accounts in the 1930s press also exaggerated Hildegart's accomplishments - 'Escribió miles de artículos literarios y políticos' - and offered hagiographic descriptions of her life by describing it as 'oteaba en el porvenir categoría universal bajo la égida de Minerva' (El Pueblo Gallego; see Fraiz 1933). Sinclair notes that 'Hildegart's violent end [...] caused a notable distortion in the public memory of her life, and most significantly it deflected interest from her reputation as a social activist and sexual reformer' (2007: 149). …

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